After protests, Mumford House will remain at original location


Supporters gather around historic Mumford House on March 4 to protest the University’s plans to relocate the house. The protesters want the University to consider creative uses for the home, which has been in its current location since 1870.

By Kevin McLoughlin

The South Quad’s Mumford House is on the docket for renovation after the University of Illinois Board of Trustees settled the debate at its March 11 meeting, voicing support for continued use of the historic building at its current location.

Constructed in 1870, Mumford House is the oldest building on campus and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While University Facilities and Services has been negotiating plans to move the farmhouse to a new location on the southwest corner of Windsor Road and Race Street, Board Chair Niranjan Shah said on March 11 that campus administrators would drop these plans in favor of renovating Mumford House at its current location.

“I was pretty surprised that it happened,” said Tim Penich, graduate student and president of the Society of Architectural Historians who organized a rally opposing Mumford House’s relocation on March 4.

Paul Schmitt, a senior in LAS and the University’s student trustee, said that preservationist activism drew the Board of Trustees’ attention to the controversy around Mumford House. Their letter-writing campaign was particularly effective, he added.

“I’m happy that the Board of Trustees stepped in and said something about it. I’m hopeful that something will get done in the next few years with the house,” Penich said.

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Schmitt said that no specific plans have been finalized for Mumford House, although many have been discussed.

“There have been some talks. There a lot of good things you can do with Mumford House,” Schmitt said. “You could apply for some grant money and try to make it a green facility. The purpose behind that would be to prove that in renovating an old structure or old farmhouse you can still be environmentally friendly.”

Schmitt said that Mumford House could be used as a welcome center for ACES or integrated into a plaza near the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower, which is being developed as a place for students to congregate on the South Quad.

“It’s supposed to be something that draws the campus south,” he said.

Sarah Jin, junior in LAS, learned about Mumford House through her boyfriend, who majors in Landscape Architecture. She said she approved of the University preserving its historical landmarks.

“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “There’s other places on campus to build new things.”

The University is in the process of procuring funding for Mumford House’s renovation, Schmitt said, noting the budget crisis as an impediment to pushing plans through.

“On the other hand, there have been several alumni that are preservationist supporters that are either engineers or architects and they have volunteered their time to figuring out how to renovate it,” Schmitt said. “That knocks a huge cost out on the structure especially when you are preserving something.”

Schmitt said that concerns of accessibility for the disabled were not addressed at the meeting. This was one of the primary motivations behind Mumford House’s relocation, according to the Jan. 22 statement of Mumford House relocation rationale from Melvyn Skvarla, University historic preservation officer.

“There are different levels of accessibility,” Schmitt said. “The fact of the matter is we don’t even know how they are going to use it yet, we don’t even know if it needs to be accessible beyond the first floor of the facility.”

Schmitt said once the Board of Trustees passes a formal resolution, the University administrators will not be able to overturn it without the approval of a future board.