DeKALB – Jim and Catherine Hovis can’t say how much money and time they’ve invested redesigning the interior of the former home of DeKalb barbed-wire barons Hiram and Sarah Ellwood.
“Much more than we’re selling it for,” Jim Hovis said with a big laugh. “We’ve never measured it. I don’t want to know.”
The 6,366-square-foot Victorian home boasts ornately detailed walls and ceilings, six bedrooms, four levels and deep ties to DeKalb’s history. But the $1.29 million price tag doesn’t account for the love the Hovises poured into 329 N. Third St.
Now, the couple is selling the Hovis-Ellwood House along with another historical DeKalb mansion at Lincoln Highway and First Street so they can move their business. They want to ensure the heritage and hard work that they’ve put into the North Third Street property is left in capable hands.
“We want to find a family that appreciates the house,” Jim Hovis said. “Maybe it will be a good office for somebody. It could be a good bed and breakfast, but we need to find a next set of owners to protect it.”
The Victorian home, on a half-acre lot, was designed by George O. Garnsey in 1884 for Hiram Ellwood, older brother of Isaac Ellwood, and his wife, Sarah. Garnsey also designed Isaac Ellwood’s home, which is now known as the Ellwood House Museum, about five years earlier. Hiram Ellwood helped found and managed the Superior Barbed Wire Company.
Catherine Hovis took the central role in restoring the home’s interior using extensive period wallpaper from Bradbury & Bradbury, a company that specializes in custom vintage wall coverings.
She drew extensively from a light color palette, especially in the home’s south parlor, which would have been reserved for special events in its heyday. Yellows popular in the Victorian era have since faded into browns and golds, she said.
“I had a person here who was an expert in period wall coverings and color and window treatments, and I was showing him the house, and he said [the south parlor] is the best one,” Catherine Hovis said.
“That was a room I thought I needed to apologize for, but he loved it. That was really an affirmation of the work that a lot of people came together to do here.”
The home also has six bedrooms, three full baths, a large barn-turned-garage and a partially finished attic with office space and a spa.
About 25 years ago, the Hovises bought the house from the family of Bob Heimerdinger, a former athletic director and football coach at DeKalb High School. The house served as a rooming house for Northern Illinois University students – a sorority occupied the basement – after it fell out of the Ellwood family’s hands. Many original lighting fixtures, etched windows and bronze hardware survived and still occupy the home’s walls and doors today.
“Somehow they survived and that light survived all of those years,” Jim Hovis said. “Upstairs, all the doors are riddled with dart holes.”
Roger Blomgren, of Coldwell Banker NRT, the agency that represents both the home at 329 N. Third and the Hovis’ office building at 105 N. First St., said the Hovis-Ellwood home could be on the market for a while.
“Inquiries about the property are now coming in with the call for more information or compliments to current owners for their work in preserving such an asset,” he said in an email. “Sale of properties like the Ellwood mansion take time because of its unique characteristics and how it will be used by the new owner.”
Their other mansion at 105 N. First St. was built in 1897 for Isaac Ellwood’s daughter and is zoned for mixed uses. With 8,718 square feet on two levels, it’s listed for $1.39 million. The Hovis’ business, Hearing Help Express, has outgrown the building and plans to move to a bigger facility on South Seventh Street.
“We’re selling the two at the same time, because we want to move our office to South Seventh Street, where we have other employees working,” Jim Hovis said. “This would be ideal for an executive moving to town or an accounting firm. They could live in this house and have that one as their office building.”