The Muirhead farmhouse near Plato Center nearly became a neighbor to new ComEd power lines and towers last year. Instead, it's found itself the newest of about 70 properties in Kane County on the National Register of Historic Places.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house in 1951 for Sarah Muirhead's grandparents, Robert and Elizabeth. The Usonian-style home is built with long, horizontal lines and a low profile to help the structure achieve harmony with the flat prairie that surrounds it. Chicago common brick and plywood are prominent features of a Wright design philosophy tailored for middle-income Americans.
Muirhead said her grandparents were big fans of Wright. And they always believed in the historical significance of the 3,200-square-foot home being one of the more than 400 Wright-designed structures that remain.
But it took the threat of ComEd's $200 million Grand Prairie Parkway project to push the surviving Muirhead family members to seek national historic recognition for the home.
The Kane County Forest Preserve District agreed to a deal with ComEd to allow new power lines and towers to run along railroad tracks on the south side of the farmhouse. Sarah Muirhead challenged that decision when the deal came before the Illinois Commerce Commission as being in violation of legal covenants placed on the property that surrounds the house when the Muirheads sold the actual farmland to the forest district. She won.
And in the process, she ignited new support and interest in the property from historical preservationists and Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts. The property is the only farmhouse known to be designed and built by Wright.
"The historic designation is more about the recognition and making people aware that it is a Wright building in Kane County," Muirhead said. "The designation itself doesn't necessarily provide any additional security for the future of the property. That's up to so many different factors. The additional protection comes with or without the official recognition just because it is a Wright property. We wanted to make more people aware of its history. And being on the register is one step in that process. My grandparents would be very, very excited."
There are a handful of other Wright-designed structures in Kane County. Wright designed the P.D. Hoyt House and Fabyan Villa in Geneva. He also designed the William Green House in Aurora.
Members of the public have a chance to tour the Muirhead farmhouse for the first time since its historic designation while also donating to a local cause. The tour runs 1 to 5 p.m. May 1 at 42W814 Rohrsen Road. All funds raised will benefit the Burlington Central High School performing arts program. Tickets are $25. The high school jazz band will perform at the event. Refreshments will be served.
Advance tickets are available through the District 301 Performing Arts Music Boosters website.