Thursday, January 23, 2014

Uriah Green's big old house in Mount Carroll

This big old square Italianate that Uriah Green built of brick and stone in Mount Carroll, Illinois, ca. 1873 caught my eye for a couple of reasons. The purchase price, $26,900, certainly is one (although many thousands would be required to make it barely livable and many times the purchase price, to restore it).

I'm interested, too, in Mount Carroll itself because it was home to my great-grandmother's uncle, James M. Hunter, attorney and Illinois legislator, who while affluent enough lived in nothing so grand. He would, however, have been on hand to watch it go up. 

Some of Grandmother's uncles apprenticed themselves to "Uncle Jim" in Mount Carroll before passing the bar and hanging out their own shingles in Iowa and South Dakota, so Mt. Carroll was one of those places she carried around in her head and mythologized after the premature death of her mother --- after which she was parked with an aunt in Lucas County while her father and older brothers built new lives for themselves in Wyoming. 

Mount Carroll is the seat of Carroll County, which borders the Mississippi upstream from Clinton, but the town is located several miles inland.

Uriah was a Carroll County pioneer who had made sufficient money as a farmer and land speculator by his mid-50s to move into town, build this house and become a "capitalist." He lived here with his wife, Almeda, until 1894, when he died and was buried near another approrpriately big chunky hunk of rock in Oak Hill Cemetery.

The old house, built above a high and livable basement, appears to have sailed through the years in remarkably good shape structurally, although a little deteriorating brickwork is visible on the kitchen wing. The major losses seem to have been shutters and elaborate wrought ironwork, used as trim and long since vanished.

The house seems plain at first glance, but contains a number of interesting features, still for the most part intact. The cupola still is there (although missing trim) and I like the look of the big flying bays with no visible means of support located in the two front parlors that flank the entrance hall. Not sure I'd enjoy living with them, however. It's minus-six here this morning and about minus-eight in Mount Carroll, so I can almost feel the cold seeping through the bays and into the house.

The front porch appears to be original, but I thought at first that the five long french windows on the first floor, two opening onto the porch and three onto small balconies that still are hanging on, might have been later additions. They appear in early views of the house, however, so apparently are original. Must have been thought quite innovative at the time.

I love the big chunky millwork throughout the house, entirely in keeping with and on the same scale as the structure. The original wood graining still is evident in the dining room and a smaller first-floor room that may have served as a parlor bedroom. Elsewhere, the graining has been painted over.

It's useful to remember that raw wood, so beloved today, was not so much appreciated when this house was built --- heavily grained oak would have been looked upon as just plain tacky although fine mahogany and perhaps walnut would have been appreciated. So a major style at the time was millwork of lesser woods, elaborately hand-grained.

The house also lacks fireplaces, another feature favored by old house lovers today. With the possible exception of one of the big parlors, where an ugly small fireplace is located today, the Green house was heated entirely by far more practical stoves. And I'm wondering if there might originally have been a built-in stove in this room originally. You can see a small version of one of those in Chariton's dual gables house, and will when I finally get around to taking some photos of its interior.

There are four big rooms on the first floor of the Green House, with the two front parlors flanking a modest stair hall at the front and kitchen wing extending to the rear. A secondary stair leads from the kitchen to the low-ceiling room above it, perhaps intended for servants.

Ceiling heights are lower on the second floor of the main block, too, but the rooms match in size those on the floor below. One interesting feature of the second floor is the fact that two of the bedrooms on one side of the central hall flow together through a big doorway into one space. Was this the master bedroom with adjoining sitting room, separate but connected bedrooms for the owner and his wife or a space intended for other purposes? Who knows?

One reason the house is priced so inexpensively is that it sold not too long ago at a foreclosure sale for even less. It appears as if someone moved in and launched a renovation effort, then ran out of money and/or enthusiasm.

Whatever the case, it's an old house dreamer's dream --- providing he or she was content to live without fireplaces and in Mount Carroll and had lots of money and not inconsiderable skills.

You can see the Zillow listing for the Uriah Green house here, along with more photographs. If traffic bothers you, that would be an issue since it faces North Clay Street, which also is Highway 78 and the main drag through town.

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