Mumford deemed endangered

Nicholas Kinsella and Jon Melin, sophomores in FAA, carry landscape architecture models behind Mumford House on the South Quad. Amelia Moore

Nicholas Kinsella and Jon Melin, sophomores in FAA, carry landscape architecture models behind Mumford House on the South Quad. Amelia Moore

By Erin Kelley

The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois published the 2006 list of the 10 most endangered historic sites in Illinois on March 1. The list included Mumford House, 1403 E. Lorado Taft Drive, the University’s oldest building on campus, built in 1870.

“The house has been vacant for a while now,” said Eiliesh Tuffy, director of preservation programs for the council. “Anytime a building is left empty it has a detrimental effect on the building.”

Five years ago the building was deemed not up to code and has been vacant since then, said Melvyn Skvarla, the University’s campus historic preservation officer.

The property was included on the endangered list after the University, in collaboration with a local preservation group, took a survey of historical buildings, ranking them on a scale of one to five. A score of five meant the building was a first importance. Mumford House was ranked a 4.14.

Because the house was placed on the list, the University began talking again to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which is required by law when changes are being made to a site added to the National Registry of Historic Places, Tuffy said.

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She said the council is not trying to be unrealistic, and they are hoping the University can incorporate the renovation of the house into its space and programming needs.

“In our opinion (the house) is not in danger in any respect, it is not being torn down, but we will relocate it and reunite it with the barn,” Skvarla said.

The University is waiting for a private donor or a department to step up with the money needed to relocate the house and barn, currently located south of the sports complex, to the southeast corner near the intersection of Windsor Road and Race Street on the University’s farm property, Skvarla said. Money will also be needed to restore the buildings to use them as a visitor’s center for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. By moving the house and barn, the University will be replicating the original setting of them, Skvarla said.

Tuffy said moving the house will convey fake history.

“At a certain point you get into ‘Disney’ history – recreating history,” she said. “From a preservation standpoint it goes against the real nature of preservation. I think there is a use they can find for it where it is located.”

Skvarla said he is not unsympathetic to the council’s cause but believes they were misinformed.

“A private, not-for-profit organization (the council) determined the house was in danger,” he said. “I just think they need to have a house on campus for publicity.”

Skvarla said the University had been meeting regularly with the preservation agency to talk about Mumford and other buildings. The house is not unattended, he said: It is being heated, ventilated, maintained and protected with an alarm system. Skvarla said the property surrounding the house had been changed from the original landscape.

“It is a model farmhouse of what any farmer should ideally be able to live in with their family,” Skvarla said. “To replicate the original setting elsewhere is just as proper.”

Although the University has not approached the preservation agency with a plan for Mumford House, Anne Haaker, deputy state historic preservation officer, said she has spoken regularly with people about preservation in general.

“The University committed in December to ensuring that preservation was a serious consideration in planning,” she said.

It is going to cost a lot of money to rehabilitate the house, she said, but it will cost a lot more to move and then the repair the house because moving a building always degrades its condition.

When Mumford House was built it sat on what was then considered the south part of campus, according to “Mumford House – University of Illinois’ Oldest Building” by Ruth T. Jones. The house was part of the “experimental farm of the Industrial University,” and was initially called Farm House.

Thomas J. Burrill, former head of the University’s Horticulture Department, was the first to occupy the house. University figures such as George E. Marrow, Herbert Mumford and Eugene Davenport have also lived in the house while serving as dean of agriculture.

The house was also used as a studio for the artist-in-residence program, the office building for Small Homes Council, and was occupied by art and design faculty in the past. It has remained vacant since it was labeled not up to code, Skvarla said.