DeKalb’s iconic Annie Glidden (1865-1962) was buried in Fairview Cemetery just 51 years ago last month, while her farmhouse at 217 Annie Glidden Road (next to the Barsema Alumni & Visitors Center) has survived for 112 years. But it may not last much longer.
John Glidden built the stately cream-colored brick house, using bricks that had been hauled by ox cart from Milwaukee. It is designed in the late vernacular Greek Revival style, also known as an “I-house” in American architecture, according to DeKalb historian Steve Bigolin who wrote about it in his book “Landmarks of the Barb City.”
Glidden’s sister Annie took possession of the house sometime after earning a degree in agriculture from Cornell University and lived there from 1910 to 1930, except for a period she spent in Wyoming. During her years on the farm she became known for her “progressive agricultural practices, experimenting over the years in the growing of fancy asparagus, raspberries, alfalfa and corn,” according to Bigolin’s book.
Her sister Cora (Glidden) Switzer died in childbirth in 1903, so Annie raised her nephew, named Glidden, as her own, although she never married. The boy died at age 13 in a tragic drowning accident at a lake in Wisconsin.
The house was sometimes the setting for gatherings of the Library Whist Club which Annie had founded as a means to support the purchase of books for the fledgling city library. The club continues to this day, 115 years later, but they now play duplicate bridge, instead of the original whist.
Bigolin also relates a story about the dinner parties Annie was fond of hosting in her home. Guests were invited out back to the chicken coop to select the bird they would like for dinner, then informed they would have to help kill and dress it for frying. This humorous remembrance came to Bigolin from the late Michael Malone, longtime owner of Malone’s Department Store in DeKalb.
In 1934 the house was sold to the Burt Oderkirk family which kept it until 1977. At that time it was threatened with destruction for a proposed shopping center development and the Northern Illinois University Foundation stepped in to purchase the residence and carriage house with 5.6 acres around it for $250,000. They raised much of the money from local residents and companies, their names now listed on a stone marker in front of the house.
Gayle (Oderkirk) Wueri, niece of Burt and Allene, said she remembers the house well. It had a large fireplace in the living room and her parents were married there on Christmas Day, 1934. The matching cream-colored brick carriage house behind it was later converted into an apartment for her cousins Dean and Ellen (Oderkirk) Froellich.
Once the house became the property of the NIU Foundation, there were multiple occupants as various departments and functions were temporarily housed there. But after years of “benign neglect,” the future of the venerable old house is uncertain. More details on its status, condition and university plans will be discussed in a follow-up column next week.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday on this page. To view a photo of the Oderkirk wedding party at dinner in the living room of the 217 Annie Glidden Road home, go to www.dekalbcountylife.com and click on Photos.