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updated: 7/22/2014 9:04 AM

Horse barn finds new life as apartment building

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  • A worker blows insulation into ceiling spaces of the former Dillon horse barn in Normal.

      A worker blows insulation into ceiling spaces of the former Dillon horse barn in Normal.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

NORMAL -- A 125-year-old former horse barn near uptown Normal is getting a face-lift inside and out.

Crews recently completed tuck-pointing the brick on the east side of the former Dillon horse barn, 102 W. Phoenix Ave., and have gutted and started remodeling the largest of the two units in what now is an 11-unit apartment building owned by Ralph Endress and Ken Verkler. Work is expected to be finished by mid-August for student move-in.

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"Everything was replaced on the inside -- insulation, kitchen, flooring," said Andy Netzer, general manager of Young America Realty, which manages the building. "The wear and tear was catching up on them."

Additional bathrooms also were added to the five-bedroom, first-floor unit and the six-bedroom, second-floor unit, he said. A building permit with the town recorded $68,500 in work.

The brick building was built in the late 1880s by Ellis Dillon as a barn for Percheron draught horses. The Dillon family had a national reputation as breeders of the horses, which they originally imported from France, according to "The Legacy," a locally written book about Normal's historic architecture.

"This structure is significant both as a fine example of what brick barns were like more than 100 years ago and as a building that was associated with a family that had much bearing on the development of Normal in the decades immediately following the Civil War, "The Legacy" states.

The Dillons also had another structure on the west side of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks (now Constitution Trail) but that building was razed in 1974 to make way for Normal City Hall, which now is City Hall Annex.

Nine years ago, the former horse barn was threatened by a fire at an attached apartment building, also owned by Endress and Verkler. The intense fire gutted most of the attached three-story complex, sent several firefighters to the hospital and left dozens of university students homeless. That property has been vacant since fire.

In 2011, the City Council approved a plan by Endress and Verkler to build a 32-unit building on the site of the burned building. Part of that plan included purchasing a strip of land from the town for a walkway to connect to nearby Constitution Trail. Since that time, there have been many changes in that area, including the construction of Uptown Station, re-routing part of Constitution Trail and plans to build an overhead walkway connecting Uptown Station to the old Amtrak station on the south side of the tracks.

Netzer said the developers now are waiting to see if the overhead walkway configuration will impact the footprint of the proposed apartment plan.

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