JOLIET, Ill. — Barb Newberg talks about the mystery and clues as she shows visitors around Dr. William Dougall’s 19th-century home.
It’s a house the city planned to tear down before Newberg and others slowed the demolition process in hopes of saving the home of Dougall, a Joliet doctor and surgeon who was a captain of African-American troops in the Civil War.
“Look what I found. This was in the basement,” Newberg said, showing an old, wooden, brass-tipped cane. “He was severely injured in the war.”
The possibility of Dougall’s cane surviving the intervening years since his death may seem remote. But his family did keep the house for some time after Dougall’s death, Newberg noted. And the condition of the house when Newberg got it suggested an accumulation of materials over the decades – wanted and unwanted.
Pine floors in one section and hardwood floors in another contribute to Newberg’s fascination with “a mystery to this house,” which she thinks may have been in two parts in the late 19th century.
Newberg said she’s more convinced than ever that the house at 209 Union St. did not have to be demolished.
“It looked really bad, though,” she said. “It looked so bad that no one wanted to go in the basement. They would say, ‘Do you have a mask?’ “
In the course of cleaning, Newberg found the carcasses of an opossum and a raccoon.
“This was the worst room,” she said of a certain spot in the attic that was particularly foul. “I saved it for the last – because of the raccoons. Neighbors said there were raccoons the size of small children entering this house.”
It’s cleaned up now.
All the junk that filled the house – abandoned at one point, sold at tax sales, and last used by a neighboring church for storage before Newberg bought it in September at another tax sale – has been cleared out. All three floors of junk have been removed.
The house is clean. New electricity has been installed. The roof has been replaced.
Newberg’s goal this summer is to replace the rotting siding on the outside that is a quick reminder of why the house was targeted for demolition.
Signs of the house’s 19th-century charm are becoming evident again inside.
Gaslight fixtures are in a few rooms. Ornamented wood trim around windows serves as a reminder of craftsmanship from a bygone era. A small sitting room in the attic kindles the imagination of the view of the neighborhood nearly 150 years ago.
“I’m going back to the original as much as possible,” Newberg said. “I’m trying to discover the original floor plan.”
Using records from the Will County Historical Society and photographs found in Joliet historian Robert Sterling’s books, along with some common sense, Newberg believes she has been able to piece together some of the functions of the rooms, especially where Dougall kept his office and saw patients.
“I believe this was the office where his desk was, and this was his medical office,” Newberg said in one part of the house. “I have a theory that this was one of Joliet’s earliest hospitals. Beyond these doors are the patient rooms.”
The idea about the hospital is an unproven theory. But Newberg reasons that since Dougall saw patients at home and since he was a surgeon, some must have stayed a night or two to recover, since he started practicing medicine there in 1872.
Newberg was a city planner and liaison to Joliet’s Historic Preservation Commission last year, when she and the commission began urging the city to let the house go to another tax sale before tearing it down.
Newberg was among a few bidders at the sale and eventually put in the winning bid for the house at $6,000.
Neighbor Larry Milam has been helping Newberg clean up the house as she filled three dumpsters with what he called “a ton of garbage.”
“It’s her dream house. You don’t knock nobody for what they see in it,” Milam said.
He called it “an eye opener” to see Newberg’s vision begin to take shape.
“It makes the neighborhood look a little better,” Milam said.
Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, http://bit.ly/2q0A9fA
Information from: The Herald-News, http://www.theherald-news.com/
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Joliet) Herald-News.