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Let There Be Light: Christmas 2016

I shot this after the first big snow. Decorations not complete yet. The snow on the trees really caught the area lights.

I shot this after the first big snow December 4th. Decorations not complete yet. The snow on the trees really caught the area lights.

 

Ever since I was a child, Christmas lights have cast a magical spell over me. Mood, color, ambiance– combined to create a winter fantasy.

This year Michael and I decided to scale back on the interior decorating and focus primarily on the exterior of the house– since that is what the most people see.

With the unseasonable warm weather we had this year, I was able to work on outdoor projects longer– like repairing and painting stairs and porches, all the way in to November. The trees held their leaves much longer this year, postponing yard clean up as well. So, I didn’t really start decorating until the week after Thanksgiving.

The majority of the decorating took approximately 60 hours over two and a half weeks. I used over 900 feet of garland, 10 artificial trees, 65 bows, thousands of LED lights, 24 egg strobes and 10 laser projectors to complete the effect outside. Every year it’s a little different, depending on time, resources and whatever mood strikes me.

Inside, I didn’t put up any traditional, full-size trees but did decorate 12 ‘stick’ and tabletop trees (3 ft. to 9 ft. tall) along with some mantle and stair garland. In the windows I used 27 LED snowflakes, 28 sets of icicle lights and 36 battery operated candles. I experimented with LED ‘curtain lights’ in 6 windows in place of Christmas trees I’d used in the past.

 

321 Division St. on a beautiful sunny morning after a good snow.

321 Division St. on a beautiful sunny morning after a good snow.

 

Garland and bows decorate the fence around 321 Division Street.

Garland and bows decorate the fence around 321 Division Street.

 

The house before dusk.

The house before dusk.

 

321 Division Street just before sunset.

321 Division Street just before sunset.

 

Looking across the front yard at our spiral tree with the church in the background.

Looking across the front yard at our spiral tree with the church in the background.

 

Trees line both sides of the front driveway.

Trees line both sides of the front driveway.

 

On the hill behind our house.

On the hill behind our house.

 

One of two light & bead trees I created from scratch.

One of two light & bead trees I created from scratch.

 

321 Division from the street.

321 Division from the street.

 

Christmas at home.

Christmas at home.

 

Front porch fully decorated.

Front porch fully decorated.

 

The statue of Liberty on the front center porch.

The statue of Liberty on the front center porch.

 

The front parlor at 321 Division St.

The front parlor at 321 Division St.

 

In the dining room.

In the dining room.

 

The side of the house.

The side of the house.

 

The lights will be on display through at least New Years’ weekend.

Spring Has Sprung at 321 Division St.

Spring at home. The John Newman House built in 1889 also known locally as 'The Butterman Mansion'.

Spring at home. The John Newman House built in 1889 also known locally as ‘The Butterman Mansion’.

We’ve really been enjoying the many colors of spring. Every year the show is a little bit different so we never quite know what to expect. Blooming started a little earlier than some years and most of the more brilliant colors are gone; replaced now by the beautiful, rich green of new leaves and fresh grass.

Mulching, overseeding and spring clean up are done but there’s always more planting and weeding to do. Working on the yard is one of my favorite things to do in the spring and the fall. It’s great exercise too.

Here are some of the images I was able to catch over the past month.

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321 Division Street : 125 Years Young

Plaque designating that 321 Division Street is officially part of the historic district.

Plaque designating that 321 Division Street is officially part of the historic district.

It’s time to celebrate two milestones at 321 Division Street.

This year, we celebrate the 125th birthday of the house and our 15th anniversary as its guardians. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here this long.

In 1994, Michael and I happened to be invited to a private party at this big, old, scary house we’d admired from a distance for sometime, never imagining we’d ever step inside. We both agreed it would be so cool to live in a place like this some day.

Flash forward four years: Michael just happened to overhear a woman going on and on to a friend of ours about a house that just went on the market. The more she talked, Michael realized she was talking about the house– and we wasted no time getting an appointment for a viewing.

The oldest known photograph of 321 Division Street. from the early 1900's

The oldest known photograph of 321 Division Street from the early 1900’s.

Built by John Newman in 1889,  Butterman’s, as it is often referred to; is a bit of a rare breed. It is a brick and stone Queen Anne, unlike the majority that are mostly wood construction. It originally  featured 14 rooms, eight fireplaces, over 30 stained glass windows, and 13 different types of wood. It is listed as one of the thirty-five most influential buildings in the Elgin Historic District.

At the time John Newman  built the house, he was also busy acquiring fifty-two creameries and is often credited for setting the Midwest dairy prices in the late 1800’s. He is most famous for his Spring Brook Creameries brand butter and served as President of the Elgin Board of Trade from 1894 to 1911.

Following the Newman family, the Ludwig family lived at 321 Division for many years. It sat empty towards the end of the 1960’s, was heavily vandalized in 1973, and considered a candidate for demolition. All the stained glass windows, many of the chandeliers, ornate door hardware and other intricacies were gone. Vagrants squatted in the house, starting a fire in the foyer by the grand staircase causing minor damage. Luckily, the Powers family came to the rescue, saving the house from demolition and  preserving and extensively renovating 321 Division into what became, for a time, an upscale dinner club known as Butterman’s Restaurant, which opened in 1976.

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looked in 1998.

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looked in 1998.

After a few successful years, the restaurant began to struggle and started opening primarily for private parties before closing completely by the early 1990’s as the owners fought to find a new, sustainable use for their treasure.

We’re only the third family to live here. Prior to our purchase in 1999 and sometime after 1994, it had become law offices, with the industrial basement kitchen rented out to a caterer. Even though we closed on the house in February, we weren’t able to fully occupy until all the renters’ leases were up, July 1, 1999.

It’s really been fifteen years.

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street, 2004.

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street, Spring 2004.

Owning an old house brings many joys and frustrations. Enjoying the unique beauty and character of the home is sometimes overshadowed by the constant upkeep. Something always needs attention. The romanticized notions of living in a place like this are certainly balanced by the hard work necessary to keep it going. Still, I can’t help but treasure and relish in the time we’ve spent here.

Our first projects after acquiring the house included the addition of a wrought iron fence with drive through gates and the removal of the parking lot that ran the entire west side of the property. Tons and tons of top soil had to be brought in after the asphalt was removed. At first, we planted the entire side yard with grass. Slowly, we’ve added to the landscape over the years, first adding a gazebo and then plantings and stepping stones– some of which I made myself.

I spend much of the summer and fall outside enjoying the grounds. There are currently more than 75 trees on the property and hundreds of shrubs and perennials in need of attention. The yard continuously evolves as things grow, creating challenges in deciding what to add or subtract in maintaining our little forest in the city. I’ve tried to create areas that look landscaped but at the same time maintain a natural feel.

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The John Newman House, 321 Division Street, Fall 2009.

Mother Nature certainly has her say, as new things spring up and old ones die off. I am constantly trying to keep up with her. I couldn’t even begin to count the hours spent planting, mulching, weeding, trimming and shaping our little sanctuary. I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert but I certainly enjoy the time I spend tending to it.

A home like this is a huge commitment. There are always projects and unique circumstances to overcome. Old houses are also harder to clean and keep clean. You have to learn how to pace yourself and not become overwhelmed, which i think happens naturally over time.

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looks today. (Summer 2014)

The John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looks today. (Summer 2014)

There’s no real way to measure an experience like this, except to say it was the best/worst decision we ever made.

Would we do it again knowing what we do now? Probably not.

Still, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. You really have to live it to understand it. It’s an ongoing labor of love. The rewards really can’t be put into words.

From parking lot to paradise. The transformation of the west side yard at 321 Division Street.

From parking lot to paradise. The transformation of the west side yard at 321 Division Street.

West side yard view from the second floor at 321 Division Street.

West side yard view from the second floor at 321 Division Street.

Front Porch at 321 Division Street in 1999.

Front Porch at 321 Division Street in 1999.

The front porch of the John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looks today (Summer 2014).

The front porch of the John Newman House, 321 Division Street as it looks today (Summer 2014).