Last week’s column reviewed the colorful history of the home at 217 Annie Glidden Road on the Northern Illinois University campus, known locally as Annie Glidden’s house.
Annie, a niece of barbed wire baron Joseph Glidden who left her mark on several prominent social and cultural initiatives in DeKalb, spent about 20 years of her life there and raised a nephew from birth at the homestead while operating a sizable farm by herself. Annie, born in July 1865, died in 1962.
After more research into how the NIU Foundation has leased her house to NIU since 1977, the details of the uses and eventual decline in condition have become clearer. I used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain leases and repair documents.
If she were alive today Annie would not be happy with the condition of the interior. The heat and utilities were turned off about eight or 10 years ago, according to Patrick Bell of NIU Department of Finance and Facilities, who agreed to let a few people tour the home and carriage house Thursday. Along for the tour were DeKalb Mayor John Rey, DeKalb historian Steve Bigolin, myself, and Brad Hoey, vice president of university relations.
The “benign neglect,” as I called it last week, is evident throughout the three-story home. Holes in the walls where wiring and fixtures were removed over the years, areas where the plaster and lath are exposed, and debris scattered throughout each room, show how long it has been since any university function was located there.
I learned that a variety of departments and offices used the house for temporary quarters since its purchase by the NIU Foundation in 1977. The university has leased the two residences (the carriage house was converted to an apartment in the 1950s) and surrounding five acres the past 36 years from the foundation, paying out more than $150,000, according to the lease documents. During that time the university also reroofed the carriage house in 2005 and made some external repairs on the two structures.
Meanwhile, records show that the foundation had improved sanitary sewer and water lines run underground to the buildings in 1982 at a cost of $15,796 and later paid Nicor for a new gas line. Then in 1985 the it spent nearly $20,000 for extensive exterior restoration.
So there is good and bad news about the house’s condition and its potential. Since NIU is still paying $4,800 a year to the foundation there should be funds to repair the damage. In fact Article 13 in the lease states that at such time the lease is terminated: “Lessee shall surrender possession of said premises to Lessor … in the same condition as exists at the commencement of this lease, normal wear and tear excepted … .”
All the rest is good news. It is on Rey’s radar and he sees “potential” in the house for future “communiversity” collaboration. Those on the tour seemed to agree the historical significance and the remarkable stability of the house makes it a prime candidate for preservation.
But the foundation needs to act now, not a year from now, by restoring heat to the house, replacing the aging roof that has to be more than 40 years old, and by convening a task force of concerned constituents, including the city, university, alumni and historians to make something positive happen, despite the failures of the past decade to keep it in good condition. It will have my undivided attention and I hope the attention of others who care about our county’s rural heritage and our pioneering families.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column typically appears every other Tuesday on this page.