Staley Pump House
AE Staley senior was certainly instrumental in the decision to build lake Decatur, but he was by no means the only driving factor. The city council came to the conclusion that a lake must be built for the good of Decatur, following a water shortage in the summer of 1919. Staley Manufacturing Company depended on a reliable water source for corn processing, and Decatur needed a reliable water source for its citizens.
A permanent dam to create lake Decatur began construction in July, 1920, but something had to be done immediately. Therefore, in the fall of 1919, Staley was given permission to create a temporary dam and build a permanent pumping station. The pumping station now known as the Staley Pump House or Staley Clubhouse was nearly complete by the time the permanent dam was started in July, 1920. Once finished people could reach the clubhouse by boat train and boardwalk.
In 1920, the Staley Pumping Station was put into operation. The pumping station had to move water over a distance of 7,565 feet, and it had to elevate the water into the plant, about 158 feet above the floor of the pumping station. Originally designed to move 12 million gallons of water every 24 hours, by 1938 the pumping station was upgraded to accommodate 18 million gallons of water per day.
It was necessary for the Staley Company to constantly innovate the pumping station to keep up with the needs of the company. The formal opening of the clubhouse was on New Year’s Eve, 1922, nearly 300 people attended.
Here the Staley Pump House is featured on the cover of the Staley Journal, February, 1922. The inside pages show some interior photos of the pump house and people enjoying the space.
The Staley Fellowship Club was founded in 1917 and in 1921 they took on the financial task of furnishing their new clubhouse.
While the lower level was two stories high and was devoted to the actual business of pumping water. The upper level, surrounded by a balcony was being designed to be a place for beauty and entertainment for the Staley employees.
In the Staley Museum, in Decatur, Illinois, you’ll find this replica model of the pump house, built by mother and daughter team Lucy Brownlee and Whitney Meltz.
The clubhouse furniture was designed by Harry Stadler and built by Albert Hoffman, both from The Pattern Shop. The furniture was made from oak staves, from a distillery in Kentucky. The material was made available after the Volstead act was enacted, this was also known as the National Prohibition Act. The clubhouse became a central part of holidays, weddings, and many other celebrations for members of the Staley Fellowship Club.
As years went by the pump house would eventually no longer be needed. And with the decay and deterioration of the structure, it will soon be taken down. As that process goes forward the Staley Museum is making efforts to save as much of its history as possible. Acquiring photos from residents and also taking physical pieces of the pump house.
In this photo, you can see the main fireplace and mantel, a section of that can now be seen in the museum.
And with donations like this painting from local artist, Lane Henson and other donations, the history of the Staley Pump House is in good hands.
Although this Decatur landmark will no longer be around its memory will forever live on. Learn more about the Staley Pump House and Staley legacy by visiting the Staley Museum at 361 North College in Decatur, Illinois. Or visit them online at StaleyMuseum.com.