A Brief History of the Iles House:

The Elijah Iles House is the oldest known residence in Springfield, Illinois.  It is Greek Revival in style, and is thought to be the only "raised cottage" with a fully gallery or porch existing in the Springfield area.  Here have lived merchants, bankers, soldiers, a state senator, a U.S. senator, an alderman, a governor, leaders in women's organizations and charitable causes.

Change is one of the reasons the house still exists.  It is a survivor, and the owners over time had great respect for it. 

The Elijah Iles House first stood near the corners of South 6th and Cook Streets on land now occupied by the First Christian Church of Springfield.  The real estate on which it stood was first purchased from the federal government in 1823 by Pascal Enos, one of Springfield's founders.  It was subsequently purchased in 1827 by Charles R. Matheny, who constructed a home on the property, established a garden and developed a farm.  Matheny only owned the land for two years and sold it in 1834 to Elijah Iles, who built what is known today as the Elijah Iles House on the property in the late 1830's.

Iles arrived in Springfield in 1821 and built Springfield's first store.  Until his death in 1883, Iles, sometimes called the "Father of Springfield," was involved in most important aspects of Springfield's early development. With three other men, Iles sold the first lots in the city and named the streets between First and Seventh streets -- Monroe, Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.  Iles married Melinda Benjamin in 1824 and had two children who lived to adulthood, but died without offspring.

Robert Irwin, a merchant, banker, and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, purchased the property in 1841.  The Irwins were prominent members of Springfield society and entertained Lincoln, among others, who was said to have been part of a group which gathered at the house to play the card game euchre.  The Irwins had five children with three of them living to adulthood.  Robert died in 1865, one month before Lincoln was assassinated; however, the Irwin family continued to own the house until 1891, and claim the longest term of ownership.  Former Illinois Governor Shelby Cullom briefly resided at the house in 1883 before leaving for Congress.  Mrs. Irwin was elderly at that time and may have been living with a relative.

The house was then sold to Edward A. and Frances Hall, who continued the traditions of public service, civic virtue, and business established by the house's prior owners.  The Halls were very active in the community.  Edward Hall was a merchant and banker, like the owners before him.  He was a city alderman, park board trustee, and member of many municipal committees.  Frances volunteered her time and energy to charitable organizations, especially the Home for the Friendless.  She founded the Physical Culture Club, known today as the Springfield Woman's Club.  The Halls frequently entertained at the house.

In 1909, following Frances Hall's death in 1905, Edward Hall sold the land, but not the house to the First Christian Church.  The house was separately sold to young Latham and Lyna Souther, who were required to move the house.  They selected a site at 1825 South Fifth Street.  The Southers might be considered Springfield's first preservationists, because they saved the house from demolition, moved it to a new site, and made improvements sensitive to both the house's history and architecture.  They lived in the house until the second of them died in 1951.  Latham Souther was a banker, first associated with Edward Hall.  He had long admired the future "Iles" house, partly because of his interest in history.  When moved, the house had to be cut in two, and moved in sections, excluding the brick lower level.  Great care was taken to maintain the house's integrity, and a new lower level was built keeping the same room placements, but with the addition of modern 1910 mechanical components and some design elements of the Arts and Crafts style in the lower hall and dining room.  Some of the doors and windows from the original lower level were reused.  Poet Vachel Lindsay was a visitor to the house, as Lyna Souther, a talented artist who was active in the Springfield Art Association, took an interest in Lindsay's work.

The Elijah Iles House passed through a succession of owners from the 1950's until 1993.  The upper floor was converted into two apartments for rent with back-to-back kitchenettes and bathrooms in the trunk room area.  The Elijah Iles House Foundation has partially restored the trunk room.  In 1978, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1993, the city of Springfield purchased the house, and the Elijah Iles House Foundation was created to restore and preserve the building.  After locating an appropriate site and securing substantial funds, in 1998 the Foundation moved the house to 628 South Seventh Street, just one block east from where it originally stood.  This time the house was moved in one piece, but again, the lower brick level was left behind.  Dependent upon the rate of fund-raising, the house was restored over a seven year period and opened to the public following a grand opening celebration on September 24, 2005.

Notable House Elements

The Iles House is considered a timber framed raised cottage in the Greek Revival Style with southern or French influences.  It has one story, with living space in a finished attic, and a walk-in basement level.  The attic is normally referred to as a half-story.  The house was raised due to its siting on land which dropped away at the back toward the Town Branch, a creek which drained the prairie as it angled across land which now encompasses Springfield.  The Town Branch was paved over in the 1860's and became a storm sewer.

Timber framing used heavy timbers as vertical corner posts and horizontal braces attached to them.  The attachment braces were made with hewn mortise and tenons which were pegged.  The Iles House used a four-bent frame system consisting of two end walls and two interior hall walls.  The timbers are hand-hewn oak, squared by a broad axe and smoothed with an adze.  The joints are fitted into the horizontal and vertical structural members with mortise and tenons.

The sawn 2x4 foot studs are of walnut and oak, cut with a reciprocating saw.  The rafters and floor joists are sawn 2x8s which are nailed in place.  Machine-cut nails were used.  These are flat with a square or rectangular head.  Wire nails wouldn't become popular until after the ready available of steel in the later 1800s.

The house's siding is of black walnut, sawn and hand-planed, using machine-cut nails.  The house's original roof consisted of hand-rived walnut and oak shingles.  Today, the Iles House has new cedar shingles.

Inside the Iles House, the original walnut woodwork including fireplace mantles is intact, and has never been painted.  The graceful staircase is also original.

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