Tuesday, February 8, 2011
“Patience, patience, patience,” says Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “is what the sea teaches.” I must say that patience is what I’m learning in writing a non-fiction book like this. Research, writing, interviews, more research, more interviews, more research, and then finally the writing… My writing hand must be patient until it can get the accurate accounts and details. Then my creative pen (or typing fingers) can weave the facts with imagination—that’s where the patience proves plentiful.
I’m researching information on the Lewis Thomas mansion on I-55 at mile 76 Northbound. When I was in my early teens I remember passing by this mansion often as my father drove from Springfield to Gillespie to pick up my niece on the weekends. My brother would tell me it was a haunted mansion. My mother told me that slaves used it during the Underground Railroad. Well, now as a grown woman, I’m finally trying to unravel the truth about this intriguing mansion situated so prominently along I-55, just 20 miles south of Springfield. The Montgomery County Historical Society has been extremely generous in helping me find the history of the first homeowner of the residence, Lewis Thomas.
In 1851, Lewis Thomas’ estate covered these interstate lines and spread out for 970 acres across Montgomery County. Before he built this mansion, he built up the grounds of his estate with natural fences and timber groves. His estate became known as the Union Grove Stock Farm where they managed horses, sheep, cattle, hogs, and chickens along with other atypical farm animals such as peacocks, deer, and bears. This most impressive estate in the county even had its own boardwalk connecting it directly to the Illinois Central Railroad station that was built just west of his home. Thomas lived here until his death in 1909.
Two fires, many owners, and almost 150 years of wear have made the mansion almost indistinguishable from the design that Elijah E. Myers created in 1863 for landowner Lewis Thomas. Myers, who had designed the Macoupin County courthouse in Carlinville and the George Brinkerhoff home in Springfield, designed this home with Italianate Villa features that were popular in the 1850s and 60s. This mansion was once dressed with arched windows, eaves that dripped with intricately carved brackets, and a very ornate top to the tower. But in 1888, a fire destroyed much of the home; and when it was rebuilt, Italianate had been booted from the architectural runway and replaced by Queen Anne, the new fashionista of the time. Just like straight hair and bellbottoms were replaced by fluffy perms and parachute pants, Queen Anne’s rectangular windows straightened out the Italian curves,…
Now, I await the latest news of this mansion. Who owns it now? What has happened to it since 1909? It looks like it is for sale. What will happen to it? Will the next owner renovate it, try to find the stories hidden in the walls, nurture it back to health? The phrase, “if walls could talk…” perfectly describes the intrigue that this house has aroused in local communities. Until bricks grow lips, I will have to dig in for some research, interviewing, and patience, patience, patience, until those long-awaited stories find me or I find them.