Former mansion home of NIU’s first president listed for sale, deal pending in DeKalb

The property, located at 411 College Ave. in DeKalb, comes with an estimated $389K asking price

A mansion, located at 411 College Avenue, is seen Aug. 16, 2022 . It has been listed for sale for several weeks and is now under contract. The property was once home to Northern Illinois University's first president, Dr. John Williston Cook.

DeKALB – A mansion with historical ties to Northern Illinois University’s first president, Dr. John Williston Cook, is on the local housing market for the second time in the past five years.

The single-family residence is under contract to be sold with the asking price set about $389,900.

Located at 411 College Ave., the mansion has five bedrooms and two bathrooms spread out over almost 4,000 square feet.

“The architecture is Greek Revival,” DeKalb-area historian Stephen Bigolin said. “The two-story portico is really the architectural hallmark of the building.”

Cook lived in the mansion with his wife from 1899 to 1919 as he assumed the role of president at NIU.

Bigolin said poor health prompted Cook to retire from NIU as president and subsequently move out of the mansion.

According to contemporary newspaper sources at the time, including the Daily Chronicle, it cost somewhere between $10,000 and $40,000 to build the residence, which was paid for by Isaac Ellwood, a DeKalb rancher, businessman and barbed wire entrepreneur.

“Old traditions, however, holds – and this has never been substantiated – that it cost $75,000 to build,” Bigolin said.

Cook was succeeded as NIU president by J. Stanley Brown.

Bigolin said Brown lived in the mansion only a short time, as his wife had a difficult time getting up and down the big staircase. Bigolin said Brown would be the last NIU president to live in the mansion.

“They moved to a small apartment that was created for them on the first floor of the west wing of Williston Hall, which was Northern’s first dormitory,” Bigolin said. “They lived there for several years until they moved to a private home of their own on Augusta Avenue, which is still standing and is now student housing.”

A short time later, the Isaac Ellwood estate took possession of the house and put it up for sale.

The Raymond family, who owned the Daily Chronicle, bought the house and lived there for 40 years from 1928 to 1968.

Bigolin said the mansion always has been a private residence since the time it originally was built.

Bigolin said that no one’s ever taken steps to register the property as a national historic landmark, even though the mansion is nestled in the city’s historic Ellwood neighborhood.

In the early 1970s, when the state of Illinois began its National Historic Preservation program, state employees were sent around to various counties to look for potential properties eligible for historic listing, Bigolin said.

“They did list that house as being potentially eligible for National Register listing, but no one has ever attempted to file paperwork to have it listed,” Bigolin said. “It might well qualify for listing though.”

The mansion previously was listed for sale in March 2018, according to the online real estate listings provider Zillow. Around that time, the asking price for the property was set around $295,000.

But Bigolin said the owners paid $285,000 for the residence at the time.

As of Wednesday, the mansion has been advertised on Zillow for 14 days and generated almost 14,000 views.

A contract is pending for the potential sale of the property, according to Zillow.

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