The South West Area Neighbors portion of Elgin, while full of early homes, does not have the big, flashy Victorian mansions that older parts of town can boast.
The neighborhood has no major streets running through it, leaving many residents ignorant of its charm. But organizers of the Gifford Park Association's 31st annual Historic Elgin House Tour are hoping to change that.
The tour features six homes and one church in the SWAN neighborhood, none of which has been featured before on the tour.
Kathy Moore, whose home at 356 Jewett St. will be open to the public, said the houses in the SWAN neighborhood may not have the “wow” factor bigger historic homes have, but they're affordable houses for families.
“A lot of us feel the neighborhood is a hidden gem in Elgin,” Moore said. “We just feel that the tour is going to show people a neighborhood in Elgin that they never knew existed before.”
The tour is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, with guides at each site ready to point out special features of each home. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, will serve as the registration point for the day at 330 Griswold St.
Two of the six featured homes are mail order houses from companies like Sears. Besides getting a look inside these early 20th century builds — shipped to buyers with everything pre-cut and ready to assemble — tour participants are able to embark on two, 30-minute walking lectures about some of the 32 “kit houses” in the neighborhood.
Rebecca Hunter, an Elgin resident and national expert on catalog and mail order “kit” homes, will lead groups at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., explaining how to identify these houses as well sharing the history about who built and lived in the ones along the walking route.
Bill Briska, a local historian and one of the historic house tour organizers, said the period of popularity for the mail order houses aligned with an industrial boom in Elgin that put plenty of wage earners in the market for homes. There are about 300 such houses in Elgin.
Briska said a big Queen Anne across from the church is one of the “headliners” of the tour. It was completely gutted by a former owner and then left behind. A more recent owner eventually finished the project and saved the house from ruin — much to the delight of residents like Briska.
“That's the thing about that neighborhood,” Briska said about SWAN. “It hangs in the balance between renaissance and ruin. It needs people who want to save the houses and preserve the architecture.”
For just such a prospective buyer, the featured home at 670 Oak St. is for sale.
But whether people are looking to buy, learn more about Elgin's history or get a peek inside some pretty houses, the historic house tour will provide a local option for Saturday entertainment.
Pre-sale tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for senior citizens and students 12 and younger. Tickets on the day of the tour are $5 extra. Visit gpaelgin.org for presale locations or to buy online.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.