Mason John Crowe says he so enjoys working on restoring Elgin's historic Nancy Kimball House he'd rather spend time there than at home.
"I would do it for free if I won the lottery," he said. "I feel lucky to be able to do it."
Crowe, of Elgin, has been working on the 1846-era house at 302 W. Chicago St. for about a year, mostly building a new cobblestone wall. For the last two weeks, he's put in long days, laying stone after stone perched up on a ladder, to ensure the last one is placed on the wall during a public celebration at 1 p.m. Saturday.
With that milestone, the rebuilding work will be done, though there's more to go.
"The house is ... structural masonry. That's rare in itself, but a cobblestone is extremely rare. Most of the cobblestones are within 50 miles of the Erie Canal. It's more or less like a mason's version of a log cabin," Crowe said.
The house belonged to one of Elgin's founding families and had fallen into disrepair before the city bought it in 2009. The Elgin History Museum partnered with the city and the Near West Neighbors Association to restore it. Plans call for a "hands on" workshop area on the first floor, an exhibit and meeting area on the second floor, and office space on the third floor.
The effort has raised about $170,000 and the work progresses as the money is raised, museum director Elizabeth Marston said.
The next step will be to work on the structural interior, such as flooring and beam joists. "It's difficult to find funding. That's a constant need," Marston said. "But the contractors are really working with us."
Major donors include E.C. "Mike" Alft, Jack Shales and the Gifford Park Association, which gave $10,000 or more, plus others who donated various smaller amounts, said Bill Briska, president of the Elgin Area Historical Society. The city is not contributing any money; the project kicked off thanks to a $46,0000 Kane County Riverboat grant.
"Here is a project that the grass-roots community citizens have raised that much money for," Briska said, "and have undertaken all the headaches, all the grief and all the hassles of doing this project."
The payoff will be a restored landmark that will give the neighborhood a sense of history and identity while fostering educational programs and resources, Briska said.