Renovations made to historic home


The historical Ellwood House stands during the spring at 509 N. First St. The Ellwood-Nehring House, on the corner of Augusta and First streets, is now part of the Ellwood House tours. 

By Hany Abdel

A 114-year-old Tudor-style home, donated by former owner Shirley Nehring, is now renovated and will join the Ellwood Mansion for tours, receptions and musical events.

The home, which is at the corner of Augusta and First streets, was built by barbed wire entrepreneur Isaac Ellwood as a wedding gift for his son, Perry Ellwood.

The historic home, designed by the same architect as Altgeld Hall, left the Ellwood estate in 1942 before being donated to the not-for-profit association in late 2011.

“[Nehring] wanted it to stay a historic property and knew it would be an asset to the organization and city,” said Brian Reis, executive director of the Ellwood House Association.

While the home will be closed for tours until March, the Ellwood-Nehring house has three interns living in it as a part of a residency program through the association.

Nehring has been known to give up her home in the past. A supporter and lover of music, Nehring donated rooms to musicians from NIU.

Nehring also donated a bank, which her late husband Paul owned during the Great Depression, to DeKalb. Nehring wants to preserve the buildings’ identities and said she would donate the buildings rather than sell them to be torn down and made into offices.

“I’ve seen too many old buildings torn down,” Nehring said. “It just seemed a shame to be anything other than the Ellwood Estate.”

Sharp Architects, a DeKalb business, took on the challenge of renovating and protecting the historic nature of the building.

“Renovating a historic home is always challenging when you don’t want to modify existing wall coverings and finishes,” said Sharp Architects owner Lisa Sharp. “There’s a lot of attention to care that has to be spent by everybody from the process to make sure things get done the right way and that the final product still looks as historic as possible.”

Nehring said the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra must be allowed to continue to practice in the music room of the house for the donation to go through.

“Because of Shirley Nehring’s love of classical music, and because she has a wonderful house that people wanted to see and enjoy being in — as Linc Smelser would say, the director of the orchestra, ‘Her music room is absolutely the perfect setting for chamber music,’” said Gretchen Moore, Kishwaukee Symphony Associates president. “It’s the perfect place, and it’s free; let’s not forget that.”

Nehring said she has big plans for her house.

“I feel that house has an aura. People don’t own that house; it owns them. I’m hoping music will continue there and that my ghost will be happy haunting that house,” Nehring said. “I will be very happy if I could be an invisible ghost when there is music going on in that house.”