A beautiful September Saturday helped put Elgin's past in its best light during the Gifford Park Association's 31st annual Historic Elgin House Tour.
Though the tour has taken in many parts of the city over nearly a third of a century, this was the first year the South West Area Neighbors area was highlighted.
"This is a neighborhood we feel needs attention and an infusion of energy," said Bill Briska, a member of the tour's steering committee.
While many previous tours spotlighted larger 19th century homes in other parts of the city, the early 20th century homes that dominate the SWAN neighborhood are now about 100 years old themselves, Briska said.
Still, there was much variety among the six homes on display Saturday. Among them were the American Foursquare house at 400 Walnut Ave., which is exactly 100 years old, and the 1893 Queen Anne home at 331 Griswold St.
Donna March of Carpenterville and Diane Parrott of Lake in the Hills are co-workers in Elgin who both lived there at early times in their lives. They said they'd known of the historic house tours for years but finally fulfilled their long-running ambition to go Saturday.
They said the difference in the homes built there over time was interesting to see as suburban life gradually evolved from exclusively monied to middle class.
Each house reflected not only the characteristics of its era, but the character of its current owners.
The house at 400 Walnut St. contained memorabilia from its owners' having lived in Europe for 15 years -- including a dining room table that was really two British pub tables pushed together and covered with a tablecloth. Visitors were challenged to look for a hat and sheep figurines that were among the decor in every room.
And guests at the Queen Anne home on Griswold Street were surprised to find a modern Jacuzzi beneath the domed turret at the top of the house.
Vaughenese Williams of North Aurora was among several who completed the tour and decided that her favorite home was one at 670 Oak St., which is actually for sale at $149,900.
Promoting the possibilities of Elgin to people outside is one of the prime reasons for the tour, Briska said. The annual event also raises money for the development of the city's neighborhoods.
Williams said this was about the fifth Historic Elgin House Tour she'd attended. She particularly enjoyed Elgin resident Rebecca Hunter's walking tour that helped identify mail-order "kit houses" from companies like Sears, even among those whose interiors were not on display Saturday.
"She's very enthusiastic ... and that's what you need to have when you're showing people something like that," Williams said.
Though a fan of historic homes everywhere, Williams said the Elgin tours are especially meaningful to her because they reveal a side of the city she never saw while visiting relatives there many years ago.
"For me, it's discovering all these cool areas in town I never knew existed," Williams said.