DeKalb’s landmards tell city’s history

By M. Michelle Byrne

Houses, theaters, libraries top examples

DeKalb’s historical landmarks, some dating back to the mid-19th

century, illustrate the city’s history and tell the story of its development.

The Ellwood House, 509 S. First St., is one such place. Constructed in 1879 for $50,000 by Isaac Ellwood, a statesman and DeKalb businessman, the house is now part of the DeKalb Park District and is a historical landmark.

The mansion was given to the city in 1964 by May Ellwood, Isaac’s daughter-in-law, to become a historical site. Three generations of Ellwoods lived in the house, and living family members have contributed to its restoration, said Jerry Brauer, museum director.

The mansion’s interior features a three-story wood spiral staircase with a stained glass skylight overhead. On the main floor, a parlor contains a five-foot harp and a wall-sized, intricately ornate fireplace. On the third floor, a small ballroom with a wood floor was used by the Ellwoods to have get-togethers and parties.

Careful research of houses of the period and help from Isaac Ellwood’s granddaughter, Patty Ellwood, have helped the house retain its original character and beauty, Brauer said. The house is furnished with century-old furniture, and its many rooms are filled with antiques and collections acquired by the Ellwood family over the years.

The hour-and-a-half tours of the house start from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Brauer said. Tours cost $2.50 for adults and are free for children under 12, he said.

Another nationally recognized landmark in DeKalb is the Egyptian Theater, 135 N. Second St. Built in 1929, the theater’s decor has an ancient Egyptian motif, complete with wall murals depicting desert scenes. The theater originally featured plays, concerts and, later, movies, said Steve Bigolin, president of the DeKalb County Historical Society. It was one of three theaters in DeKalb at that time, Bigolin said.

The 1,600-seat theater was restored in 1977 after DeKalb officials closed it down because of improper sanitary facilities. The restoration cost $2.1 million, and the theater was reopened in 1983. Today, the Egyptian features movies, concerts and plays.

Another landmark is the Gurler House, 205 Pine St. Built in 1857, the Gurler house was one of DeKalb’s first residences.

George Gurler and his brother Henry were prosperous dairy farmers who owned dairies in Wisconsin, Illinois and other midwestern states, Bigolin said. Gurler was also an important figure in the formation of the DeKalb Agricultural Research Corporation (now DeKalb-Pfizer).

The Gurler family lived in the house for 85 years, but today it is used for DeKalb community meetings, Bigolin said.

The small house next to Glidden Florist and Burger King on West Lincoln Highway is also a landmark. The Glidden House was built in 1861 by Joseph Glidden, the inventor of barbed wire. The Glidden family still lives in the house today.

The Haish Memorial Library was built in 1930 and named for Jacob Haish, a DeKalb barbed wire manufacturer. After his death, Haish left DeKalb $150,000 for a library. Haish was credited for the invention of the “S” barbed wire patent and manufactured the wire in DeKalb for many years.

The Haish building was DeKalb’s first library and remains as the DeKalb Public Library. The high ceiling and wrought iron railings shelter the local history section with books dating back to 1868.