The Sycamore Historic District: Location 3 By Steve Bigolin
The impressive red-brick Queen-Anne-style mansion at 307 N. Main St. is considered by many as the grandest of Sycamore's late-19th-century houses. It remained in its original family for three generations - and 100 years. Historically, this was the “Residence of C.O. Boynton.” Charles Boynton was born in 1826 in Rockingham, Vt. His family traced their origins to England and the time of William the Conqueror, according to the 1907 county history “Past and Present of DeKalb County, Illinois.” However, the lord of the manor in 1607, Bartholomew de Boynton, was the earliest member of the clan positively identified. Abraham Boynton of Vermont, Charles' grandfather, relocated in 1828 to Tompkins County, N.Y., with his son John, Charles' father. C.O. Boynton came west to Illinois in 1847 and opened a dry-goods store in Chicago. He settled in Sycamore two years later and initially operated a general store. In 1852, he became engaged in the moneylending business, obtaining funds at low interest rates in the East and lending them at higher interest locally. He continued doing this for the next 20 years and amassed a considerable fortune. For a year in 1871, Boynton was junior partner with R.L. Devine in the banking house of Devine & Boynton. Land speculation was his next focus. Besides holding extensive improved farmlands in DeKalb County, he accumulated nearly 75,000 acres in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Arkansas. Some 60,000 acres of his holdings, walnut timberland, were located in Arkansas alone. According to the 1898 history “The Biographical Record of DeKalb County, Illinois,” he even erected on that property a substantial mill, from which lumber would be shipped to the South and West. In 1886, Boynton began planning a new house for his family. He chose for the job the architect of St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Somonauk Street, to which his wife belonged. George O. Garnsey of Chicago had designed homes for Isaac Ellwood of DeKalb and David Syme of Sycamore, as well as the Congregational church at Somonauk and High streets in Sycamore, to name a few structures.
Garnsey's mail-order pattern book The National Builder says that the house was completed in April 1887, at a cost of $12,000. The red brick and light-colored stone mansion has mellowed well with age. As one approaches the structure, the eye is quickly drawn to the diagonally placed tower at the southeast corner and its roof, which rises above the main house. Small bays are formed in the first- and second-floor rooms that contain the tower. Beside the projecting tower, an oriel at the northeast corner of the second floor - with windows accented with stained-glass transoms - also projects outward. Many other windows sport stained-glass details. On the south side, the porte-cochere entrance, which has been remodeled several times over the years, is especially resplendent with stained glass, and was intended to awe visitors. The front of the Boynton House has undergone three sets of changes. Garnsey conceived of the porch as a decorative open wooden structure. By the early 1900s, an open brick-based porch with simple wooden columns took its place. In the late 1940s, the first floor was converted for use as a gift, antique and women's clothing shop, and the porch was enclosed with glass panels to provide another room for displaying merchandise. The family consolidated their living quarters on the second floor. Early in 1986, third-generation Lillian Boynton put the old family mansion on the market, with an asking price of $275,000, and held a “going out of business” sale in the summer and fall. In April 1987, the property sold for $207,000. After moving to Wilmette after the sale, Mrs. Boynton returned to the DeKalb-Sycamore area and died in December 1998 at age 93. Besides returning the porch to its 1880s appearance, the new owners made a number of changes to the home's interior. The original focal point of the third floor had been a ballroom - a much larger one than at DeKalb's Ellwood House. In its day, the Boynton ballroom no doubt was elegantly decorated and furnished. When Mrs. Boynton sold the property, the original wallpaper and gas chandeliers were still in place, albeit badly deteriorated following decades of neglect. The space was gutted to create a modern master suite, which was never completed. The ballroom's original appearance survives only in the series of 68 color slides that I took in 1986 before Mrs. Boynton moved. In 1997, the house and carriage house were sold again, due to bankruptcy proceedings. The mansion was sold separately, and the 8,824-square-foot structure remains a single-family residence - while the circa-1889 carriage house was converted into office space. The 1898 county history stated, “Mr. Boynton has one of the finest residences and grounds in DeKalb County,” and I feel this remains true today.