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The Landmarks of Barb City - Part 52A

The house at 200 W. Locust St. is believed to have been designed by George M. Maher and built in 1905 for Dr. James S. Rankin. It might have been the model for 618 W. Lincoln Highway. Provided photo
The house at 200 W. Locust St. is believed to have been designed by George M. Maher and built in 1905 for Dr. James S. Rankin. It might have been the model for 618 W. Lincoln Highway. Provided photo

DeKalb's ensemble of Prairie-style architecture has long been known to include works by John S. Van Bergen (233 Augusta Ave.) and Eben Ezra Roberts (250 Augusta Ave. and, likely, 308 Augusta Ave.) Research done between 1995 and 1997, however, indicated that another example of that style of architecture existed at 618 W. Lincoln Highway, and still another was to be found at 200 W. Locust St. The latter of these was originally the "Residence of Dr. James S. Rankin." When the property that was destined to become 200, 204 and 208 W. Locust was subdivided with the extension of Locust past North First Street after 1900, it became Lot 1 in "Brown & Smith's Subdivision." The west two-thirds of this parcel was sold to John W. Taylor for $2,850 on Sept. 16, 1903, according to Warranty Deed 29053. Before that time, Taylor lived in a house on the west side of South First Street, now a portion of the Walgreens property. He was forced to move because of the pending construction of the DeKalb Post Office, which Walgreens subsequently replaced. On June 10, 1904, nine months after the sale to Taylor, the east third of Lot 1 came into the possession of Clara Louise (Tyler) Rankin, by means of Warranty Deed 30943 and a payment of $1,500. She was not only the wife of Dr. Rankin, but also a niece of John W. Taylor. The Rankins were then residing at 157 E. Main St. (later Lincoln Highway), now the location of the Paperback Grotto. The question of who designed 200 W. Locust St. came to the forefront in 1995 when the longtime owners of the house offered it for sale. Local real estate agent Erna O'Connor, then of Century 21 Elsner Real Estate, contacted me about helping her document the house's history. I knew that it originally belonged to the Rankins, and that they were related to the Tylers of 618 W. Lincoln Highway. Contacting the Tylers, I learned that oral tradition in the family held that both houses were designed by the same architect, said to be Robert E. Seyfarth. Supposedly, Mrs. Louise Rankin suggested Seyfarth to her brother, S.A. Tyler, for his proposed construction project. Unfortunately, although the Tylers are the caretakers of much Tyler, Rankin and Taylor family memorabilia - including ground plans for 200 W. Locust St. - the house plans were not in their collections, nor did they have any idea of who else might possibly have them. The people selling the Rankin House in the 1990s were Dr. and Mrs. Elwood Smith, he a professor of music at Northern Illinois University. One evening in 1995, the Smiths, Erna O'Connor and I went out together for dinner, this being my first chance to put forward the possibility that we might just be dealing with a house designed by another Prairie-style architect - George W. Maher. He is best-known today for his residential commissions in the North Shore suburb of Kenilworth, but also for structures in Oak Park to which 200 W. Locust appeared similar in certain respects. Calling in an expert Erna O'Connor now pursued contacting Donald M. Aucutt of Wausau, Wis., editor of the Geo. W. Maher Quarterly. The newsletter dealt with such topics as buildings designed by Maher; places like the Rankin House, which people were suggesting as possible works of his; and Maher family happenings. For all intents and purposes, Don Aucutt was the foremost living authority on George W. Maher and would be in the best position to provide an educated opinion about whether 200 W. Locust St. could indeed be a previously unknown work of Maher's. Mr. Aucutt was initially skeptical concerning the Rankin House, as more often than not over the years he was called upon to look at poor-quality imitations rather than the real McCoy. We sent him our preliminary findings, including pictures, and encouraged him to visit DeKalb at his earliest convenience for a firsthand look. He fit us into his travel schedule during the spring of 1996, and was pleasantly surprised by what he saw while here. Mr. Aucutt got the opportunity to walk through both 618 W. Lincoln and 200 W. Locust. He agreed the Tyler House bore the imprint of Robert E. Seyfarth instead of that of George W. Maher. As far as the Rankin House went, he gave it the thumbs-up for possibly being a work of Maher's. Our evidence was, at best, admittedly circumstantial, requiring additional research through microfilms of the Chronicle from the early 1900s, etc., but he felt we were on the right track. --- Steve Bigolin is an expert on DeKalb County history.

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