If the modern real estate mantra is “location, location, location,” Kane County’s historic homes add a few more Desirable Traits: Charming. Unique. Comfortable. characteristic.
Throughout Kane County, painted lady Victorians, cozy bungalows and classic all-American four squares, some complete with a spacious welcoming front porch, remind us of the way life used to be — even if we’re too young to remember it.
Step inside as three residents share what they love about their historic homes.
1907 Victorian Shingle
For Al Hiller, retirement has provided time to perfect his swing. Not his golf swing. His hammer swing.
Since 2000, when Hiller and his wife, Anne Fleming, purchased their 1907 Geneva home, they have repaired, redecorated and expanded to make the home comfortably modern while maintaining its vintage charm.
Originally from the south suburbs, the couple came to Geneva after Fleming accepted a new position at St. Charles Community Unit School District 303. The two immediately fell in love with the community and its historical homes.
“We liked how it was in walking distance to downtown and that there were shops in close proximity,” Fleming says.
Because their previous house had already sold, they went ahead and purchased the home on Fulton Street, even though it needed a great deal of work.
“I felt like I was up to the task of working on an old house,” says Hiller, a former art teacher. “It was kind of a retirement project for me.”
The couple consulted with an architect to address a sagging living room floor and added basement beams for extra support.
They also expanded the house in the back with a two-story addition. The addition — completed by Tom Ritchie Construction in St. Charles — provides a spacious kitchen and a family room for entertaining while incorporating historical details such as the original kitchen door. Another exterior door dates from the 1850s and came from a neighbor’s house. New millwork and windows replicate those from 1907.
Upstairs in the new master bathroom, a black and white tile floor surrounds a claw-footed bathtub.
“We tried to stay true to the period,” Hiller says.
The house originally was the home of James and Julia Downey. James was the foreman at Cannon Box Company, which was owned by Julia’s father. Julia’s brother, William Cannon, lived next door. A 1907 notice in the Geneva Republican reported that James Downey and William Cannon each were granted $2,000 loans by the Geneva Building and Loan Association.
Today, Hiller and Fleming agree that their favorite part of the home is the large wrap-around porch, which often attracts strolling neighbors in the summer.
“People are drawn to it, and it’s fun to be out there, watching the world go by,” Fleming says.
1900s National Style
The trim white house on Chestnut Street in St. Charles looks like it’s always been there, but that isn’t quite true.
The building, which is at least 130 years old, has been in two previous locations, and it functioned as a barn and a retail store.
These days, it’s a charming home owned by Pat and Tom Pretz.
“We are passionate about historic preservation and returning our ‘modernized’ aluminum-sided home back to what it more closely looked like around the turn of the century,” Pat Pretz says.
The house probably was built in the early 1880s and was first owned by farmer and Civil War veteran Tom Evison. After Evison’s death in 1885, his widow sold the barn to St. Charles businessman George Ferson, who moved the barn to a location near the depot and railroad tracks where he operated I.C. Ferson Grain and Feed.
When Ferson died in 1899, his daughter, Emma Satterlee, moved the house to its present location and began converting it into a home, possibly for her son George. Emma died in 1903, and her son finished the conversion and sold the house in 1907.
When the Pretzes moved in seven years ago, the house’s historical character was hidden by modernizations such as a mansard roof, windows from the 1950s and aluminum siding from the 1970s. But beneath the aluminum, they found stucco that dated to the 1920s, which Pat Pretz believes may have helped preserve the original clapboard siding underneath.
“We are still amazed that most of the wood siding that is well over 100 years old and original to the building was in such great shape,” she says.
As the Pretzes repaired the clapboard, they discovered vertical board and batten “barn siding” underneath as well as initials and dates carved into the foundation.
“The earliest date we saw was 1883,” Pat Pretz says.
Other historical touches include a 1920s addition with a slanted roof and wood ceiling and a small dormer with fish scale siding. The couple has added period-correct details such as an urn, mailbox and shutters.
“It’s a small house, about 1,500 square feet, but warm, cozy and it feels like home,” Pat Pretz says.
1929 Sears “Honor-Bilt” Home
Gene Woolcott of Elgin was 14 when he and a friend rode their bikes down Vincent Place while returning from Wing Park.
“My friend said to me, ‘Pick the house you want to live in,’ and I pointed to this one,” Woolcott recalls. “No particular reason, I just liked the look of it.”
In May 1986, Woolcott’s long-ago wish came true when he and his wife, Sändra, purchased the house. “Gene saw that the house was for sale,” Sändra says. “We called our Realtor on Wednesday, and by Sunday, it was ours.”
During the early 20th century, kit homes purchased from catalogs were common, especially in communities like Elgin, which is on a rail line. The Woolcott’s Sears model, the Bedford, was sold between 1926 and 1933, starting at $2,242.
“A neighbor whose parents owned a Sears house suggested ours might be one, too,” Sändra says. “I went and looked at her parents’ house and decided it was possible.”
Shortly afterward, the couple received a letter from local author and kit home expert Rebecca Hunter, confirming the neighbor’s hunch.
“There was a copy of the catalog page, and I got really excited, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this is our house,’” Sändra says.
With a full-length front porch and solid brick exterior, the house had plenty of exterior charm, but the inside wasn’t quite as lovely. The oak floors were hidden beneath green shag carpet, and dated wallpaper covered the rooms.
Over the years, the couple has updated the living room, dining room, guest bedroom and kitchen. The galley style kitchen follows the original 1929 floor plan and includes the original kitchen cabinets. A granite countertop threaded with dark red matches the brick-colored paint on the walls. kc