Famous Debate Site Soon Could Get Expansion, Interactive Facelift

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On this Freeport site, American history changed forever in 1858. There, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated slavery, a discussion which transformed Lincoln from an unknown Illinoisan into a nationally known abolitionist. However, current supporters of the site argue a critical piece is missing.

"It's a pretty spot in downtown. You've got a beautiful statue behind you, but you don't have a real sense of what makes up, why this is important," Christopher Fye said.

That's the mission for the Debate Square committee, working on a $275,000 site expansion. Through a likely combination of state and federal grants, along with local private donations, the group believes the improved site will add both tourism and spending downtown.

"Sixty to 70 percent of people who come here are getting off the bypass. They are on their way to and from Galena. They spend some time here, they learn about our history, and then they go downtown. They have lunch, they go into the shops, so the benefit spills through the rest of the community," Ed Finch said.

Central to the project is the addition of 10 informational displays, to provide visitors with not only a simple viewing, but an interactive history lesson.

"If we can bring them in here, and rather than just show them a statue, we tell them about the importance and history of this part of the state, and that's important," Fye said.

And upon its scheduled completion in early 2007, organizers believe the revamped debate site will spark a fresh downtown campus of learning.

"With the new library, the expanded debate site, we are looking at creating a place in downtown Freeport where people can come and there's all sorts of things for people to do and to interest children and adults," Finch said.

It’s an interest organizers will get moving, from the motionless, yet historic, Lincoln-Douglas debate site.