‘Wonderful historic treasure’: Ellwood-Nehring House open to the public for first time

Ellwood-Nehring House open to the public for first time

DeKALB – Shirley Hamilton-Nehring was happy to hear music in her former home Thursday.

“I specified, it was a requisite for this place, that they had to have music in it,” she said. “I even left the piano there.”

In the Ellwood-Nehring House sits a 1929 Mason & Hamlin grand piano, which was purchased on her and her husband, Paul’s, first anniversary. She said this piano has special meaning because it was made the year she was born.

“There was always music in the house,” Nehring said. “So I wanted the piano to stay there.”

The Ellwood-Nehring House, home of Perry and May Ellwood before they inherited the Isaac Ellwood mansion, hosted a grand opening Thursday on North First Street. The house was sold from the Ellwoods to Paul Nehring in 1942, and was reunited as part of the Ellwood estate in 2012.

The public was invited to walk through the first floor of the home, which Nehring lived in until it was donated to the Ellwood House Association in 2012. The first floor will be open for tours along with the first floor of the Ellwood House, and was open to the public for the first time Thursday.

Nehring said it was “painful” to come back for the opening.

“It was time for me to do it,” Nehring said about donating the house. “I didn’t feel like I could take care of it anymore. But living here was one of the happiest periods of my life.”

Brian Reis, Ellwood House executive director, said it makes sense for the Tudor-style house to be a part of the estate, as it displays the Ellwoods’ love of architecture, much like other buildings on the property.

Reis said the house will be used for wedding receptions and events, and the second floor is used for a museum residency program. NIU students live on the floor as part of an internship program, volunteering time and efforts to the Ellwood House Association that relate to their studies.

“This is the hard part,” Nehring said. “The hard part is seeing the furnishings gone from the house. It’s kind of painful. I had it just the way I wanted it and everything had its place.”

However, she said, as long as the house was full of people, flowers and music, she would be happy. She had fond memories of many things about the house, even scraping paint from a pantry ceiling in the home.

“Room by room, we did it,” Nehring said. “Everything about it was perfect.”

To prepare for the opening, an access ramp, sidewalks and a bathroom were added. The Ellwood House Association received tax increment financing funds from the city for a period of five years to fund the projects.

Mayor John Rey was involved in the ribbon cutting at the house, and said visitors to the home won’t be bored.

“It’s a significant addition of history to the community,” Rey said. “It represents just one dimension of the legacy.”

Malta resident Michelle Schroyer and her family recently moved from DeKalb, but made sure to be at the house for the grand opening. Her family visits the Ellwood House at least once a year, and has “learned a lot.”

“I’ve always loved this house,” said Jim Mruk, Ellwood House Association volunteer. “It’s just a beautiful property and this is a wonderful historic treasure. This is an example of the wonderful things we have in DeKalb County that we take for granted.”