Calling all history buffs! If you are amazed by the rich, steep history that our great state of Illinois has to offer than it’s time you put these historical homes on your Illinois map and enjoy charting some new historical territory. You’ll breathe in culture, stand where Lincoln stood, and have a newfound appreciation for the homes that housed so many brilliant minds of Illinois.
1. Saucier Home, 107 Elm St., Cahokia
This historical log building, often referred to as the Old Cahokia Courthouse, is considered one of the oldest Illinois homes. It remained a home until its historic debut as an exhibition for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Besides being a personal residence since 1860, it was also a saloon and a meeting hall. The house was built around 1737 when Illinois was still part of Louisiana’s French occupation.
2. Fithian House, 116 N. Gilbert St., Danville
This house was once the dwelling of Civil War surgeon and friend of Abraham Lincoln Dr. William Fithian. What makes this home one for the history books is its balcony. That’s right! The south balcony on this Danville home was the very balcony that Lincoln gave an impromptu speech in 1858. This balcony opens up into a room that Lincoln dwelled in many times during his visits. You can still visit the home just as it was back in Lincoln’s era every Tuesday through Saturday from 10AM-5PM.
3. The Creole House, Market St., Prairie du Rocher
Nestled in one of the oldest towns in Illinois is a home that was once photographed and admired for its unusual architecture. While there is ongoing debate about who actually first owned the home, we do know that it was the birthplace of Henry Clay Hansbrough, the first congressman from North Dakota. Although it did originally fall into disrepair over the years, thank goodness for local historians who took it under their wing and placed it in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. They’ve seen to it that the home gets the restorations it needs. The Creole House is open anytime for groups and individuals by appointment only. Or mark your calendars and check it out for free every first weekend of June and third Sunday in September.
4. Ernest Hemingway House, 339 North Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
For anyone who has ever wished to move to Paris after a Moveable Feast or has ever felt like you were there among the guerrilla fighters of the Spanish Civil War in For Whom the Bell Tolls then get your little bookworm heart to the birthplace of famous American author Ernest Hemingway (he was born on the second floor of this Victorian home). It is now a museum celebrating his career and life and you can celebrate too every Wednesday through Sunday with a delightful tour (gin martini not included).
5. Colonel Davenport Historic House, Hillman Ave., Rock Island
The 1833 Federal-style home that’s snuggled in the north side of Arsenal Island was truly a mansion for the time period. Its resident George Davenport was a settler, fur trader (during the Black Hawk Wars), counselor and businessman. When Davenport and his army arrived on what is now known as Rock Island in 1816, they were determined to establish a fort for our government. This development soon attracted other settlers looking for new lands and Davenport thrived through fur trading and exporting lead. You can check out this major historical hub for local commerce from Thursday to Sunday from 12PM-4PM between May and October where you can participate in a guided tour of both the home and the grounds.
6. Nicholas Jarrot Mansion, 124 E. 1st St., Cahokia
This Federal-style home that was build in the early 1800s is believed to be one of Illinois’ oldest brick houses. Nicholas Jarrot was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a lawyer, a county judge, a businessman and even a fur trader. As Illinois was slowly being led away from the French colonials of Louisiana, Jarrot’s home reflects a more Americanized-style home, which he based off homes found on the East Coast. Of course, the masons who worked on the home were not familiar with brickwork, and so the facade is a bit askew but still altogether charming and quaint. Regardless of its quirky Lewis Carroll-esque appearance, this sturdy structure survived the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812 (they just don’t make ‘em like they used to!).
7. Sarah Lincoln House, 400 S. Lincoln Hwy Rd., Lerna
Tucked away within the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area lies the humble abode of Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, the father and stepmother of - you guessed it - Abraham Lincoln. By the time Thomas and Sarah had moved into this home Honest Abe was already a lawyer in Springfield, but he often came back to the farm to visit his adoring family. Thanks to the State of Illinois, visitors can now come and enjoy these 86 acres of historical preservation.
8. Lovejoy Homestead, RR3, Princeton
As you may already know, Owen Lovejoy was a powerful abolitionist and so only naturally would his home be a depot for the Underground Railroad. Having witnessed his brother’s death by an angry mob of proslavery advocates he became even more dedicated to the abolitionist cause. He fought to become part of the House of Representatives and he is known for his passionate speeches against slavery. One speech is particular shows the very significance that both Lovejoy and his home had to the abolitionist movement “Owen Lovejoy…aids every fugitive that comes to his door and asks it. Proclaim it then from the housetops. Write it on every leaf that trembles in the forest, make it blaze from the sun at high noon…” You can tour this incredible home every Friday through Sunday from 1PM-4PM May through September, and by appointments only.
9. Frank Lloyd Wright Home, 951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park
Oak Park is certainly full of some pretty steep history and we would be sorely remiss if we didn’t mention the home of famous architect Frank Llloyd Wright, whose residence was also his workplace from 1889 to 1909. He used his abode as a way to experiment with certain architectural and interior design ideas. He designed over 1,000 buildings and completed about 532 and is known as one of the greatest and most influential American architects. You can now enjoy a lovely guided tour of his stunning home and studio throughout the year (Note: it is closed for preservation from January 17th-February 3rd).
10. The Grove, 1421 Milwaukee Ave., Glenview
Once the home of educator and horticulturalist Dr. Jon Kennicott, it is now a beautiful and serene nature preserve (it was donated to the Glenview Park District in 1975). With its 145-acres of prairie land it became a historic landmark in 1976. This same lush tree-filled wonderland was the reason Kennicott built his home there. While in Glenview he planted the first local nursery. Every plant that he found during his travels was brought to the nursery. He also later cofounded the Illinois State Agricultural Society. Jon’s son Robert would also grow to become a well-known naturalist identifying countless new plant and animal species at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1857 Robert Kennicott founded the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Today you can enjoy strolling through the natural trails, take in a hands-on nature and history workshop or even host your own wedding reception there.
11. Fred Francis House (Francis Park), 29862 N. 900th Ave., Kewanee
We can safely say that this is probably one of our state’s most unique homes, but based on who lived inside we aren’t too surprised. This was once the home of eccentric inventor, artist, recluse and mathematician Fred Francis (known as one of the best mathematicians in the Midwest). Upon his death in 1926, the home and its acreage were willed to the city of Kewanee as a museum and park. There was just one big stipulation: his body would be cremated on a cordwood pyre in his back yard where his ashes would lay rest on the grounds. The will also had a flies-and-mouse clause. You see, Francis had a phobia of flies. The inventor in him was set free and he designed doors and windows that when opened automatically dropped a screen to keep out flies. Beautiful art from this recluse hang on the walls while in the kitchen you can see the mathematician’s brilliant brain at work with geometric symbols etched onto the wall that he swore were solutions to some of the most difficult mathematical problems.
All you have to do is take a look around and you’ll see historical buildings throughout the gorgeous Land of Lincoln (oh, if only those walls could talk). So while we certainly couldn’t name all the great homes that call Illinois
their home, if there are some not-to-be-missed historical houses that we must check out please tell us all about it in the comments.