Sunday, May 19, 2013

This Place Matters: The Crozier house

Here's another of Chariton's "This Place Matters" photos taken last week to recognize May as Preservation Month. "This Place Matters," by the way, is a trademarked program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The building is the James T. Crozier house at the intersection of North 7th Street and Ilion Avenue, now owned and lovingly maintained by Fred and Sherry Steinbach, who are holding the sign. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the Steinbachs, on its own merit and also as one of a suite of National Register properties in Chariton designed by hometown architect William L. Perkins.

J.T. Crozier was a pioneer Chariton businessman whose landmark store was located for more than 80 years on the southeast corner of the square. The family home, a substantial frame structure, was located in the southwest corner of a large acreage northeast of the 7th Street-Ilion Avenue intersection.

After fire destroyed the frame building in 1917, J.T. Crozier employed Perkins, who had just moved to town to open his office, to design this house. It was intended to be "fireproof," although that is a relative term. The exterior walls are tile clad in brick, but the interior is frame. It falls generally into the "Prairie" style.

Perkins designed other similar houses in Lucas County, although the Crozier home was the largest and grandest. A considerably smaller version is located on North Main Street. The house on the ISU McNay Research Farm southwest of Chariton is the most easily recognized as a "sister" (or brother, if you prefer).

Because fire had destroyed most of the Croziers' belongings, the new home was furnished largely from scratch in quality items ordered specifically for it. J.T. Crozier and his wife, Mary, lived in the house until their deaths, respectively in 1936 and 1939. Their daughter, Mary E. Crozier, continued to live here until the early 1960s when she sold the acreage for commercial development and the house was included in the deal.

My grandfather, then in his 80s and moving into Chariton from the family farm, was a friend of Mary and for reasons not clear to his family decided some of the Crozier furniture would fit nicely into his own new home. So he acquired the Crozier piano (he already had one of those out on the farm), a lovely vaguely French provincial walnut bedroom suite and a massive wing-backed platform rocker of oak upholstered in leather. Mary Crozier moved to a smaller house close to the square, where she lived until her death in 1988 at age 92.

Drs. Herman and Egley had purchased the Crozier property, thinking the house might work as a clinic. When it became evident that it would not, a new clinic was built to the north and the Egleys moved into the house.

Although the Egleys didn't damage the integrity of the house, they did rework its main staircase into a vaguely colonial form, altered the opening from the central hall into the living room, "modernized" the fireplaces and built-in buffet in the dining room, removed and replaced original light fixtures and carried out a variety of other projects that must have seemed like 1960s good ideas at the time.

The exterior, however, remains virtually unchanged. The south porch originally was open, but it was enclosed by the Croziers during the years they occupied the house.

Fred and Sherry have worked hard to upgrade the home's infrastructure, swept away acres of wall-to-wall carpeting to reveal (refinished) oak flooring, rebuilt the living room fireplace and redecorated in a manner  sympathetic to the style of the old house. As a result, the Crozier-Stenbach house is one of Chariton's most distinctive preservation success stories.

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