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The Landmarks of Barb City - Part 24A

In this 1894 "DeKalb Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir Edition" photograph, the stone tower was flanked by Ellwood Green stables.
In this 1894 "DeKalb Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir Edition" photograph, the stone tower was flanked by Ellwood Green stables.

By the time Ellwood House was donated to the DeKalb Park District in 1964 to be restored for conversion into a house museum, the grounds surrounding it had long since shrunk in size to 8.8 acres of land - down from a high of 1,200 or so. Four historic outbuildings continue to share space on the grounds, one of which was returned there in 1973. The oldest building still standing on the property, besides the mansion itself, is likely the stone tower at the west edge of the grounds. Just exactly when it was constructed has been variously guessed at over the years, but is not known with certainty. In a Dec. 4, 1964, Daily Chronicle article, Mrs. Perry Ellwood was quoted as saying the tower was erected in 1879 to supply water to the mansion. Likewise, a rendering in the 1892 "DeKalb Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir Edition" fails to include the tower in the drawing of the Ellwood Green stables. For that matter, however, that historical source fails to show the stable complex true to form, as do photographs in family albums from the early 1890s and 1900s. The 1894 "Souvenir" contains an actual picture of the tower, showing it flanked by stables. This photo also is preserved in the collections of Ellwood House Museum. The 1892 "Plat Book of DeKalb County, Illinois," meanwhile, shows the tower to be in the barnyard area. The massive stone base of the tower originally supported a large wooden water tank. The huge steel beams upon which the tank rested remain in place, visible from a floor partway up, accessed via restored stairs. The window on the east fašade was once a doorway out onto a small balcony just below the spot from which the tank extended up. In all probability, it was reached from inside by a tall ladder of some sort. An outside ladder then rose to a narrow gallery encircling the tower at the tank's base. Another very steep ladder up the face of the tank accessed the roof. The tower's architectural features Despite the tower's utilitarian purpose, it did sport some decorative features. In addition to the semicircular arches with center keystones over the windows, the gallery around the structure and the roof of the tank had paired brackets below them. The gallery ones probably served a support function, also. A wooden railing with crisscrossing elements formed the gallery's edge, while the small rectangular balcony was supported by either the exposed ends of the steel beams under the tank, or wooden ones anchored in the stonework. Between the gallery brackets was a wooden frieze band with raised panels painted in at least two different colors. The brackets may have been similarly ornamented. The doors and transom at the base look to have had a three-color scheme, there being a dark body color, a slightly lighter tone for the inset panels and a darker shade for the framing. From the early 1890s, then - if not sometime before - the tower has served as an eye-catching landmark on the Ellwood House grounds, especially after Linden Place was extended northwest of the tower. The age of the tower indicates that it could have been designed by George O. Garnsey, as he was the Ellwoods' architect of favor until losing the commission for the Northern Illinois State Normal School in 1895 to Charles E. Brush. Even minus the grand tank, the tower imparts a stately appearance. (The building also bears similarities to the historic Western Springs, Ill., water tower of 1892, which originally contained town offices, in addition to being topped by a tank.) The tower's restoration Two important physical alterations have been made to the tower since its original construction. First, the outer doorway was changed from sporting an arch like those above the windows, to a more traditional arch, with the historic keystone surviving. Besides this, the stonework extends higher than it once did. During restoration in the late 1970s, before the present roof was built on the ground and hoisted into place by a crane, an interesting discovery was made. Cut into the rim at the top was the date 1900, which appeared when the tank was removed. In addition, one can see that, for whatever reason, another 20 feet were added to the tower's height. Restoration of the old stone tower was made possible at the time by a generous donation from Mrs. B.D. Bassham of Colorado City, Texas, a great-granddaughter of Isaac and Harriet Ellwood, and a granddaughter of Will and Jennie Ellwood. Another possible purpose A postscript to the story of the tower has to do with the late I.L. Ellwood II, the oldest of the Perry Ellwood children. He told me years ago how, back in the days when the property still belonged to the family, he and his wife, Margery Riach Ellwood, considered having a seven-level apartment constructed inside the tower as their home. He said they thought it would make a unique place to live. The cost of such a project - adding plumbing, heating, electricity, air conditioning, floors, stairs or perhaps an elevator, walls, etc. - would doubtless have been horrendously high. In addition, had the couple proceeded with the idea, they would eventually have sacrificed their privacy when Ellwood House became a museum. Editor's note: Steve Bigolin will be leading tours of DeKalb on two days during Corn Fest. Tours will depart at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. Aug. 28 and 29 from the service drive behind DeKalb Confectionary off East Locust Street. Bigolin strongly recommends that reservations be made in advance. Call the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce at (815) 756-6306 by Aug. 27.

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