Momence and Manhattan Illinois Hospitals Present Local History

History abounds in Kankakee and Will counties, where Momence and Manhattan Illinois hospitals and local history buffs’ efforts to preserve traditions have resulted in some great recent restorations. In Manhattan, the Baker-Koren barn (ca. 1898) has recently been acquired as the centerpiece of a new park which the Manhattan Park District is developing. This round barn – typical of late nineteenth century farm structures – has clapboard siding built on a balloon frame. The barn is one hundred feet in diameter and over sixty feet high, making it one of the biggest round barns in the state of Illinois. It was built by John Barker from lumber which he salvaged from the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.

John Barker was the son of Clarke Barker, who settled in Manhattan in 1850 and eventually came to own over one thousand acres of land. He was a successful farmer and also served as Manhattan Township judge for twenty-five years. The round barn was eventually acquired by cattleman and farmer Frank Koren, who in 1986 turned it into the Round Barn Farm and Museum, working with the forest preserve and the park district to preserve the farm – over a hundred acres of green space in the rapidly growing urban area of Manhattan. According to his daughter, Koren loved showing his place to visitors, especially children. Koren was also director of the Chicago Joliet Livestock Marketing Center. He died in 2004, but not before establishing a joint venture with the Manhattan Park District to preserve the farm and barn forever.

Another local preservation effort is the Momence Railroad Depot Museum, located near Momence Illinois hospital. The Railroad Depot was constructed ca. 1890, but has not been used as a railroad station since the Second World War. For many years the Dixie Lumber Company used it as a storage building until the company closed down. In 2000 the depot, together with the 40′ x 300′ strip of land on which it sits, was purchased by Bill Munyon for thirty thousand dollars. Munyon had been married earlier that year, and the restoration of the railroad depot became his and his wife Phyllis’ honeymoon project.

The initial restoration used seventy gallons of paint on the exterior and interior walls, in order to restore the old railroad depot to the glory that Munyon remembered from his boyhood. Over the past eight years the Munyons have collected old photographs of railroading and Momence history which are displayed in one room of the Depot Museum, and also photographs of local servicemen and veterans which are displayed in another room. The Museum is located near Momence hospital, at 691 North Dixie Highway, and is open from May through September Saturdays from 9 am to noon (or by appointment).

World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois

The World’s Columbian Exposition was celebrated in Chicago in 1893 to commemorate Columbus’ voyage to the New World four hundred years earlier. Although several American cities vied for the privilege of hosting this World’s Fair, Chicago known for the finest hospitals in Il was selected over New York, Washington DC, and St. Louis for the privilege. Like the American Centennial Exposition of 1876, the Columbian Exposition was a showcase of American power and achievement.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned American landscape architect, was commissioned to develop the site plan. Olmsted chose to develop Jackson Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, and to build a seascape rather than landscape. A series of canals and artificial pools contrasted with raised terraces and islands on which the buildings were to be constructed, and which were connected by footbridges over the lagoons and canals. The most famous American architects of the era were commissioned to design the buildings, which were Neo-Classical in style and arranged around a basin at the Court of Honor. These buildings served as exhibition spaces, showing the latest inventions and gadgets for the farm and home. Many of these appliances were powered by the newly-invented electricity, and the Court of Honor was brightly lit up at night.

Visitors gawked at an electric sidewalk, electric chicken-egg incubators, electric irons, laundry machines and sewing machines, even an electric chair for executions and hospitals in Illinois. There was even an early fax-type machine which sent pictures through telegraph wires, and Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, which showed the first motion pictures. Many visitors saw the electric light bulb, which Edison had invented fourteen years earlier, for the first time. The seascape design of the Exposition allowed electric boats – which were smaller and quieter than steam powered boats – to ferry visitors around the grounds. There were also a Norwegian Viking ship, Venetian gondolas, a Japanese dragon-boat, and replicas of Columbus vessels: the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. The Court of Honor was also the scene of classical music performances and other highbrow entertainments, which, however, were poorly attended due to the lowbrow attractions of the Midway.

A Midway over a mile long offered entertainment to the masses. The most striking feature on the Midway was George Ferris’ immense wheel ride – the very first Ferris wheel ever. It was a response to Gustave Eiffel’s tower, which had been built for the 1889 fair in Paris. The 250 foot diameter wheel, at whose apex Illinois hospital riders were higher than the crown of the Statue of Liberty, cost 50 cents for two revolutions and attracted a million and a half eager customers. Among the performers on the Midway were ragtime piano player Scott Joplin, escape artist Harry Houdini, and Buffalo Bill Cody with his Wild West Show. Food stands sold new-fangled foods such as hamburgers and fizzy carbonated drinks.

Stephen Wright House – Paw Paw, Illinois

Before we get to the Reagan landmarks in Dixon we stop in Paw Paw, Illinois, a small village many of you Illinois residents have probably passed on Interstate 39, you know you are there when you see the large electricity generating windmills on the horizon. Before 2005 the 850 person village of Paw Paw had no properties included on the federal National Register of Historic Places. The listing of the Stephen Wright House changed that in May of that year.

After mingling amongst the windmills of the Mendota Hills Wind Farm for a bit, I made my way over to the village proper and sought out the Wright House. The house was constructed sometime between 1895 and 1906 by Paw Paw native, and real estate speculator Stephen Wright.

The home is an excellent example of Queen Anne style architecture. It very clearly illustrates the hip roof (wiki) with flanking cross gables (wiki) that is found on about 50 percent of Queen Anne style houses. The roof style is a quick way to identify many less obvious examples of Queen Anne. Viewed from the cross gables, the hip roof is less obvious, making for an interesting visual play, depending on where the viewer stands.

Tomorrow we visit our first Reagan landmark in Dixon. Paw Paw is a village in Lee County, located in northern Illinois. Norther Illinois is full of interesting places listed in the National Register of Historic Places and well worth the look for any history student or buff. Feel free to Google it and have a look for yourself.

Online Resources

Stephen Wright House: National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (PDF)

Wikipedia: Stephen Wright House, Mendota Hills Wind Farm (both by me, for you).

Article written by Andy McMurray a freelance writer and photographer based in DeKalb, Illinois. He has worked at DeKalb’s Daily Chronicle, The Midweek, and the Northern Illinois University newspaper, the Northern Star. Known variously around the Internet as Dr. Gonzo or IvoShandor, Andy’s wide ranging interests and knowledge in history, architecture, historic preservation, art and science have allowed McMurray to excel in penning both fiction and non-fiction pieces. In addition to pursuing a fiction career Andy has written and photographed extensively for English Wikipedia.