The Landmarks of Barb City - Part 43B

As previously mentioned, the venerable brick house at 921 W. Lincoln Highway started life in 1861 as the "Residence of Joseph Farwell Glidden," the inventor of barbed wire. It is now the headquarters of the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center, whose goal is the restoration and adaptive reuse of the buildings on the property. The earliest source containing a likeness of the home was the 1871 "Combination Atlas Map of DeKalb County, Illinois." No drawings or pictures of the home can be found in the biographical histories of 1885, 1898 and 1907, or the "DeKalb Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir Editions" of 1892, 1894 and 1899, or any other late 19th- or early 20th-century publications that were contemporary with Glidden. No vintage (100-plus years) postcard views honored it, either. Historic photographs of the house and outbuildings do exist - the Gliddens had many, of course; the Hayter Regional History Center at Northern Illinois University has some; and I have collected a few over the years - so one must wonder why only that one simple pen-and-ink sketch ever appeared in print. Except for the five-rail wooden fence depicted, the avenue of trees leading from the road to the house and the lightning rods on the chimneys - all seen in the 1871 representation - photographs confirm the way things looked in that sketch. Both oral and family tradition held that Glidden - a longtime farmer, but also a one-time Pony Express rider, county sheriff (1852-53) and member of the county board of supervisors during most of the 1860s - hired lumber dealer/contractor Jacob Haish to design and erect the pretentious brick farmhouse. Features of a French Colonial To a certain extent, the house is in the tradition of French Colonial architecture, a style far more common in Louisiana and other Southern states than in the North. Among its general characteristics are a raised basement supporting the floor where the primary living quarters would be located; a tall flight of steps from the ground up to a full-length - and often multisided - porch, whose roof is normally an integral extension of the main roof, which is either a steeply pitched hip roof with dormers or a side-gabled roof; French doors accessing the porch from inside; and stuccoed exterior walls, in the case of Southern examples. The Pierre Menard House State Historic Site near Ellis Grove in southwestern Illinois is the Land of Lincoln's foremost French Colonial dwelling. The vintage photograph shows a 6-foot-high fieldstone foundation with several windows. The brick used in constructing the house was made of mud taken from the banks along the Kishwaukee River south of present-day Lincoln Highway, where a small brickyard is said to have once existed. This helps explain the soft texture of the material, and also why weathering has not been uniform. Four sturdy wooden pillars, resting on stone bases, supported the porch. The tall flight of stairs from the ground to the porch was reinforced with a fieldstone base and pillars. A limestone block imbedded in the ground served as the first of the steps leading up to the porch, where the porch roof is supported in the historic view by six wooden pillars with brackets near the top of each, emanating from boxlike capitals. Simple wooden pilasters against the front wall at both ends of the porch aided in supporting the roof, which is separate from the main side-gabled roof - unlike the traditional French Colonial design. First- and second-floor windows on the gable ends were located close to the center of those walls. One main door on the south façade gave access to the interior of the house. It was framed by sidelights and a transom in classic Greek Revival fashion. The door itself was a solid paneled one, protected behind a decorative late 19th-century-style screen door. Four sets of French doors opened onto the porch from within the residence, in keeping with French Colonial motifs. A tall, peaked gable was centered above the south cornice, reminiscent of Gothic Revival style, but lacking bargeboard trim within its confines. The back side of the home may have contained an identical feature. A window sporting a peaked top was located in the gable, also displaying Gothic Revival features. Glidden's 'obscuratory' At the very top of the roof was a platform encased by newel posts and balustrades such as those found on the front stairway. This configuration was called a "widow's walk," something common at one time to homes in coastal New England. A sea captain's wife would position herself on the widow's walk in an attempt to catch a glimpse of her husband's ship on the horizon. One of Glidden's neighbors is said to have dubbed this an "obscuratory," and the name stuck to it for many years. For a very long time, I was of the opinion that the vintage photograph of the Glidden House included with this article dated from between 1880 and 1895. After more closely examining it recently, I discovered an object in the distance to the left of the house that said differently. Using a magnifier, I was surprised to see - of all things - a telephone pole. This pushed the date of the picture into the first decade of the 20th century instead, but not any later than about 1909, because of the changes made to the structure by John Glidden - a nephew of Joseph's - who moved here around that year with his wife and children. --- Steve Bigolin is an expert on local history.