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

Historic American Buildings Survey: Staley Pumping Station and Club House

Rendered drawing of the Staley Pumping Station and Club

To view the the full report, click here.

Location: The Staley Pumping Station and Club House is located within the waters of Lake Decatur, just north of U.S. Highway 36, in Decatur, Macon County, Illinois. The building lies a short distance northwest of the bridge over which U.S. Highway 36 crosses Lake Decatur. A second bridge, for the CSX Railroad, is present at this same point. The railroad runs in between the Staley Pumping Station and Club House and the highway.

Significance: The Staley Pumping Station and Club House was constructed in 1919-1920 by the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company in conjuncture with the expansion of the company’s plant and in anticipation of the creation of Lake Decatur. The building’s design—combining the functions of a club house and pumping station—was shaped by these two related developments. The pumping station was a vital component to the diversification of Staley’s manufacturing processes. The post-1919 growth and success of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company had a tremendous impact on the City of Decatur, leading to the pavement of neighborhood roads, expansion of a street car line, improved walks, worker’s housing, and improvements in water supply and sewerage systems. The pumping station served a very practical purpose, “But ever mindful of his employees’ well-being, [A. E.] Staley crowned the pump building with decorated upper floors, complete with fireplaces and furnishings, that became elegant rooms for social occasions.” For decades, the upper floor of the building was the home of the Staley Fellowship Club. With its ornate design and superb setting, the Staley Pumping Station and Club House served as a popular venue for social gatherings into the latter half of the twentieth century. It also was a marquee landmark on Lake Decatur, which developed into an all-season playground for citizens of Decatur. The creation of the lake led to the parallel development of local parks—particularly Nelson Park adjacent to the Club House.

The Staley Pumping Station and Club House is considered eligible to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A in respect to its local significance to social history (as the meeting place of the Staley Fellowship Club), industry (as a key support structure for the Staley plant), and recreation and culture (as related to Lake Decatur). In addition, it also is considered locally significant and eligible to the National Register under Criterion C (architecture), as a unique building type combining pump house and club house functions. The period of significance for the Staley
Pumping Station and Club House extends from 1919-1920 (its date of construction) to 1970 (the fifty-year cut off for the National Register).

To view the the full report, click here.