News - McHenry County

Stickney House renovators make slow, steady progress

Stikney House Foundation president Nicole Horn talks Friday about preservation efforts at the historic Stickney House in Bull Valley. The house, which now acts as the village hall, was originally built between 1849 and 1856.

BULL VALLEY – Don’t laugh. Rich Vance will look you dead in the eyes and tell you it’s true.

Something weird – something with the spirits, the ghosts, the whatever – is going on here. He can’t quite explain it, but ...

“Absolutely true,” he said, and there’s not a shade of doubt in his voice.

That was the idea, after all. Built in in the mid-1800s, the Stickney House today stands as a testament to so many things. It’s an architectural anomaly – built with no corners because, having lost several children to early deaths, the family wanted to keep the spirits in.

It is – for Village Administrator Vance and others – proof that paranormal activity exists, and that the Stickneys’ plan worked.

And more recently, it’s an ever-changing monument to community involvement. With money rolling in from a few fundraisers a year, the Stickney House Foundation has been making slow but steady strides. They started on the inside, stabilizing the foundation and framework of the building, which was donated to the village in the late 1980s and today houses the Village Hall, police station and Village Board meetings.

In the past seven years, attention has been turned toward the outside – redoing the porches and doors, putting in new columns, sealing windows. The upstairs ballroom is likely next, as well as the south porch.

And the list of renovations goes on and on.

“With any good restoration project, it takes a lot of money, a lot more money than new construction, and it really does take a lot of dedication,” said Nicole Horn, the Stickney House Foundation’s newly elected president.

On a cool Friday afternoon, Horn stood upstairs in a torn-up old bedroom, discussing the intricacies of the restoration. She’s been involved for 26 years – since the village first moved in – and her joy is wrapped both in the consistent progress and excitement for the future. She has a particular interest in the details.

Downstairs, there’s a front parlor still showing the original rounded corners where the walls meet the ceiling. The Stickney House Foundation would like to return the whole house to that form.

It’s a distant goal, but many of them are. A quarter century in, Horn calls the project about half done.

“We try to warn people that it’s a labor of love,” she said, light splashing in from a nearby window. “You got to see it through.”

But the building is coming around, and foundation members are proud of what they’ve accomplished so far.

When the village accepted the donated building, officials pledged not to spend any tax money renovating it. That has closed some doors – most grants the building is eligible for come with the stipulation the village match the total, Horn said.

So, event by event, the foundation puts its head down and takes in private money. There’s a Renaissance Fair and a golf outing scheduled this summer.

And do members have an idea when, way off in the distance, renovations might reach some sort of completion?

“I don’t think any of us do,” said Phyllis Keinz, village clerk and a foundation member.

There’s still much to be done. In the future, Vance would like to see the building opened to the public so they can hear its stories.

He’s not shy about sharing his own. Among them: He swears that just after midnight in October 2006, he heard a top-of-the-lungs scream directly in his ear. Nobody was in the room, he said.

Horn is all for sharing the foundation’s work, even if she hasn’t had the same experiences with spirits, ghosts, whatever.

“I kind of wish I did,” she said. “It’s like, why do you go on a roller coaster? You want to be scared. So I’m like, ‘Come on, ghosts!’”

How to help What: Stickney House Foundation Renaissance Fair When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., June 22 Where: Still Farm, 11114 Country Club Road, Woodstock

What: Golf outing to benefit Stickney House Foundation When: Aug. 23 Where: Boone Creek Golf Club, 6912 Mason Hill Road, Bull Valley