Tag Archive | historic home tour

Circus Trip 2018: Dana-Thomas House

Day 21, Sunday, August 5, 2018

In addition to being the land of Lincoln, Illinois has another famous man who made a name for himself in these parts 50 years after Lincoln died – Frank Lloyd Wright.  He lived in a suburb of Chicago, but his designs were far reaching, with homes in Pennsylvania, Arizona and probably every state in the nation.  Springfield has a Frank Lloyd Wright home that has been incredibly preserved; the Dana-Thomas House.

Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana lived in an Italianate mansion that had been her parents’ home; she hired Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel the home between 1902 and 1904.  It is truly stunning, and a home that stays very true to Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style.  Mrs. Dana married, but her husband was a bit of a dud and she ended up divorcing him; she never had children, but she was quite a philanthropist and set up a school of sorts to teach black neighborhood children at a time when education for the poor residents nearby was not a priority.  These children had fond memories of Mrs. Dana and spending time in her home library, where they could read, check out books, or play with toys.

In her later years, Mrs. Dana’s finances suffered, and she became ill with dementia.  As a result, her home and belongings had to be sold to pay for her debts and her care.  At that point, the Mr. and Mrs. Charles Thomas bought the home as a complete lot and lived there until Mrs. Thomas’ death in 1975.  Their estate sold the home to the state of Illinois in 1981 for $1 million, which was considerably less than they could have gotten had they parceled out all the furnishings and sold the home separately.

The state of Illinois offers home tours for a $10 suggested donation for adults, only allowing small groups on the tours to prevent damage to the home and furnishings.  It is incredible.  No detail was missed, and the home has been remarkably preserved over the years.  When Mrs. Dana had the home remodeled, one room was left in the Italianate style as a tribute to her parents; it is a contrast to the prairie style of the rest of the home, and interesting to see this dark, heavily decorated room in the center of the home.

Interestingly, Mrs. Dana was allowed to choose her own knickknacks and artwork to decorate the home; often a requirement of working with Frank Lloyd Wright was that he was in charge of all of your home décor, and you didn’t get much.  That vase on the sideboard had to be selected by him, if you were permitted a vase at all.  It goes without saying that I would have not been allowed to commission his work, being the collector that I am.

I really enjoyed this tour, although the tour guide wasn’t the warmest or friendliest person in the world.  I often wonder why people like that take jobs guiding tourists around, if they are sure to be unhappy in the role.  I snuck in right before the tour started, so I watched the movie about the history of Mrs. Dana and the home afterwards; be sure to check that out.

No photos are permitted inside (this seems to be true for all the Frank Lloyd Wright homes that are open to the public), so I did buy a guidebook that has photographs of the interior.

After my tour, I headed down to try out a Springfield microbrewery, called Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.  Obed &Isaac’s is located in a historic home that is located on the property of Obed Lewis, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln – Lewis’ three children played with Lincoln’s children.  Unfortunately, the Lewis home had lost its historic charm over the years with numerous remodels, and the owners made the difficult decision to raze the home.

They then purchased the Isaac Lindsey home, another Lincoln era home in Springfield, and moved it to the site.  While they were drawing up plans, they realized that it was too small, so the Isaac Lindsey home was converted to a coffee house, and the Booth-Grunendike home was finally the one that was converted into the Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.  They really, really wanted to save a historic home!

At Obed & Isaac’s, I had the Strawberry Blonde seasonal ale, and their chicken and waffles.  They were excellent and it gave me the energy for more touristing!

MI Road Trip: Hackley and Hume Historic Site

After our lunch at Founder’s Brewery, we got back on the road and made our way to Muskegon, Michigan. It is a small lakefront city established during Michigan’s lumber boom, and kept vibrant due to its location on the lake and shipping routes. We wanted to tour the Hackley and Hume Historic Site, which consists of two historic homes that are owned and operated by the Lakeshore Museum Center. Charles H. Hackley is Michigan’s most famous lumber baron (as if each state has a most famous lumber baron!) and Thomas Hume was one of his business partners.

When we showed up to tour the homes, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the tour was free in October! They charge a nominal fee all season long, but the home is also partially funded by property taxes, so October is the time the museum gives back to the community in the form of free admission.

Hackley purchased the double lot in 1887 and promptly sold part of it to Hume. The homes and the City Barn behind the homes were designed and built between 1887 and 1889. Despite having been designed by the same architect and largely using the same color scheme on the exterior of both homes, they are very different from each other. Hackley was married and had two older adopted children; he was the founding partner of the business and had his home built as an extravagant retirement home.

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The Hackley home was built to impress; it was very detailed and intricate. Both homes are built in the Queen Anne Victorian style, but the Hackley home features elaborate woodcarving throughout, majolica tile, leaded glass windows, imported marble and expensive furniture.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The bathroom was also very unique – apparently Hackley was a bit of a germo-phobe, so he had the bathroom completely tiled to ensure that it was sanitary – even the ceiling! The bathroom also had an old time toilet paper holder. The toilet paper came in squares back then, not rolls, and the squares were held down by a spring-loaded metal bar.

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

The Hackley home largely remained true to the turn of the century period. Hackley’s daughter lived in the home for a period of time after her father’s death, then eventually sold it to the American Red Cross, who took good care of the place.

The Hume house had a more open floor plan, and was more modern, but also more modest. The Hume family had 6 or 7 children, and he was a lesser partner in the business, so he didn’t have as much money. As a result, his home was nowhere near as richly appointed. It is presented as it existed later in life after being redecorated in the 1920s. It is still clearly a rich man’s home, but the décor in the home is much more simple.

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

Both homes are great examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and it is interesting to note the differences. The two homes also share a gigantic carriage house; with each half of the carriage house a mirror image of the other. Now it houses a small museum, a theater for the movie of the area and family history, and a gift shop. The museum is small, but it explained more of the history of the area, and has an incredible amount of detail about the Hackley and Hume families and even the servants who lived in the homes and carriage house. Part of the barn has been restored to its look as a stable and the coachman’s quarters.

Photos are allowed inside, without flash, and just in case you are wondering, yes, the homes are painted in their original colors. The Hume house has… 14… exterior colors!


The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Lakeshore Museum Center also operates two other historic properties that are open to the public, a replica of a fire barn built in 1875 (and largely funded by Charles H. Hackley) and the Scolnik house, a historic home decorated to explore the lives of working class families in the Depression era. We didn’t have time to visit these other properties, but I would love to go back and check these out as well!

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Asheville to Columbia, SC

On Sunday morning, we got up and headed out for our long drive to Charleston.  It is a four and a half hour drive, so we planned to make the trip a bit more leisurely, and not plan to be in Charleston before the tourist attractions closed for the day.  We got our hotel breakfast buffet, packed up and checked out, and headed out.  Soon, it started raining.  Then it started dumping huge buckets of water onto our car.  The drive became pretty frustrating, because it alternated between light rain and a torrential downpour.  We drove for a couple of hours, and then stopped for lunch in Columbia, South Carolina.  We drove around for a few minutes in the business district (which was absolutely deserted on a Sunday) and found the Liberty Bar and Grill.  I found out later that it is a chain, but at the time, we didn’t know that.  It is in an old restored warehouse (they did a good job with the restoration).  I had a Cobb salad and Jon had the Ahi Tuna Salad.  We asked our server to recommend a local brew, and ended up trying the Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta, Georgia.  It was light and hoppy and a teensy bit bland.  It certainly wasn’t on the same level as West Coast microbrews – I think they might get there though!

I thought we were leaving this behind in Washington!

My Cobb Salad at the Liberty Bar and Grill

After lunch we went over to the Robert Mills house before getting back on the road.  I knew nothing about Robert Mills, but I read in the guidebook that the Columbia Historic Society owns and operates four home museums that are open for tours.  We thought they all looked interesting, but we only had time for one, so we chose the Robert Mills house.  Confusingly, Robert Mills didn’t own the house, and never lived in it – he was the architect.  The home was actually owned by Ainsley Hall – his 2nd large mansion in Columbia – the first is across the street.

Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC

Ainsley Hall and his wife Sarah lived in the beautiful home across the street.  As the story goes, one evening in 1823 Mr. Hall was chatting with a colleague who offered to buy the home and asked Mr. Hall to throw out a price.  Mr. Hall responded with $35,000, what he thought was an astronomical price (about $750,000 in today’s dollars – he clearly hadn’t lived through a real estate bubble if he thought that was an unheard of sum, but that’s how the story goes).  You can see where this is going, right?  The colleague accepted the deal, then had his slaves come down and move Ainsley and Sarah Hall out of their home THAT NIGHT.  The record is silent on what Sarah thought of this, but one can assume she was PISSED!  I would be really torqued off!  Now Ainsley really had to kiss ass, so he promised Sarah that he would build her a better house across the street that looked down upon their old home.  He bought the lot and made a deal with Robert Mills to build the home.

The Side View of the Robert Mills House

The Back of the Robert Mills House

Robert Mills has an impressive resume.  He was a federal architect under seven different Presidents, designing and building the US Patent Office (modeled after the Parthenon), the US Treasury Building, and the Washington Monument.  He was an early advocate of fireproofing measures (this is significant later in this post – trust me).  Actually, nobody is really sure what sort of deal he had with Ainsley Hall to build the home, because he mostly designed public buildings.  When you look at the home, you certainly see the public building influence.

So Mr. Mills set about building the home, and when it was almost complete, Ainsley sent Sarah off to New York to go shopping to furnish and decorate their new abode.  He was going to follow her there shortly.  Well, Ainsley set out, then got sick on the journey and died.  And sadly, since he had neglected to update his will to give Sarah the new home in the event of his death, she got NOTHING!  Sarah had to go home and live with her parents…  She never remarried.  The home was sold to a Presbyterian Seminary, and was eventually purchased by a Bible College.

The tour of the house is pretty cool.  The first thing that you notice upon entering the front door is that this home has no grand staircase in the entryway.  In fact, there is no staircase in the entryway at all.  There are two reasons for this.  Mills wanted the entry to be symmetrical with matching doors.  He even put in an extra false door so they would be symmetrical!  Strangely, he could have just had two doors going into the dining room, but apparently that wasn’t what he wanted.  The other reason was that Mills knew grand staircases were a huge fire hazard.  If a house caught fire (which they frequently did back then), the oxygen would race right up the staircase and trap the occupants upstairs.  So instead, Mills put in a staircase that was enclosed in brick.  Interestingly, this is the home’s only staircase.  For the time period, it was highly unusual to not have a separate staircase for the slaves.  The grand entry is also curved, and even the doors are curved!  When you go into the rooms off the grand entry, they have curved walls – it would have been tough to curve the molding in those rooms!

The tour also took us into the basement, where the living would have taken place during the hot summer months (if you didn’t take off for Europe during the summer).  While it certainly was cooler downstairs, it was a bit dreary.  Terra cotta tile floors and less light.  But I suppose you can’t live the glam life all the time.  Megan, our guide, was cheerful and talkative and answered all my questions (we were the only two people on the tour so I could ask whatever I wanted!)

At the end of the tour, Megan showed us where Mr. Mills, had the brick walls on the outside of the home painted red and relined.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The natural work of brick and mortar didn’t create lines that were straight or perfect enough for the obsessive-compulsive Mills.  So he had the brick painted and relined, so they could give it the look of perfectly straight mortar lines running through the brick.  And Jon thought I was particular!

The Painted Lines on the Brick – Look in the Center Section

After we finished our tour at the Robert Mills house, it was time to get back on the road and head the rest of the way to Charleston.  And right about then, it started raining again!