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Thursday, June 23, 2005 10:54 am

Tearing down the house

Records indicate the Adams House was built in the late 1850s

The Springfield Historic Sites Commission is calling on the Illinois Audubon Society to save the Adams House, a move that boosts efforts by local activists to preserve the antebellum structure.

The 147-year-old Adams House, located on the grounds of the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, would be razed to make way for a new 2,000-square-foot office building, according to plans announced recently by the Audubon Society.

The organization, which is moving its headquarters from Danville to Springfield to be closer to state government agencies, has decided that the Adams House is poorly suited to its needs and must go.

“Our members do not give us donations to restore old houses,” says Marilyn Campbell, society director.

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 E. Clear Lake Ave., consists of 30 acres of natural growth. The sanctuary was established so that urban children could learn about nature. It offers walking trails, as well as special programs throughout the year.

“Most people think it will be great to have a new building,” says Susan J. Shaw, sanctuary director. Although there has been talk of seeking National Register of Historic Places status for the building, Shaw describes the structure as “old but not historic.”

Mike Bowers, past president of the Springfield Audubon Society, has said that he would favor saving the house if it is found to have historical significance.

The Adams family planted an orchard and vineyard. Margery Adams, who never married, was the last member of the family to live in the house. When her father died, in 1931, she let the land return to its natural state. She fed birds and animals and in later years became reclusive.

In 1977 she wrote a friend, saying that she would like for the house to be maintained in good shape, but “I cannot object, if it is impossible to keep it in decent shape, it may be torn down.” She died in 1983, leaving provisions in her will to establish the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary.

During the 1990s, Springfield Audubon Society members renovated the house, says Tom Coulson, one of the volunteers who did the work. The renovation took years and the work of many volunteers, he says, and many local organizations donated money. “Saving the house is a good idea,” he says.

Jerry Jacobson, who heads Save Old Springfield, agrees: “We think it should be preserved. It’s been a part of the wildlife refuge, if nothing else.” No one has said that the house lacks structural integrity, he notes. “It’s one of the last buildings of its type in the city.”

The house is in the folk style, built by carpenter craftsmen, says Ed Russo, retired city historian.

Records indicate that the house was built around 1858, says Curtis Mann, manager of the Sangamon Valley Collection at the city’s Lincoln Library. The Adams family bought it in 1859. “We hope the Audubon Society can be convinced to incorporate it into its plans,” Jacobson says. He says the society could add on to the back of the house so as not to change its appearance from the front. “They could put it to good use, which it has been for many years.”

The Historic Sites Commission voted Monday, June 13, to ask the Audubon Society to preserve the Adams House. The fate of the building is ultimately in the society’s hands, says Marshal Lemme, of the city’s economic development department, “but the Historic Sites Commission feels it might be worth saving.”

But Campbell, the society’s director, says that the building is energy-inefficient and that its design precludes the enlargement of existing rooms. A new building would feature a large meeting room, allowing the society to offer more public programs and workshops.

As for the Adams House, she says, if preservationists are willing to pay to move the building, the society is willing to donate the structure.

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