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Local Column

Schrader: Another DeKalb landmark endangered

The 121-year-old mansion and former Elks lodge at North First Street and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb is on the market, and the owner hopes it will be preserved.
The 121-year-old mansion and former Elks lodge at North First Street and Lincoln Highway in DeKalb is on the market, and the owner hopes it will be preserved.

Jim Hovis and his wife, Catherine, have a love affair with DeKalb historic homes. They bought the house at 329 N. Third St. in 1984, doing extensive renovation over the years, but lost it to foreclosure, and it was auctioned this past April – a bank bought it for $366,000.

Now Hovis has another historic home for sale – the red sandstone house at the corner of Lincoln Highway and North First Street.

Probably best known as the former Elks Lodge, the home dates back to 1897 when Dr. Edward Mayo built the mansion around the time of his third marriage, the bride being Harriett Ellwood, who was 18 years his junior and the daughter of barbed wire baron Isaac Ellwood.

Mayo had purchased the parcel from Russell Huntley, the founder of DeKalb, whose log cabin stood on that spot, historian Steve Bigolin said.

Fast forward to 1922, when the local Elks bought the home and converted it for their use as a lodge. A large addition was built on the side, which is spacious enough for banquets or other social events. The Elks decided to sell in 1993, as they were building a new lodge on Annie Glidden Road just south of the railroad tracks.

This is when Hovis came into the picture. He heard that the Elks were closing a deal to sell to a developer as a location for a new Walgreens drug store (now across the street). That would spell the end of the historic mansion, and Hovis said he just couldn’t let that happen. He talked the lodge’s trustees into stalling the sale until he could come up with the cash to match the offer. After much debate and negotiations, the Elks allowed him to buy it for $350,000.

Hovis nearly lost it when the bank decided not to grant him the mortgage a week before closing. He scrambled to raise the needed $270,000. By contacting friends to help with the financing, he was able to meet the deadline and has owned the house since 1994.

Now that the building no longer houses Hearing Help Express, it stands vacant and ready for a new use. Hovis would like to see it renovated as a restaurant, and others have suggested a bed and breakfast in the original house, with the addition used for a banquet facility.

The biggest hurdle for commercial use will be the lack of parking; there only are 13 spaces now. Some arrangement would have to be made with an adjoining parcel owner for additional parking.

The fear is that a developer will purchase and then demolish it. DeKalb has lost several historic structures, including the grandiose old post office building, which was located where Walgreens is today, and the Jacob Haish mansion on North Third Street.

So unless someone comes forward to rescue and restore this 121-year-old mansion, it will become another casualty of redevelopment. Hovis posted on Facebook this week that he will reduce the asking price if the right person comes along to preserve it. Only time will tell.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. An archive of his past columns can be found on his website, www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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