Houses don’t have to be 200 years old to have some historical value. In fact, it’s interesting to look at and appreciate many of the architectural styles that were popular during a variety of historical periods here in the good old U.S. of A.
Sure, the Federal Style houses out East are interesting, but so are the Federal Style buildings that the early settlers built here in the Midwest. The two versions aren’t exactly the same, since certain modifications had to be made when building so far from what passed for civilization in those days. A little Later, Greek Revival Style homes and other buildings succeeded the older Federal Style buildings, followed by Italianate, Second Empire, and other styles.
By the late years of the 19th Century, the Queen Anne Style had become extremely popular. From the sprawling summer “cottages” of the Robber Barons built up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, to smaller one- and two-storey cottages, the style included a variety of elements that our Edwardian ancestors found pleasing. I’m lucky enough to live in a fine example of late Queen Anne architecture that celebrated its 100th birthday in 2008.
In 1907, deciding to retire from their Wheatland Township farm, John Peter and Amelia (Minnich) Lantz retained Amelia’s nephew, Irvin Haines, to build a new home for them on a parcel located along what is today North Adams Street, between the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy tracks and the Fox River, in Oswego.
Haines was a skilled contractor who, either alone or in concert with his sometime-partners Lou C. Young and Ed Inman, built several Oswego homes, including the stately Clinton House, now the McKeown-Dunn Funeral Home on Madison Street, as well as farm buildings and many homes in other nearby communities.
The Lantzes chose a one and a half storey Queen Anne design of about 1,300 square feet. It featured a full basement with poured concrete walls and ornamental concrete blocks (made on-site) atop the poured portion; a steeply pitched “lifetime” asbestos-cement shingle roof (to prevent fires from the steam locomotives of the era that passed less than 100 feet away); a bay window in the dining room with a leaded glass top panel that matched the one atop the picture window in the living room; an open front porch; and an enclosed south porch suitable for starting bedding plants in the spring.
The design was a clever optical illusion. The wider clapboard siding on the first storey and narrower siding on the second, in combination with the steep gable roof, drew the eye up, making the house seem much larger than it actually was. Fluted corner columns, front gable brackets, and shingled roof peaks completed the major exterior design elements.
Haines must have liked the design, since he built at least two other identical homes, one in Montgomery, which still stands, and the other a farmhouse on Woolley Road that was demolished to make room for the new Oswego Fire Station.
Notable features inside included an open staircase and entry hall that could be closed off in winter; main floor rooms consisting of the kitchen, indoor bathroom, a back parlor, dining room, front parlor or living room. Upstairs, three bedrooms, all with closets, finished the design. Major interior features were yellow pine woodwork throughout, built-in cabinets in the dining room and back parlor, gas lights powered by an acetylene generator in the basement, plastered walls throughout, and a coal-fired hot water furnace.
Outside, the old house on the property was moved to the south to make way for the new home and turned into a town barn with stalls for the family cow and horse and a chicken house. The barn was joined by a small smokehouse, an outhouse, and a hand-dug well lined with native limestone.
The couple moved in on Oct. 2, 1908.
Fearing the house was simply too grand for them, the Lantzes refused to use the bathroom or the main floor kitchen, instead doing their cooking and eating in the basement and using the outhouse in lieu of the bathroom until their late 80s.
The Lantzes lived in the house until their deaths, his in 1942 and hers in 1943, after which ownership passed to their daughter and her husband, William and Mabel (Lantz) Holzhueter—my grandparents, and then to my parents, who bought it in 1954. My wife and I bought the house from my mother in 1976, the fourth generation to own it.
Over the years, the home’s exterior has remained largely unchanged. The Lantzes added a small back entry mostly for storage of garden tools soon after the house was built. The exterior color was changed in the from the tri-color popular when it was new to white, a color retained ever since. My uncle added one-car garage between the house and barn in 1943.
Inside, electricity was added in the 1930s using the old gas piping for wiring conduits. The yellow pine woodwork still gleams throughout, although my mother removed cornices above the doors, the plate rail in the dining room, the picture rails in the dining and living rooms and the old back parlor, and the top baseboard cap in 1954 to give the house a more modern look. The kitchen has been remodeled several times, but the built-in cabinets in the dining room and back parlor and the open staircase remain unchanged, as do the cast iron radiators in each room. And after 104 years, that “lifetime” roof is still soldering on.
Today, the house still remains a classic example of Oswego’s Queen Anne architecture and the architectural contributions of contractor Irvin Haines.
Update: It just occurred to me that if you check out the photo at the top of the blog’s home page, you’ll see my barn as it was when it was a house, a few years before Irvin Haines built my great-grandparents’ home. The house, later our barn, is at the far left in the lower foreground. Nowadays, the neighborhood’s look has changed considerably. The old Parker Sawmill and Furniture Factory is long gone, replaced by today’s Troy Park, trees have replaced the denuded riverbanks, and homes now dot North Adams Street, which is no longer the meandering muddy track it was when Irvin Haines (yep; him again) took the photo about 1895.