Freeman House Nomination


The Freeman House, 504 West Elm Street, is being nominated as an Urbana Landmark under the following criteria. It has significant value as part of the architectural, artistic, civic, cultural, economic, educational, ethnic, political, or social heritage of the nation, state, or community; it is associated with an important person or event in national, state, or local history; it is representative of the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type inherently valuable for the study of a period, style, craftsmanship, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials and which retains a high degree of integrity; it is a notable work of a master builder, designer, architect, or artist whose individual genius has influenced an area; and it is identifiable as an established and familiar visual location or physical characteristics. Gus T. Freeman, owner of Urbana's first movie theater, the "Princess", had this Classical Revival house built by Edward Benton from the design of architect Joseph W. Royer in 1902. It is an excellent local example of the Classical Revival architectural style and the only such example of this style in Urbana. The integrity of the house remains, although by the 1950's it had been converted into apartments. Although modifications have occurred over time, mostly in the conversion of the house to apartments, many of these changes are historic and have in themselves gained significance.

Architectural Significance

This Classical Revival residence was built in 1902 by Edward Benton for owners Gus T. and Alice Busey Freeman; prominent local architect Joseph W. Royer was responsible for the design. Used from around the turn of the century to c. 1950, the Classical Revival style was particularly popular for bank buildings and public buildings such as libraries. The style gained a surge in popularity following the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition in San Francisco. While sharing the use of classical elements with the shorter lived Beaux-Arts style, Classical Revival was simpler in its effect, using more post and lintel or temple forms, rather than the arcading or barrel vaulting of the Roman-derived Beaux-Arts style. Elements include symmetry; use of Greek classical forms; columns, pilasters, and pedimented doorways; multi-paned or one-over-one-light double-hung windows; and trabeated openings. Federal and Adam inspired ornament is often found on residential examples.

The Freeman House is an excellent example of the Classical Revival style. Its elegant facade is symmetrical with a prominent projecting two-story portico. The portico has classically-correct Ionic columns, a full entablature and pediment. The pediment's tympanum has a center oculus sash with foliated swags and dentils; all classical details. A full-width porch continues the classical design in its Doric columns and turned balustrade. A delicate Adam-inspired entryway with a delicate tracery fanlight projects from the house. Flanking the entry are side windows with leaded-glass lozenge sash. The side windows are also capped by tracery fanlights. Classically-inspired surrounds are found around all three entryway elements. Further federal/Adam-inspired details are seen in the first-story grouped windows with their large double-hung windows, beveled-glass sidelights, and ornate tracery fanlights. The pilasters, dentilated frieze, and open apex dormer windows continue the classical elements of the style. These details continue around the east and west elevations.

Joseph Royer

Joseph William Royer, Urbana's most prominent architect, designed 504 West Elm for Gus Freeman in 1902. Royer was born in Urbana in 1873, the son of John D. and Mary Royer. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1895 with a degree in civil engineering and worked as Urbana's city engineer from 1898 to 1906 during which time he designed the 1901 Champaign County Courthouse; he also was responsible for the Sheriff's Residence and County Jail, constructed in 1905. The firm of Royer andBrown was formed about 1905. At other times the firm was known as Royer and Smith; Royer, Danely, and Smith; and Royer and Davis. Well known local public buildings designed by Royer include: the Champaign Country Club (circa 1895), the Urbana Flat Iron Building (1906), Urbana Christian Church (now Canaan Baptist Church) (1910), the Unitarian Universalist Church (1913), Urbana High School (1914), the Masonic Temple facade (1914), the campus Baptist Church (1915), Urbana Free Library (1918), Urbana Country Club (1922), Urbana Lincoln Hotel (1924), Alpha Rho Chi Chapter House (1927), Leal School (1935), the Knowlton and Bennett Building (1926), and the Cohen Building (1907).

Royer was a master of period revival architectural styles for both public and residential buildings. His own home at 801 W. Oregon Street (1905) was built in a Mission Style with Arts and Crafts influence, while the neighboring house of his mother-in-law was built (1923) in a picturesque rendition of the English Revival architectural style. The Urbana Lincoln Hotel is an excellent example of the Tudor Revival style, while his earlier (1901) Champaign County Courthouse was designed in the Romanesque Revival style. Tudor Revival was used for the Snyder House (1916) in Arcola, but a Mediterranean style was chosen for the Charles Bailey House (1926) in Champaign. The Unitarian Universalist Church (1913) in Urbana shows Royer's mastery of the Gothic Revival style. He also designed a number of local fraternities: Alpha Rho Chi (1928), Arts and Crafts and French Eclectic; Alpha Xi Delta (Busey House, 1914), Tudor Revival; Sigma Pi (1920), Georgian Revival; and Chi Psi (1921), French Revival. However, the Freeman House is the only known example of Royer's use of the Classical Revival style and the only residential building in this style in the City of Urbana. The house exhibits Royer's mastery of the Classical Revival and is an excellent example. What is all the more remarkable is the fact that this house was designed by Royer in 1902 near the beginning of his architectural career and while he was still employed as Urbana's city engineer. That he could design such a highly detailed and academically correct residence highlights his talent.

Historical Significance

Emergence and Early Development of Urbana

According to tradition, the Euroamerican settling of the area which is now Champaign County, began in 1822, three years after the establishment of Illinois as a separate state. In the first decade the influx of pioneer farmers to the area was very slow, due to lack of navigable rivers and decent roads to facilitate transportation, and to the extreme difficulty of cultivating the soils of the tall-grass prairie which, at the time, covered most of the state and was most dominant in East Central Illinois. The early settlers everywhere sought out the few forested areas scattered in the prairies -groves and river valleys-, whose friable soils were much easier to farm with the available technology, and also provided timber for the construction of cabins, for fuel, fencing, and the production of tools. In what is now Champaign County there were three major timbered areas: Big Grove, located in the center of the county along the Saline creek, the Salt Fork Grove along the Salt Fork river in the east, and the Sangamon Grove along the Sangamon river in the west. Through the mid-1830's settlement occurred nearly exclusively in these three groves. In December 1832 the residents of Big Grove petitioned the Illinois General Assembly for the establishment of a separate county, which was granted, and Champaign County was established on February 20, 1833. At the time the county's population consisted of 111 households, or approximately 720 people. The location of the county seat was fixed on June 21, in the southwest corner of Big Grove, near the confluence of the Boneyard creek with the Saline creek, on 43 acres of land donated for this purpose by early pioneer Isaac Busey, his nephew, Matthew D. Busey, and Isaac's old neighbor from Kentucky, Thomas R. Webber. The county seat was named Urbana, and was surveyed and platted on September 3-4, 1833. The original plan consisted of four east-west running streets (Water, Main, Elm, and Green), intersected by four north-south running streets (Vine, Walnut, Market (now called Broadway), and Race), with a central square reserved for the county's court house. Later this first town plan became known as the Original Town of Urbana, and today it constitutes the city's downtown. Due to lack of easy access to the outside world, population and economic growth remained very slow throughout the 1830's and 1840's, and the incoming people were mostly pioneer farmers who settled in the countryside.

Major changes occurred in the 1850's with the arrival of the railroad. The construction of the first railroad to run through Champaign County, the Illinois Central Railroad, which was to connect the northern and southern tips of Illinois, began in 1851. The tracts connecting Chicago to Urbana were finished by July 1854. The construction and arrival of the railroad resulted in a population explosion and economic boom in the entire county, and in the quick urbanization of the county seat and its twin city, West Urbana (now Champaign), which grew up around the railroad depot located in raw prairie land two miles west of Urbana. Between 1850 and 1860 the county's population increased from 2,645 to 14,629 (553%), and the size of Urbana quadrupled by the addition of over a dozen new subdivisions. The pioneer subsistence farmers of earlier years who came primarily from the Upland South (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Southern Ohio and Indiana) were replaced by land speculators, merchants, intellectuals (lawyers, doctors, teachers) and various tradesmen coming from the East (New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Ohio). Masses of laborers employed in the construction and operation of the railroad, and in the emerging industrial and booming construction businesses had also poured into Urbana. A large number of foreign-born immigrants, mainly of Irish and German origin, also began to arrive at this time.

The opening of large markets and the influx of formerly unavailable supplies and goods through the railroad, had fundamentally changed the local economy. The former dominance of agricultural production for primarily local use began to be replaced by a market economy. By the 1870's all the prairie land was bought up (a lot of it by speculators), and after draining the swampy prairies the land was put under cultivation, and the county was established as a major grain producing area of the state. With the influx of new residents and the opening of new markets, Urbana experienced a boom in construction and production. Along the northwestern outskirts of downtown a variety of factories sprung up overnight, many of them associated with the burgeoning construction industry and agricultural production. These included brick and tile factories, foundry and machine shop, plow and wagon factory, sash and door factory, sawmills, flouring mills, and even a woolen factory, among others. Main street became a hub of activity, lined with a variety of retail stores, saloons, law offices, banks, real estate offices, and other places of business and entertainment. Hundreds of family homes, and new churches and schools were built across town.

The City of Urbana was incorporated on February 14, 1855, and in February 1867 was chosen as the site of the first land grant college in the state - the Illinois Industrial University (later renamed University of Illinois). Winning the university for Urbana was the single most important event in the city's history, as in addition to initiating the influx of scholars and changing the intellectual climate of this fundamentally rural community, it had also attracted substantial governmental moneys for university construction, and in the long-run it had secured the twin-cities' survival and prosperity, when other small rural county seats and communities fell by the wasyside after the collapse of the railroad boom. In February 1867 the first railroad to actually pass through the city of Urbana, the Danville-Urbana-Bloomington-Pekin Railroad (the later I.B. & W and Big Four), was also chartered, and was completed in 1869. This was the first railroad line to provide Urbana direct access to the markets, which to that time was only enjoyed by Champaign, and within a few years it also became one of the city's largest employers, as it located both its headquarters and repair shops (later known as the Big Four Shops) in Urbana. Later developments included the establishment of a gas lighting system in the city's homes and streets, the paving of streets, the construction of an electric rail line connecting the twin cities, the construction of hospitals, and the continued expansion of retail businesses.

Neighborhood History

The subject property is located on the northwest corner of Elm and McCullough streets, four blocks west of downtown Urbana. The area between downtown Urbana and McCullough Street (originally called North Street), and Springfield Avenue and Illinois Street is the oldest residential area of the city, having been platted between 1851-54, during the time the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and Urbana was under construction. This area was originally part of the 80-acre parcel that was first purchased from the United States Government by Champaign County pioneer, Isaac Busey, on May 2, 1831. After Isaac Busey's death in 1847, his extensive holdings were subdivided among his children, his daughter Lillis and her husband, James T. Roe, inheriting the land between Race and McCullough streets and Springfield Avenue and Illinois Street. Between 1851-54, Mr. Roe subdivided this area into city lots. Being directly adjacent to the Original Town of Urbana, the area was rapidly built up and occupied by people working in the emerging downtown business district. Elm Street, one of the original streets of Urbana, and a central street leading directly to the Champaign County Courthouse, quickly became one of the most prestigious streets to live on. Between 1850-1900 it was home to five Urbana mayors, two Illinois State Senators, Champaign County judges, early Urbana industrialists, merchants, bankers, real estate dealers, journalists, physicians, architects, musicians, and University of Illinois professors. The July 23, 1879 edition of the Champaign County Herald noted: "Elm Street is getting aristocratic...".

The most prestigious part of the city, however, was the area west of McCullough Street, where the subject property is located. This area underwent a different developmental trajectory from the area between Race and McCullough streets, in that it was not built up into residential city streets, but preserved a park- or garden-like setting on the western edge of town until the late 19th century. After Isaac Busey's death the area west of McCullough street came into the possession of two families. His daughter, Lillis, and her husband James T. Roe, inherited the area between McCullough and Orchard streets, which they sold to early Urbana physician, Dr. Jacob F. Snyder, and his wife Asenath in 1852-53. The area between Orchard and Busey streets went into the possession of Sarah A. Busey (daughter of Simeon H. Busey, co-founder of Busey Bank) and her husband, Joseph W. Sim, Jr., Champaign County judge, and Urbana's seventh mayor. Both Mr. Sim and Dr. Snyder subdivided their respective properties in 1858. Lots in J.W. Sim's and J.F. Snyder's subdivisions, however, were bought up not as city lots but as large, half- to two-acre estates. There were but a few such estates between McCullough and Busey streets in the 1800's, and those were occupied by the wealthiest and most outstanding people of the city, who built large and elegant residences on them. Among these were Mr. Sim and Dr. Snyder themselves.

Snyder family

Dr. Jacob Snyder was a well-to-do early Urbana physician who came to Urbana with his wife and three children in 1850 from Terra Haute, Indiana. After purchasing the Elm Street estate, the Snyders erected a large residence in its central part, as indicated on the 1858 Alexander Bowman Map of Urbana. Aside from Dr. Snyder's status as one of the prosperous citizens and first physicians of Urbana, the Snyders became distinguished through the achievements and affinal associations of their children. Their son, Frank Snyder, is known as the first practical printer of Champaign County, and one of the first, successful newspaper owner-publishers of Urbana. He was also active in local politics, being City Clerk, Justice of the Peace, and Police Magistrate for several terms in each position. The Snyders became associated with one of Urbana's most distinguished families through the marriage of their older daughter, Caroline, who married John S. Busey, son of early pioneer, Matthew W. Busey, and brother of Simeon H. and Samuel T. Busey, co-founders of Busey Bank. John S. Busey was a wealthy farmer and stock raiser, and had also participated in his brothers' banking business. In 1862 he became the first Champaign County resident to represent the county in the Illinois House of Representatives, which was formerly done by politicians from neighboring counties. Through the marriage of their younger daughter, Anna, the Snyders also became associated with Abraham Lincoln who, in the 1850's, was a frequent visitor in Urbana as a practicing attorney on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Anna married attorney Henry Clay Whitney, who came to Urbana in 1854, and with his father became the first attorneys of West Urbana (Champaign). He was for years a close associate of Abraham Lincoln on the Circuit trail, and the two also became close personal friends. Their friendship and shared work and adventures as circuit riders in Central Illinois were commemorated in the book Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, written and published by Whitney in 1902.

Griggs family

After Dr. Snyder's death in 1862, his widow and children sold the Elm street estate to Clark Robinson Griggs on September 9, 1864. Griggs, a successful Massachusetts businessman and politician, came to Champaign County with his wife and three children in 1860 to change his career to farming. He first settled on Yankee Ridge, where he established himself as a highly successful farmer, and through his participation in the Civil War as army sutler, and trader of cotton from the South along the Mississippi river, he also accumulated significant wealth. Immediately after his return from the war in 1864, he purchased the Snyders' Elm Street estate to establish residence in the city. Shortly after the purchase, the Central Illinois Gazette (February 24, 1865, p. 3) announced: "Mr. S.C.(sic) Griggs is gathering the materials for the erection of a fine residence on the beautiful site formerly occupied by the late Dr. Snider (sic)". The new structure which replaced the former residence was a large, two-story clapboard building located in the center of the estate. After his return from the war Griggs also became involved in the state-wide political battle for the right to locate the state's first land grant college. In 1866 he was chosen to head the Champaign County committee in Springfield in this fight, and at the same time he was also elected Mayor of Urbana, and representative in the Illinois House of Representatives. In Springfield he secured the chairmanship of the Committee on Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, from which position he had ultimate control over the proposals for locating the college. Due in large measure to his tenacity, astuteness, and ability as a brilliant political manipulator, in February 1867, Urbana won the right to establish the first land grant college of Illinois in the twin cities. At the same time Griggs also succeeded in obtaining a charter for the Danville-Urbana-Bloomington-Pekin Railroad, the first railroad to run through the City of Urbana, -of which he was elected president-, as well as a charter for the first Gas Light and Coke Company which was organized to provide the streets and homes of the twin cities with a gas lighting system. His son Alfred became vice-president of this company. Griggs' accomplishments for Urbana were widely acknowledged, but none more appropriately than by Milton W. Mathews, Illinois State Senator, and L.A. McClain, newspaper editor (both Elm street residents), who wrote: "No man ever lived in Champaign county who exercised a greater influence or accomplished more good for the county then Clark R. Griggs" (in "Early History and Pioneers of Champaign County" 1891:63). In 1873 C.R. Griggs and his wife moved back East and settled in Delaware, where he continued in the railroad investment and construction business in which he became a millionaire. Prior to moving out of Urbana, C.R. Griggs and his wife deeded their Elm Street estate to their daughter and son-in-law, Mrs. and Mr. W.W. Graham, who retained it only for four months. On September 22, 1873, they sold it to Royal A. Sutton, Urbana brick manufacturer.

Sutton family

Royal A. Sutton, a native of New York, moved to Champaign in 1855, following his brother Joseph. He worked in Joseph's hardware shop, which he bought out in 1860. In 1862 he married Elizabeth T. Waters, daughter of Samuel Waters, well-known Urbana businessman. Samuel operated the Pennsylvania House hotel, located across from the courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln was a regular guest while on the court circuit in Champaign County. Some of the anecdotes about his Urbana visits feature him and Samuel Waters as main characters. In 1866 Royal and Elizabeth Sutton moved to Urbana, where he went into the brick production business. Sutton's brickyards, located north of downtown, provided bricks for the original buildings of the University of Illinois, as well as for the Urbana gas works buildings. Sutton was also a contractor who built business buildings in downtown Urbana. An article in the April 19, 1871 Champaign County Gazette referred to him as the "Brick King of Champaign County". After purchasing the Griggs estate in September 1873, the former Griggs' residence became the Suttons' home for the next sixteen years. In April 1874, shortly after moving into this home, Royal Sutton was elected Mayor of Urbana. Through Royal's status as leading Urbana businessman, and through their prominent in-laws who were also Royal's business partners in brick manufacturing, Royal and Elizabeth Sutton were members of the social elite of post-Civil War Urbana. Their Elm street residence became the site of lavish parties and weddings, attended by the most prominent members of Urbana society, and faithfully reported upon in contemporary newspapers. Royal Sutton died on April 17, 1881 at the age of 44, after a long illness. In May 1889, Elizabeth Sutton and her two children subdivided the family estate into four lots, and she sold her home (the former Griggs residence) with 120 feet ground (Lot 2) to Marion Pillsbury, wife of Dr. William L. Pillsbury, secretary of the Agricultural Experimental Station and first Registrar of the university. The Pillsburies immediately occupied the home with their three children. At the same time Elizabeth also sold the west side of her estate (Lot 4) to Grace Bills, wife of Frank L. Bills, Urbana Postmaster. She retained the east part (Lot 1) of her estate, on which she had a brick mansion of a unique design constructed in 1889 - the present 502 West Elm Street. At the same time Grace and Frank Bills also erected a new home on their lot. Elizabeth sold the remaining lot of her subdivision (Lot 3) in August 1890: its east 36 feet to Mrs. Pillsbury, and its west 24 feet to Mrs. Bills. Elizabeth Sutton moved out of Urbana in May 1894, to live with her daughter in Paterson, New Jersey. She sold her property to Grace and Frank Bills in September 1895, who moved into it, and retained possession of it until 1939.

Freeman family

The subject property was built in 1902-1903 by Gus T. and Alice J. Freeman on the east half of Lot 2 of Sutton's subdivision. Marion and William Pillsbury, owners of Lot 2, moved their home (the former Griggs residence) from the center of Lot 2 to the west half of the lot in July 1898, and made extensive improvements to it (Champaign County Herald July 25, 1898). On July 1, 1902, they sold the lot's east half (60 feet) to Gus Freeman. The Champaign County Herald announced the sale the same day: "...W.L. Pillsbury sold to Gus Freeman of this city a 60-foot lot on West Elm street, adjoining his property, for $2,500. This is the highest price ever paid for a lot on that street. Mr. Freeman will erect a residence that will be a credit to the street". From the start, the progress of the construction was closely monitored by the local papers. Two weeks after the purchase they reported that the Freemans not only paid the highest price ever for a lot on Elm street, but they also hired the architect of the greatest prestige in Urbana, Joseph W. Royer, to draw up plans for their new residence at 504 West Elm Street (Champaign Daily Gazette, July 14, 1902). Joseph Royer was a native of Urbana, and a University of Illinois graduate in Civil Engineering (1895). From 1898 he had been Urbana's city engineer, and the new Champaign County Court House designed by him was just completed the year before, bringing him instant prestige. In August 1902, Freeman awarded the contract for the construction of his residence to Edward Benton (Champaign Daily Gazette, August 12, 1902), and on November 15, the Champaign Daily Gazette announced: "The pillars of Gus Freeman's fine new residence ... have been put in place". In April 1903, the Freeman family moved into their new home (Champaign Daily Gazette, April 4, 1903).

There can be no doubt that behind this display of affluence was the Busey fortune. Mrs. Busey, born Alice Jane Busey in March 1858, was the daughter of Artemisia and Simeon H. Busey, and granddaughter of Matthew W. Busey, early Urbana pioneer. Simeon with his brother Samuel T. Busey founded Busey Bank after the Civil War, which left his children with a family fortune. In October 1877 Alice Busey married Augustus ("Gus") L. Freeman. Gus Freeman was born in March 1856, in Montgomery County, Indiana, and moved to Urbana in 1871, at age 15. He first found work at the roundhouse of the Indiana, Bloomington, & Western Railroad (I.B. & W.), where he later worked as fireman and engineer. Between 1889-1904 he was an engineer for the Central Illinois Railroad. In 1904 he left railroading and began working in real estate and the insurance business. Gus Freeman, however, is best known as the founder and proprietor of the Princess Theater, the first movie theater in Urbana. The roots of the Princess Theater extend back to 1870 when Simeon H. and Samuel T. Busey built a three-story brick building on Main Street to house their bank, which was also the first block built of bricks in downtown. The bank occupied the first floor, while the upper floor was used as an opera house, called "Busey's Hall", where dances, plays, vaudeville acts, musical shows, lectures, dinners, and social events were held. In 1898 the building was acquired by W.I. Saffell & Company and became a department store. In 1903, Saffell's left the building, and it was acquired by Gus Freeman, who converted the top floor to a dance hall. In 1914 Freeman began converting the building's first floor to a movie theater, called the "Princess". The theater opened on January 25, 1915. Gus Freeman managed it for 12 years, after which he retired, due to ill health. After changing hands several times, the theater closed on November 10, 1994. On this occasion Robert Ebert, nationally known movie critique and Urbana native, testified: "It was the place where I learned to love the movies" (The News-Gazette December 4, 1994, p. E-19). In 1995 Urbana businesswoman, Carolyn Baxley, and her husband Norman Baxley, renovated and reconfigured the building, which is currently occupied by her art gallery, the Cinema Gallery.

The Freemans lived in their Elm Street home for 36 years. They had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood. Gus Freeman died at his home at 504 West Elm Street after a long illness, on December 2, 1937. He was 80 years old. Shortly thereafter his widow sold their home. She died seven years later, on March 5, 1945, at the house of her daughter, Virginia, in Champaign. Both Gus and Alice Busey are buried in Urbana's Woodlawn Cemetery. The next owners of the Freeman property were Jenna Mae and James R. Harris, who purchased it from Mrs. Alice Busey on July 5, 1939. Mr. Harris, a contractor, and his wife occupied the building until 1948, after which they began to use it as a non-occupant rental. On April 20, 1964, Jenna Mae Harris sold the property to Donald Wayne Neibel, who continued to use it as rental property. Records from May 5, 1964 describe the property as a frame building with 12 apartments. Currently, the building is still used as an apartment complex.


As indicated above, the area west of McCullough Street, where the subject property is located, was originally a neighborhood of large estates on the western edge of the city. These estates were gradually subdivided into city lots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, a second building boom started on Elm Street and nearby streets, driven by the second and third generations of the Urbana well-born and well-to-do. During this process many of the original, old residences of the area were replaced with more modern houses. As a consequence, the majority of the present building stock in the area consists of turn-of-the-century late Victorian and early post-Victorian structures. Starting around the time of the Second World War, many of the old residences on Elm Street and surrounding streets were sold out of single family ownership, and were converted to rental properties. This resulted in the influx of new classes of residents to the area, including students and middle-class citizens. From the 1960's - 1970's on many of the beautiful and historically important, old residences on Elm Street were demolished and replaced with unsightly and cheaply constructed apartment buildings which significantly undermine the historic character and aesthetic quality of this once important street and neighborhood. The subject property is one of the few structures remaining on Elm Street from the elegant buildings of a by-gone era. The Freeman house being the only known residential structure built in the Classical Revival style in Urbana, is a unique structure without comparatives. Its immediate neighbor, the brick Sutton house, is a similarly unique building in town, representing an eccentric form of the Queen Ann style, which is otherwise a characteristic architectural style in the neighborhood. Based on their singularity, the two buildings are of exceptional architectural value for the city of Urbana.

Property Description (Architectural)

This Classical Revival residence was built in 1902 by Edward Benton for owners Gus T. and Alice Busey Freeman; prominent local architect Joseph W. Royer was responsible for the design. The house is two-and-one-half stories with a brick foundation, narrow clapboard siding, and a truncated asphalt-shingle hip roof. It is fairly rectilinear in plan, although additions have been made to the rear (north) elevation.

The prominent south facade is a textbook example of the Classical Revival architectural style. Style elements include the symmetrical elevation, prominent projecting two-story portico, one-story full-width porch, pedimented dormers, pilasters, large one-over-one-light double-hung windows with wood surrounds and wide hood molds, and elegant classical and federal style details in the windows and entry. Simple wood steps lead up to the projecting two-story entry portico whose fluted Ionic columns support a full entablature with dentils and pediment. The pediment's tympanum has a center oculus sash with finely detailed leaded-glass tracery; elaborate foliated swags curve upward around the sash. Dentils ornament the pediment rakes, while the wide overhanging eaves are sheathed in artificial siding.

Directly adjacent to the portico and extending the full-width of the elevation is a one-story classically detailed porch that returns on the east elevation. Inset in the porch's brick foundation are below-grade windows (one set of triple windows to the west of the portico and two sets of triple windows to the east of the portico) with concrete window wells. Replacement fluted Doric columns support the porch's shed roof, and the turned balustrade with intermediate pedestals is also a modern replacement. However, both the columns and balustrade are classically influenced. There is a plain frieze above and wide overhanging artificially-sided eaves.

The body of the house has its original narrow clapboard siding above the brick foundation with wood watertable. Tall, fluted pilasters ornament the corners and "support" a plain frieze with similar artificial-sided overhanging boxed eaves. A classically-inspired semi-hexagonal entry is centered in the facade. The one-light-over-one-panel entry door is flanked by extremely narrow one-light sidelights over panels. A large, wonderfully executed fanlight with leaded-glass tracery is set over the entry and a narrow paneled architrave with decorative corner blocks surrounds the entryway. Flanking the entrance are double-hung lozenge sash with similar tracery fanlights, spandrel panels, and narrow paneled architrave with corner blocks. To the east and west of the entrance are similar window groups consisting of a wide center one-over-one-light double-hung window with ornately patterned beveled-glass sidelights; similar tracery fanlights are set over these window ensembles.

Centered in the second story is a wood balcony set into the porch's roof and under the portico. This balcony has a low open balustrade with paneled pedestals. A center door with flanking double-hung lozenge sash opens onto the deck. To either side are one-over-one-light windows. A truncated hip roof covers the residence. Broken apex pedimented dormers flank the portico. The dormers have pilasters, dentils, and round-arched leaded-glass sash-over-one-light windows.

The west elevation continues many of the details found on the facade. The brick foundation with below-grade windows continues and a below-grade entry with simple hood is off-center to the south. On the first story, at the south end, is a large one-over-one-light window with a smaller window above, on the second story. Continuing north (over the basement entry) is a raised "stair sash" consisting of triple one-light sash surmounted by an elaborate stained-glass transom. A semi-hexagonal bay window is further north; the bay has a dentilated frieze, double-hung windows, and continues down into the foundation. A single window is above on the second story. Terminating the formal section of this elevation is a pilaster, with two recessed service sections continuing on the north. The formal section of this elevation is also differentiated by a wide dentilated frieze. In the attic, over the "stair sash" is a wide pedimented dormer with fixed one-light sash flanking a center one-over-one-light window. The windows are separated by plain pilasters; the dormer also has a dentilate frieze and rakes, and a plain tympanum.

The first rear service section is slightly recessed from the corner pilaster and has paired one-over-one-light windows on its first and second stories that face west. Returning east, similar windows face north on the first and second stories this section. The rear (north) service section is deeply recessed and its raised first story is parged. It has a raised, projecting entryway in the reentrant corner with a simple shed roof wood porch; paired one-over-one-light windows are directly north of the doorway. On the clapboard second-story, above the entry, is a small corner one-over-one-light window. The north end of this service section is only one story with a flat roof; paired one-over-one-light windows are located here, above a rectangular basement sash.

The one-story service section's high north elevation continues the parging and has a triple center window group. To the rear (south) of the flat roof the clapboard house continues and has a central entry that opens onto the flat roof. A blocked window opening is to the west of the entry, while paired one-over-one-light windows are to the east. Wood steps from the east side provide access to this roof and continue upward to a second flat roof area where the north facing gable roof dormer has been altered to an entryway leading into the attic. On the west slope of this gable is a large shed roof dormer with three one-over-one-light windows.

The east elevation, like the west elevation, continues many of the details of the facade including the return of the one-story porch, which terminates at a two-story semi-hexagonal bay. A wide one-over-one-light window is at the south end of the elevation, sheltered by the porch, while a slightly smaller one-over-one-light window is above. A brick exterior chimney is north of the window and has decorative foliated stone shoulders. Its stack terminates at the eave. A secondary entrance to the porch (one-light-over-one-panel door) is in the south face of the bay; the remaining faces of the bay, on the first and second stories, have one-over-one-light windows. Paneled spandrels are below the second-story windows. The brick foundation of the bay is similar to its first story with a below-grade entry facing south and below-grade windows facing east and north. At the north end of the porch, adjacent to the bay, is a second below-grade entry to the basement. A pedimented dormer, similar to the facade dormers, is set over the bay with a round-arched one-over-one-light window and cornice returns. Directly adjacent to the bay, on the north, is an ornate oval window with leaded-glass tracery set in a rectangular surround. As on the west elevation, a corner pilaster terminates the formal portion, beyond which, to the north, are double recessed service sections. To the north of the pilaster is a rectangular service porch with classical details. Wood steps lead up to the hip roof porch, which has a full entablature with dentils supported by chamfered posts; the porch is glass enclosed. A similar one-light-over-one-panel door provides entry into the house; the enclosed porch is without a door. A small raised one-over-one-light window is to the immediate north of the porch and there are two one-over-one-light windows on the second story. At this section's north corner is a narrow stylized pilaster marking the corner before the second recessed service section. A tall chimney is above on the east slope. Further recessed, the clapboard sheathing continues with paired one-over-one-light windows on each story. The parged north section has a single one-over-one-light window; its second story has paired one-over-one-light windows. At the north end, the parged one-story section returns and projects to the east. It has an at-grade center entry with a two-light slider window raised to the south and triple one-over-one-light windows to the north. Set between the enclosed porch and projecting parged section is a wood exterior staircase that rises diagonally across the rear sections to the flat roof.

- Last Modified -December 18, 2014 - 10:54am
- Author - admin