Mind & Spirit

Parade Through the Past at Elgin House Tour

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Get an inside glimpse into one of Elgin’s oldest neighborhoods and its cozy residences, many of which have been lovingly restored over the past few decades.

This fully renovated home in Elgin’s Historic District is one of many lovingly restored properties that will be open for this year’s house tour.

This fully renovated home in Elgin’s Historic District is one of many lovingly restored properties that will be open for this year’s house tour.

One of Elgin’s most charming neighborhoods is showing off its historical treasures again, as the Gifford Park Association hosts its 35th annual Elgin House Tour this Sept. 10 and 11.

Each year, this tour allows an inside glimpse into some of the city’s historic neighborhoods and their cozy residences. This time, the focus is on the Elgin Historic District, which was, incidentally, the highlight of the very first home tour, back in 1981. This district, which encompasses what’s commonly known as the Gifford Park neighborhood, contains part of the original plat of Elgin laid out in 1842 by James Gifford.

“This year, we are returning to the roots of our historic past,” says Paul Bednar, local Realtor and public relations chair for the House Tour. “This neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places. From the big businessmen’s mansions to the former factory worker cottages, it is a diverse mix of housing styles.”

Seven homes will be featured on this year’s walking tour, and many date back to the 1880s. Trained docents, or guides, will be posted at each home to answer questions about house architecture and history. Information on home remodeling, interior decorating and gardening will be provided as well.

Bednar says this year’s “Belle of the Ball” is an 1887 Victorian residence owned by Tom and Maureen Lee.

“The house is incredible, both inside and out, with its Victorian detail,” Bednar says.

The Lees purchased the home in 2009 and are nearly done transforming the gorgeous residence, which had once been a two-flat and passed through several owners, including the Elgin Academy. The Lees turned back the hands of time and brought out the old charms of this ornate home.

“We were very lucky,” says Maureen Lee, a GPA membership chair. “A photo of the original home was found at the Elgin Museum and was used to assist us in replacing the exterior architectural details.”

The elegant home still contains several original elements, including woodwork on the lower level, fireplace tiles and ornate crown moldings. One of its true treasures is the stairway, which features curved panels constructed from carved wood.

“It still amazes me every time I walk by that somebody designed this, and this was normal back then,” Lee says.

During renovations, the Lees opened and modernized the home’s kitchen, adding a set of French doors. Neighbors also helped in restoration efforts.

“It’s amazing what a great group of people live here in the Historic District,” Lee says. “And the house tour is a great opportunity to showcase what the GPA has done.”

The home tour serves as a fundraiser for the Gifford Park Association (GPA), a group of neighbors dedicated to promoting appreciation and pride in the city’s architectural design heritage. Started in 1979 by neighbors adjacent to a public space called Gifford Park, GPA is a tireless advocate for the preservation of the surrounding neighborhood and its homes.

Proceeds from the annual home tour help fulfill GPA’s mission of preserving the Historic District and working on community projects, including rehabbing derelict properties, providing workshops and hosting events such as auctions, where materials salvaged from condemned properties are sold to find new purpose in other historic homes.

“The event raises the awareness of local history, educates people about architectural styles and has even helped to generate a surge of old house restoration in Elgin and interest in the city,” Bednar says. “A number of people who attend the tour have even moved to Elgin.”

Between 1,600 and 2,300 people are expected to attend this year’s Home Tour.

For tour times and ticket information, visit gpaelgin.org/annual-elgin-historic-house-tour.

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