I’ve never had a great memory, but for some reason I can recall the street addresses of every house in which I’ve lived. Some of those homes and addresses have stuck around in my subconscious, and others have ended up in my mysteries. But all have been in small towns in downstate Illinois.
People move more these days than they did when I was growing up—into different houses, across the country, over oceans. But in the 1950s, my family had their first house in the town of Galesburg, Illinois. 692 North Kellogg Street. We stayed in that house until I was in college. It no longer exists because it was razed in the mid-1960s to build a hospital parking lot. But in my mind, I can still see every nook and cranny, every pattern on the wallpaper, the living room drapes, the layout of the rooms, the office my dad added on for his tax business, and the backyard where I used to play with neighborhood friends. I can even visualize the cherry tree in that back yard, although none of this exists anymore. It’s only in my mind.
When my husband and I bought our first house in Monmouth, Illinois—215 West Broadway—I knew—a gut feeling—when I walked through the rooms that this was the home for me. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the layout of the rooms was exactly like the house where I grew up at 692 North Kellogg. Subconsciously, the familiarity and comfort of that pattern led to our decision to buy.
Before we bought that home, we lived in an apartment in a huge Victorian that has been a major setting in both my Endurance mysteries and my Sweet Iron mysteries. (The photo above shows an entrance on the left side that was gone by the time we lived there.) 402 West Broadway. It was built in the late 1800s by Charles Barnes and became known as the Allen house since John C. Allen was the longest resident. He was a self-made millionaire who owned a huge department store in downtown Monmouth with so many doors it had five different addresses. His business drew customers from as far away as Chicago and St. Louis.
I’ve investigated the history and owners of that house at 402. One scene in my Endurance mysteries came right out of real life. At the County Clerk’s office I asked for the late 1800s plat book for that property so I could see the history of the land, the owners, and the house. The clerk brought it down from some nondescript dark recess “upstairs” and dropped it on the counter as a huge plume of dust flew in every direction. Both the home that Jeff Maitlin bought in Marry in Haste and Tippitt House in A Death at Tippitt Pond are based on this amazing Victorian house. The attic on the top floor was actually a ballroom, and a magnificent mahogany staircase rose to the ballroom in the front of the house. A servant’s entrance and stairway were near the back of the house just off the kitchen. (The photograph below was from a postcard picture of the house.)
When we lived there in the late 1960s, our apartment took up the entire first floor. To give you an idea of size, ten feet longer north to south and it would have been the length of a bowling alley lane. It had gorgeous wooden pocket doors that opened into the front foyer, an entrance with stained glass windows where people probably left calling cards in the 19th century. Black gas fixtures were still in the walls from the date when they changed from candles to gas lighting. Four other apartments were above us on the second and third floors. Imagine a family with six children, like the Allens, living in this vast house built as a family home. Although it didn’t have a carriage house on the north side, I added one to my book just for fun.
Alas, 402 went the way of many huge homes that eventually became money pits. It was razed in 1990, and only the cement steps from the street to the sidewalk remain. But during the time we lived there, I thought about the details and the many changes that had taken place between the 1890s and 1972. 402 was quite the Victorian lady, a trifle dowdy in her old age, and, sadly, living way beyond her prime.