Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Manderley of My Dreams: This Writer's Research

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again...secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel..."

These opening words by the second Mrs. de Winter in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca are some of the most famous in literary and cinematic history. I thought of them as I did novel research over these past weeks.

My second mystery, Marry in Haste [working title], needs a Victorian house for part of its setting. Did that come from my subconscious memories of a house I lived in, or did it appear out of plot necessity? As usual, it is a question of the chicken or the egg.

This huge Victorian house was my first 'home" when I moved to the small town of Monmouth, Illinois in 1968. My husband and I lived on the entire first floor for the next three and a half years, and the upper two floors contained five apartments. What fascinated me was the idea that this huge mansion was a one-family home during the late 1800s and well into the 20th century. Alas, the house was razed in 1990, and only lives on in my imagination and this photo. I heard it variously called "the McCullough house" and "the Allen house." [Even small town memory today calls houses in Monmouth by their earlier occupants.]

Regardless of whose house it used to be, I decided to delve into its history, a past highly entwined with that of the town. I have been digging away at its "mysterious long ago" at the Warren County Genealogical Society and the Warren County Courthouse, and interviewing Jeff Rankin (local historian), Dale Unverferth (another past occupant of the house), and Marcum Spears (attorney.) While my fascination might seem like a detour in my book research, it isn't. The folks who lived in this house have provided me with many ideas about the mysterious, imagined characters who will occupy my novel's fictitious house.

Two houses sat on the lot at what began as 400 and became 402 West Broadway. The Victorian was preceded by a smaller house and that's where I began my search.

The earliest mention of a lot at the corner of West Broadway and Pine Street (currently North "C" Street), is 1863. Once the land was organized into subdivisions, an attorney and local businessman sold Lot 5 to Amanda Jerome, a widow, in 1865. Either they or she built a house on that corner since it is visible on the 1869 town map. But it is not the Victorian house of my dreams. Across the street, on the east side of North "C" Street was a Weir factory, built in 1863. Fortunately for Mrs. Jerome, it moved to South 4th Street in 1865. The house at 400 West Broadway was a boarding house, not at all unusual for a woman back then.

Alas, Mrs. Jerome did not stay there long. She sold
The Monmouth Square, late 1800s
the early house to a Miss Sarah McBroom in 1886. Sarah had two sisters--Jennie (a teacher, I'm happy to say), and Mattie, who moved with her from a boarding house "between North Boston and Clinton."

This is where things begin to get murky (enter confusing music.)

Someone built the huge Victorian mansion during this time period and now I must do some guessing. In 1893, Sarah sold the house and lot to Charles L. Barnes who was a building contractor living a block east at 308 W. Broadway. It appears that he financed the deal through an attorney named Almon Kidder. However, this is speculation on my part, based on the block and lot descriptions. Whether Barnes built the Victorian house or simply razed the McBroom house, I don't know. However, now W.W. McCullough enters the picture, one of two important men who would live in this house.

W.W. McCullough owned a lumber yard and he most likely supplied the boards for "402" West Broadway. He was living in "my" huge house with his family in 1896, but never actually owned the mortgage, according to the property description. The house is called "the McCullough House" in an 1899 city publication. This means my house was probably built between 1893 and 1899. McCullough and his family lived there until June 19, 1902. 

W. W. McCullough was a wheeler and dealer who had his hands in lumber, coal, implements, and the interurban railway. He resigned as secretary of Weir Pottery in 1902 (wisely holding on to his shares), to devote his time and money to the electrical lines and power station that would provide an interurban cable car/train between Monmouth and Galesburg (12 miles to the east) and eventually Monmouth to Rock Island (44 miles to the north.) 
An ad for John C. Allen's dry good store from the 1905 Monmouth College Ravelings yearbook.

John C. Allen, the second amazing house occupant and actual owner of the house, came to town in 1896 from Nebraska where he had been a merchant and
from A History of Warren County
Nebraska's Secretary of State. By 1905, he owned a huge dry goods store at 55 S. Side of Public Square and also at 105 and 107. It had an entrance on both the Square and on South 1st Street so it occupied almost a block. 
He also became president of the Board of Education in 1917, and president of the People's Bank. That same year my house acquired something new: a phone
The Monmouth Square early 1900s
number--4407.  Allen ran for Congress and served two terms in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. All the while he and his family were living in my house. Imagine the social gatherings they must have had, especially with a ballroom on the third floor. He or his widow, Eudora, owned the house until 1944 when she deeded it to her son (or he inherited it.)

In 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Mell Moody bought the house. When they died in a car crash, their three daughters came into possession of the house in 1967. They sold it to Bruce Langford of Roseville in 1970, and he was our landloard during the last two years we lived in the house.

When the house was subdivided into apartments is a good question. The city directories show only Widow Allen living there when her son came into possession of it. My guess is that it was subdivided after that by either the Allen son as an investment, or by the Moodys.

And so this brings us to the end of the recoverable history of the painted lady at 402 West Broadway. Like Mrs. de Winter and her musings about Manderley, I often think about this house and its splendor back in the late 1800s, wondering what it would have been like to live in the entire home. In my next post I'll describe the house's interior as I remember it. Then it is a short jump to imagining the fictitious people who will inhabit it in Marry in Haste

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