A Mansion Abandoned

An early preservation cause in Springfield

Illinois Times

April 22, 1976

In which I try to rouse the rabble in one of my apprentice opinion columns from IT’s old Forum section. Many years years after this was written, what had become known as the Booth-Grunendike house stumbled into the future as offices and low-end apartments, then collapsed financially.  It was in foreclosure when two local entrepreneurs bought it and converted it into a very popular pub-brewhouse. A project that pleases preservationists and lovers of decent ales is to be applauded. 

 

The Grunendike house, a grand remnant of a fine architectural line,   has  been   threatened  by the decision to sell it at auction to the highest bidder. Last week, the Springfield Historic Sites Commission took two important steps toward preserving it: 1) It will apply to the National Register of Historic Places to protect the house against demolition; and 2] It called for a public meeting, April 20 at 7:30 at the Christ Episcopal Church, to rally support for the home.

 

During the session last week, Bill Farrar of the Department of Conservation noted that public opinion had been essential to saving the Powers-Jarvis Mansion in Decatur last month. Agreed Carrol Hall, vice-president of the Historic Sites Commission: "Public opinion and public pressure are a very important thing. This is one of the problems of Springfield. The community hasn't been stirred up in the proper way.”

 

As the following account makes clear, the Grunendike house deserves some stirring up. The house was built around 1855—exactly when no one knows for sure—by hardware store owner Edward Pease, and Amasa S. Booth bought it in 1881. Booth was the son of a Yankee carriage maker, founder of the firm of Booth & McClosker, and Booth the younger made his living at the family's wagon works at Eighth and Washington. Booth's daughter Mary was sixteen when she moved into the house with her parents in 1881. Mary lived for another eighty-six years after that, until she was 102, and she never lived anywhere else. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 15, 1976, the house will be sold at auction.

When Mary Booth Grunendike moved into the house as a teenager, the neighborhood around Sixth and Jackson streets was home to much of the town's commercial and professional elite. Across the street from the Booth home, where the Springfield Marine Bank's drive-in facility is now, the Bunns had a house; a few doors north was the Herndon place. They were all large houses with spacious grounds (the Booths had a vineyard) within strolling distance of the hotels, restaurants, theaters—and neighbors—around which Springfield social life revolved in the waning years of the nineteenth century. It was possible for a banker or lawyer to leave his lunch at the club in the heart of downtown and nestle into a seat in his garden in time for coffee, with nothing more distracting than the lazy clatter of a passing horse-drawn trolley to divert his attention.  It was a good life—the best life, in fact, that money could buy.

 

But what made the near south side such an attractive place for homes also made it attractive to merchants. Slowly, over two generations, businesses took over the neighborhood—first a new gas station on the corner, then a second one down the street, then an office, maybe a shop in between. Each new gas station and office diminished the neighborhood's value as a place to live, and the process slowly spread, like mold on bread.

 

Parts of the block went for the construction of huge new club buildings like the Elks Club, the K. of C. Hall, and the Masonic Temple; the rest went for parking lots. The well-to-do were elbowed out by commercialization, but they were never its victims. Some of them encouraged it; the unhappy addition of a two-story red-brick apartment house to the south of the Booth home was made by Booth himself—in what had been his vineyard. Later generations of Bunns and Herndons and their neighbors were shuttling by automobile between downtown and their new houses in distant refuges, like Hawthorne Place south of Washington Park.

 

Still, out of sentiment or stubbornness, a few of the older residents stayed on. Miss Alice Bunn lived in her home next to the Elks Club until the 1950s. Mary Booth Grunendike stayed on the longest of any of them—eighty-six years. Even when she died in 1967 there were still people living in the area, most of them in a few scattered apartment houses and in the upper floors of converted single-family homes. But it wasn't a residential neighborhood anymore; it wasn't much of a neighborhood at all. Now the woman who owns the property, Mary Grunendike's granddaughter, is moving into an apartment.

 

Floyd Barringcr lists the Grunendike house among nearly fifty he singled out in his Historic Homes of Springfield, published in 1966. Barringer calls the house "a classic example of the French Imperial or French Second Empire Style," a distinction earned chiefly by its elaborately dormered mansard roof. (The front porch was added by a later, less consistent hand.) Beyond its architectural significance, the old Booth house is one of the few tangible reminders of a time and style of life as dead as the people who lived it. How much longer it survives depends on who buys it on May 15, and why. ●

SITES

OF

INTEREST

John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

 

The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois

 

Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives

 

Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum

 

The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Chicagology

I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)

BOOKS

 OF INTEREST

Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 

Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.

Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 

Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CornLatitudes@outlook.com

All material copyright © by James Krohe Jr. unless otherwise indicated