For Dave and Pat Segel, the annual Historic Elgin House Tour provided inspiration to move from DuPage County to "the City in the Suburbs," as Elgin calls itself.
For Glen and Susan Holland it provides the chance to show off the 126-year-old mansion they have been pouring sweat and money into. And for at least 1,000 attendees on Saturday and Sunday, the 36th such tour will provide a chance to see the inside and outside of seven homes, including two of the city's most landmark super-homes, a historic farmhouse and a brick "worker's bungalow."
If you goWhat: 36th annual Historic Elgin House Tour, with interior tours led by volunteer docents
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10
Where: Participants should register before beginning at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, 783 W. Highland Ave., Elgin. Then, they can walk or drive to seven homes in the surrounding neighborhood.
Tickets: $20 for adults in advance, $25 for adults on tour day, $15 for seniors age 65 and up, $15 for juniors age 12 and under. $1 extra to purchase online. Tour-day tickets on sale at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren. Advance tickets available at www.gpaelgin.org; Ziegler's Ace Hardware, 1158 Lillian ST. and 215 N. Spring St.; Al's Cafe & Creamery, 43 DuPage Court; Elgin History Museum, 360 Park St.; and Jewel-Osco, 1660 Larkin Ave. and 1040 Summit St.
Details: www.gpaelgin.org or www.facebook.com/ElginHistoricalHouseTour
The tours are held annually by the Gifford Park Association, and each year are held in a different neighborhood. Jennifer Fukala, president of the Near West Neighborhood Association and publicity co-chair for the house tour committee, said that this year the focus will be on the oldest section of the west side, with the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren as its home base where participants should check in.
All seven homes will be within walking distance.
"Some people have moved to Elgin because of what they saw on house tours," Fukala said.
Pat Segel, a retired human resources director, said she was working for the city of Berwyn and living in Elmhurst when her husband Dave, an attorney, came to Elgin for a meeting about environmental affairs in 2000. An Elginite at the meeting suggested they attend that year's house tour.
They did, and were so impressed by the historic homes that they bought one near Division and Gifford streets that had been built in 1903, had fallen into disrepair and had been taken over and restored by the Gifford Park Association.
"We've been here 17 years now and we love it," Segel said. Until that visit, she said, she knew little about Elgin except that she had gotten the impression in the 1970s "that it was a dangerous and deteriorating place. But we discovered that is not the case at all. It's very safe. And we were impressed by the inclusiveness of citizen involvement in the community, unlike we had seen where we lived before."
She said her husband became part of the city's sustainability council and attends every city council meeting.
"One goal of the house tour is to demonstrate that houses which have fallen on hard times can be rehabilitated into beautiful homes, and that traditional architecture can be compatible with today's lifestyles," Fukala said.
Two homes on this year's tour were owned in the 1800s by the same family, and today again are owned by the same couple, Glen and Susan Holland. The home they own and rent out at 272 McClure Ave. was built about one year before the Civil War began by Finla Lawrence McClure. For years it was the center of a dairy farm that took up most of the neighborhood.
After establishing Elgin's first milk delivery route, McClure started the first business cutting ice out of the Fox River to use in preserving food. In 1877, he also became business manager of the Elgin Packing Co., which had hundreds of people canning vegetables in the 1870s and 1880s.
Finally, having made his fortune (and having the main north-south avenue through the neighborhood named after his family), McClure decided in 1891 to move out of the farmhouse and built the three-story, 6,500-square-foot "Queen Anne Shingle-style" mansion where the Hollands now live, at the northwest corner of McClure and Highland.
"Owning this home has been a 15-year project that we have gotten mostly done," said Glen Holland, a 46-year-old accountant. He, his wife, his mother-in-law and some friends were replacing screen doors with copper screening and performing some final pre-house-tour scrubbing.
"We moved here from Chicago," said Susan Holland. "We kept driving down I-90 and looking at home listings. I don't think we had ever been to Elgin. When we reached Elgin, we said, 'We can't live this far from the city.' But when we looked at this house, we couldn't say no."
They bought the McClure Mansion for $430,000 in 2003. When they learned two years ago that the McClure farmhouse just down the block had fallen into foreclosure, they bought that too.
The mansion's 1.4-acre grounds include a two-story garage that had been McClure's carriage house and stable. It's bigger than most Elgin homes. Glen Holland pointed out how the building's windows are small and mounted high on the wall so the horses couldn't kick them out.
Recalling the McClures' servant staff are speaking tubes throughout the home, allowing the original homeowners to summon a maid or a cook.
When the automobile was invented, a smaller garage was built for one of these "horseless carriages." The backyard also contains a three-seat outhouse and a small shed.
Susan Holland said one positive surprise was that the hand-carved woodwork in the dining room echoes oil paintings that also wrap around the room. One negative surprise was that "you don't know how expensive window treatments are until you buy them for 25 windows."
She said the McClure Mansion has been on the house tour four previous times, the last 10 years ago. But that record is bested by the legendary Wing Mansion, which also was built in 1891 a few blocks to the west along Highland Avenue. Likely the most visited home in Elgin, the Wing Mansion has been on the tour five previous times and also often hosts informal tours.
Almost every inch of that mansion is lined with collectible appliances, lamps, photos and recordings from the combined collections of owner Maureen McWaid and her husband, Steve Thoren. The house originally was home to Abby Wing, a popular Elgin schoolteacher, and her wealthy lawyer-businessman husband. Abby Wing died in the home when she was trapped in the attic by a fire in 1897.
The Wing Mansion tour is so popular that House Tour Chairman Pat Miller said a new approach will be tried this year for touring it.
"A video will be shown to visitors before they enter the house, which will cut down on the time needed to hear the descriptions as they tour the house," Miller said.
Inside the mansion, docents will be posted in each room and visitors will be able to move through at their own speed.
Since it began, Fukala said, the house tour has featured more than 230 homes, plus 40 public, commercial and religious buildings. The Gifford Park Association uses the proceeds for architectural rehabilitation, historical signs, and donating to youth groups and other not-for-profit groups.
Also on the tour
• Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, 783 W. Highland Ave.: The registration site for the tour for the third time, according to Fukala, "the church was constructed in stages beginning in 1900. The architecture represents the simple, unpretentious values of the Brethren faith."
• 250 Vincent Place: A roomy 1899 home with a vernacular cross-gabled design commonly found in the upper Midwest. New owners have updated the kitchen and added a breezeway, patio and "man cave."
• 870 W. Highland Ave.: In this 1905 home designed by McClure Mansion architect W.W. Abell, it shows how Victorian-era styles influenced the emerging designs of the early 20th century.
• 871 W. Highland Ave.: Built in 1892 and last seen on the tour 20 years ago, this Queen Anne with a prominent turret, inviting front porch, multiple parlors and winding staircase has been owned by the same family for 49 years.
• 15 N. DuBois Ave.: One of many bungalows in the neighborhood, this 1925 brick example is "an ideal example of small-home living," according to Fukala.