SPRINGFIELD – The University of Illinois at Springfield and the Elijah Iles House Foundation have joined forces to save the 1840s-era Strawbridge-Shepherd House located just south of the UIS campus on land owned by the university.
Under the arrangement, UIS will lease the house and the two acres on which it sits to the Iles House Foundation for ten years at a cost of $1 per year. The agreement includes the understanding that the lease may be extended for two additional 10-year terms, according to David Barrows, UIS' executive director of facilities and services.
In exchange, the Iles House Foundation intends to restore and preserve the house and plan for its use, according to Iles House Foundation Vice President Richard Hart. "The Strawbridge-Shepherd farmhouse and site played an important role in the early history of Central Illinois. Its restoration will allow future generations to better know that history and to enjoy its quiet presence on the campus of UIS," Hart said.
"The Iles House Foundation has the commitment, the restoration experience, and the community support to take on this important preservation project with the cooperation of UIS," Hart said. "We are most appreciative that the university has shown that it is equally committed to preserving this historic structure by giving the Iles House Foundation the opportunity to carry out this work. It is a tremendous win for the Springfield community."
UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen said the agreement is a perfect example of what can happen when the university and the community come together for a common purpose and for the public good. "I could not be more pleased about the arrangement with the Iles House Foundation to save this historic landmark," he said. "By preserving history, we are giving future generations the opportunity to understand their lives from a rich and more meaningful perspective."
Carolyn Oxtoby and Sue Massie, co-chairs of the Iles House Foundation's Strawbridge-Shepherd House Committee, said that funds have already been raised in order to begin immediate work on the house, including grants from the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Our primary concern right now is to stabilize the house," Oxtoby said, noting that an assessment has already been done by a local restoration firm about what that will entail.
As part of the lease agreement, Barrows said the university will provide $12,000 in materials to help restore the house and will maintain the grounds around the structure, including lawn and tree maintenance as well as snow removal. Security will be provided by the UIS Police Department. Barrows said asbestos abatement has already been done in the house.
Hart said that during the next year, "an evolving, organic process of examination and cleanup will take place during which we'll see things we didn't see before. We will take what is there and freshen it up, just as we did with the Iles House," he said, adding that the Iles House was in worse shape when they started than the Strawbridge-Shepherd House is now.
In 1970, the university, then Sangamon State, purchased the two-story house from the Shepherd family, ending that family's nearly 90-year ownership. The university made changes to the house in order to make it functional for its own purposes. But for the last 20-plus years, the house has been unoccupied because the university could not justify spending funds to repair and renovate the structure. "Limited deferred maintenance funds were needed throughout those years to maintain those structures on campus that served functional purposes," Barrows said.
After several years of searching for ways to save the house, including a call for proposals and an open invitation to the public for ideas, university officials began talks six months ago with representatives from the Iles House Foundation. "Their enthusiasm and concrete ideas about saving the house captured our attention and gave us hope. From then on, it was just a matter of time before we arrived at this remarkable agreement," Ringeisen said.
The Iles House Foundation is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation formed in 1993 for the purpose of restoring, preserving and operating the Elijah Iles House for the advancement of education and as a public museum of the history of the City of Springfield. Built in 1837, the Iles House is Springfield's oldest house and is located at 628 S. Seventh Street.
The first phase of the Strawbridge-Shepherd House was built in 1845 by Thomas Strawbridge, following his purchase of the land on which it sits in 1841 from Thomas Iles of Bath County, Kentucky. Two additions and alterations were made to the structure in the mid- and late-1880s. After Strawbridge's death in 1880, Charles M. Shepherd bought the farmstead at public auction (1883). He died in 1910, but the house remained in the Shepherd family until 1970 when it was sold to Sangamon State University.