Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 18, 2018

Touring Mt. Pleasant’s history

Henry County Heritage Trust’s Historic Homes Tour highlights MP’s oldest home
Apr 30, 2018
Photo by: Karyn Spory Jim and Judy Miller’s home was not just the oldest house on the Henry County Heritage Trust Historic Homes Tour on Saturday, April 29, it’s the oldest standing home in Mt. Pleasant. The kitchen, seen above, is an addition to the original structure, but designed and decorated to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the home.

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


Jim and Judy Miller had been asked for years if they wanted to participate in the Henry County Heritage Trust’s Historic Homes Tour. But it was never quite the right time, they had too many renovations left to do. This year, however, they said “yes” and their home became the cornerstone of the “Bricks and Stone” tour.

The homes tour was held on Sunday, April 29 and featured the Miller’s home, located at 400 E. Washington St., which is believed to be the oldest standing home in Mt. Pleasant. Other properties on the tour was the old City Hall, Bob and Cathy Farley’s home at 505 W. Monroe St., and the Asbury Porter House, known as the Van Vorhies Haus, located at 601 W. Monroe St.

“Our friend finally convinced Jim. I kept saying no,” Judy says with a light laugh. The Millers purchased their home six years ago. “I fell in love, even with the condition it was in,” said Judy. “Jim didn’t see it, but it was calling me.”

The couple, who are no strangers to restoring homes — they’ve done at least 20 houses across the country — bought the house in 2012 and have been working on it ever since.“

“It really makes you feel good to know that you’ve put the time and effort in to restore the home and people (like it), they have been very complimentary,” she said.

Jim said restoring the home wasn’t just for them. “We did this to make a home for the future,” he said.

One of the couple’s favorite features of the house are the loose floorboards. “The home was on the underground railroad,” said Jim. “It’s where they hid the slaves,” added Judy.

The Millers were the first to agree to be on the tour, said Pat White, of the Henry County Heritage Trust. Once they had signed on, White said it was easy to come up with this year’s theme — bricks and stone.

White said she thinks everyone will find something they like along the tour, whether it’s discovering the different architecture, seeing how the homes are decorated or learning a little bit of Mt. Pleasant’s history.

White was stationed at the McDowell House, which is owned by the Farleys. Bob Farley said he and his wife, Cathy, had heard rumors about their home, but didn’t know its full history until they signed up for the tour and White began researching.

The home was built in 1857-58 by the third president of Iowa Wesleyan — Rev. Joseph McDowell.

The home also has a bit of a tragic past. The Gillis family were the longest residents of the home. Judge Gillis, White recounts, gained prominence in the East Coast and moved to Mt. Pleasant to live out his remaining days with his son, Charles. “On Feb. 23, 1881, there was a knock on the door. The father was in the living room and the son went to the door and was shot and killed. The judge, hearing the gunshot, got up and found his son dead by the bottom of the stairs,” White said motioning toward the front of the home.

According to White’s research on the afternoon of the murder there was a stranger in town asking where Judge Gillis lived. After the shooting, witnesses reported seeing a man run to the train station. The murder of Charles Gillis remains unsolved.

Farley said learning the history of the home gave him a new appreciation.

Deb Savage was excited to finally open up the former City Hall to the public. She and her husband, Dr. Savage, have been working hard the past year to turn the city building into apartment and office space. “I kept wondering if they would even be able to tell we did something,” Savage admitted. However, just taking a look at the “before” pictures arranged on a poster board on the landing of the stairwell and guests could definitely tell a difference.

Savage sat on the city council for several years and when she heard the city offices would be moving she hoped someone would find a new purpose for the building. “I didn’t really plan to buy it, but then I came and looked (at the building) and I could see a vision. We could give back to the town,” she said.

White thought the former city hall was the best example of how there can be new life for an old building. “I’m so excited for everyone to see what they’ve done,” she said about the Savages and the new use for an old space.

Sheila McKenzie and Karen Noble participate in the homes tour every year. “I like to see the different houses and how they’re decorated,” said McKenzie.

The two friends were just about to enter the former City Hall and were excited to see the changes the Savages had made. Noble said she was happy to see the old city hall had been repurposed, much like how the old high school had been turned into the public library. McKenzie said she was happy to see the former city hall hadn’t just been tore down. “I think we have a tendency to do that in America. We went to Eurpoe and you see all of these old houses that are still in use. Homes that are hundreds of years old. Why can’t we do that?”

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