39th Historic Elgin House Tour features seven new-to-the-program homes
What's new on the 39th Historic Elgin House Tour? All of the homes to be featured -- and a new format for the tour guidebook.
"This year all of the homes on the tour are new," said Sarah Schmidt, the house tour's co-chairman. "So even if you have come to the tour since the beginning, you will see seven all-new houses."
The Gifford Park Association hosts the annual self-guided tour, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. over two days, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11-12. The tour, which welcomes 1,500 to 2,000 people to a different Elgin neighborhood every year, took a hiatus last year due to the pandemic.
"All of the houses are in the Grant Park neighborhood and while they don't have a theme across all of them, there are two kit homes on the tour," Schmidt said. "Rebecca Hunter will be giving a walking tour both days at 1 p.m. (titled) 'Mail Order Homes of the Near Northwest Neighborhood.' She will be discussing multiple kit homes in that neighborhood as well as the kit homes in general in Elgin, of which there are 238 identified so far."
A digital format for the tour booklet is new this year as well, Schmidt said.
"This year we are also making our booklet describing the houses available in a digital edition (for easy use on phones). We felt this would be a nice option for those who wanted less to carry on the tour this year as well as give flexibility for everyone to decide the best way to enjoy the tour."
Advance tickets, which can be purchased online at www.historicelginhousetour.com or at the Elgin History Museum, include a paper booklet and the digital version. Tickets for adults are $20, seniors $15, and $10 for youths; save $5 by purchasing a digital-only ticket. Day-of tickets will be available on site for an additional $5; registration is on High Street between Hamilton and Commonwealth.
Schmidt shared some of the challenges in organizing the tour this year.
"I would say there are two main concerns of putting this tour together in the middle of the pandemic," she said. "The first is obviously safety. Safety not just of the tourgoers but also of our amazing volunteers and homeowners. Last year the steering committee and the homeowners mutually agreed to cancel the tour, which was heartbreaking for all involved. This year, we felt with masks required at all homes, limiting the number of guests allowed in each home at a time, continuous cleaning of touched surfaces, and the encouragement of social distancing outdoors, that we could provide a safe environment for all."
"The other thing that was difficult was finding a way to make sure should the state close again, or should we get close to the tour and decide we no longer could keep everyone safe, that we could refund those who already purchased tickets," she said. "Because of this, this year we did not allow advanced physical ticket sales, instead asking everyone to purchase online (day-of tickets are also available). Not only did this ensure we could get everyone their money back, it also encouraged less touchable surfaces for all involved."
To further help keep participants safe, she added, the house tour committee eliminated group-use water coolers and is advising guests to bring their own water bottles.
Even with all the precautions, Schmidt said, those involved in the tour are excited about bringing it back.
"These houses are special, unique, and it's been a long time since it's been an all-new lineup," Schmidt said. "The tour this year is extremely walkable, with all homes within a five-block radius. We are doing everything in our power to make sure everyone is safe, while still allowing people to take a little breath and get out of their houses."
Matt Martin, chairman of the tour, called the west side neighborhood, with its shady trees and rich history, a "hidden gem in Elgin."
"You will be pleasantly surprised at the grandness, coziness and charm found in these turn-of-the-century and midcentury homes," Martin said.
Since the Historic Elgin House Tour's inception, it has featured more than 242 homes and 42 public, commercial and religious buildings. Over the years the tour has featured houses which were always cared for and those saved just before it was too late. One goal of the tour is to show that houses which have fallen on hard times can be rehabilitated to reveal their original beauty. By rotating the tour sites, the Elgin Historic House Tour has helped foster neighborhood pride and supported neighborhood groups other than the Gifford Park Association.
Proceeds from the tour are recycled into the community. The Gifford Park Association regularly donates to other not-for-profit organizations, supports youth groups, architectural rehabilitation and has added historic street signs.
For information, visit www.historicelginhousetour.com
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39th Historic Elgin House Tour
What: Features 7 homes -- all new to the tour -- within a five-block radius on Elgin's west side
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11-12
Where: Registration is on High Street between Hamilton and Commonwealth
Tickets: $20, $15 for seniors, and $10 for youths; save $5 by purchasing a digital-only ticket. Day-of tickets will be available on site for an additional $5.