Ellwood House Museum, DeKalb, Illinois

The Ellwood House is a very special place to me, having been born and raised in DeKalb County, Illinois.  For many years, the Ellwood House volunteers sponsored an annual Tour of Homes as a museum benefit.  My mom and I, along with assorted friends and family, went on that tour every fall.  We always saved the Ellwood mansion as the last house of the day, each of us looking forward to seeing our favorite room again. (Mine was the dining room.)


This time the outing was Cruzn with girlfriends, Missy and Cecille.  It was their first visit to the Ellwood estate.

To begin, why is Isaac Ellwood notable? . . .  we found out that he was one of the first to manufacture barbed wire, which was important in the settlement of the American West.  Barbed wire allowed ranchers to economically fence in their land and keep track of their large herds of cattle.

Glidden Barb Wire

Ellwood and his business partner, Joseph Glidden, formed a manufacturing company and shipped boxcars of barbed wire to the Plains.  They both became very wealthy men.



Isaac and wife, Harriet, built a fine house with all that barbed wire money.  Over the years, the 1879 mansion was updated a couple of times to its present look.  Family members donated the property to the DeKalb Park District in 1964.


Also located on the grounds is the charming Little House.  It was built in 1891 as a contractor’s model and parade float.  The Ellwood’s eldest son, William, later purchased it for a playhouse for his two daughters.


Another interesting building is Mrs. Ellwood’s private museum.  She collected so much stuff on her world travels that her exasperated husband finally had a building constructed to house it all.  Today, Mrs. Ellwood’s “curiosities” are displayed in the Visitor Center, and her museum building is used for storage.




This stone water tower was once part of “Ellwood Green,” the family’s business of importing and raising Percheron draft horses.  (The Ellwood property around the mansion was about 1200 acres at one time.  A large stable complex, including the tower, was part of the acreage.)




The Ellwoods had seven kids – five reached adulthood – and they all lived in grand style, too.


Next door to the Ellwood mansion is the Ellwood-Nearhing House.  It was built for youngest son, Perry, and his wife, May.  A later owner, Mrs. Shirley Neahring, donated the property back to the Ellwood Association in 2011.  You can now take a tour of this home as well.



Out on the lawn, Archduke Ferdinand, minus his sword, watches over the grounds.


The garden behind the Ellwood-Nearhing House is lovely.  It is based on photographs of May Ellwood’s 1903 garden, and planted in the same location.



Daughter Mary and her husband, John Lewis, lived a few blocks away from the Ellwood mansion. The Lewis family moved into their new home in December 1900.


The home of another daughter, Harriet, was just down the street at 105 North First.  She married a local physician.



To complete your study of the Ellwood family, visit Fairview Cemetery at the south end of DeKalb.  Peek inside the Ellwood mausoleum, and you’ll see a beautiful stained glass window, thought to be a Tiffany.

Ellwood Tiffany Window

The Ellwood House Museum shares a great American success story and is well worth a visit!

Ellwood House Museum
509 North First Street
DeKalb, Illinois


Bonus stop:  Egyptian Theater


Just a few blocks from the Ellwood House is the Egyptian Theater, a former vaudeville hall and movie house, and now a regional arts center.  It originally opened in December 1929.  The architecture was inspired by a national fascination with ancient Egypt after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  There were over 100 Egyptian-style theaters built in the U.S. in the early 1900s, but this DeKalb theater is one of only five remaining today, and it is the only one east of the Rocky Mountains.

Growing up in the DeKalb area, I have many fond memories of watching movies at “the Egyptian.”

Columbus, Indiana

It’s always interesting to see the influence of a leading corporation on the community where it’s located.  In Moline, Illinois, the contributions of John Deere & Company are note-worthy, and in Peoria, Illinois, Caterpillar, Inc.’s name is widely recognized and appreciated.

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The major industry in Columbus, Indiana is Cummins Engine Company, and its impact on the city has been significant.  Back in 1950s, J. Irwin Miller was the head of Cummins, and he convinced the town’s leaders to go with modern architecture.  Miller set up a foundation that would pay architect’s fees for public buildings, if a well-known architect was chosen.  The result was a bevy of modern structures.

My husband, Mike, and I took the Columbus Architecture Bus Tour to hear the stories and see the buildings. Our guide was a Cummins engineer who was putting in some volunteer time for the community.  He liked giving the tour and answering questions.

Bartholomew County Courthouse
First Christian Church

As we drove around town, we noticed there’s a unique blend of old and new with Columbus’ architecture.  The 1875 Bartholomew County Courthouse looked handsome and impressive, but so did the 1942 First Christian Church, designed by Eliel Saarinen.  We were there on a Saturday, and inside, the church organist was practicing for the next day’s service.  The sound, along with the structure, was glorious.


Veterans Memorial

Particularly noteworthy among all the modern architecture was the Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial, next to the courthouse.  The names of veterans who gave their lives, along with excerpts from letters and journals, are engraved on the limestone pillars. It’s a meaningful experience to walk among the columns and read the letters.

One of the more popular tours in Columbus is the Miller House and Gardens.  It’s the former home of Cummins chief J. Irvin Miller that was designed Eero Saainen.  The tour sells out quickly so make reservations in advance.

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After taking in all that modern architecture, step back in time and enjoy a treat at the restored 1900 Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor in the downtown area.

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Or take in some nature with a walk or drive around Mill Race Park.  It features an historic covered bridge and a tranquil circular pond.


We decided to fully immerse ourselves in the modern architecture experience and booked a room at the Hotel Indigo.  It’s bright, colorful, and doggie-friendly if you’re bringing along the pet.

Grounds at Inn at Irwin Gardens

If you want a more traditional stay, the Inn at Irwin Gardens is Old World elegant.  The gardens were inspired by Pompeii, Italy.


Our second day was spent looking over the interesting public art.  There’s quite a bit throughout the city.  At the town library is Henry Moore’s “Large Arch.”


“Persians” was a gift of J. Irvin Miller and his wife to the Visitors Center.

Whether it’s old or new, there’s something for everyone in Columbus, Indiana !


Bonus stop:  Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis


If you’re driving through Indianapolis on the way down to Columbus, consider stopping at President Benjamin Harrison’s home at 1230 Delaware Street.  It’s located in a neighborhood that feels like a small town.  The stately Italianate house is nicely furnished, and the tour is a chance to learn about this little-known president.