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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 07:12 pm

Historic Buffalo house still standing, for now

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The survival of a mid-19th century structure, part of which could date as far back as the 1830s, is hardly assured, but the historic house located on the edge of Buffalo may not meet a fiery end as once expected.

The owners of the house and the property on which it rests had donated the building to the Buffalo Fire Protection District to be destroyed in a live-fire training exercise, and last summer the department expected to burn it down in September. [See “Historic stagecoach stop to be burned down,” by Jackson Adams, July 29, 2010]. In reality, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in May had already denied a burn permit, citing lack of approval from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Anne Haaker, deputy state historic preservation officer with IHPA, says as far as she’s concerned, burning is now out of the question, as she doesn’t intend to offer approval in the future. Haaker says the house is a good example of an 1870s Italianate home, the same kind of structure that sat on the Dana Thomas House property in Springfield before Frank Lloyd Wright completely remodeled it.

Haaker says the current structure is not the original house on the property and that one built as early as the 1830s may or may not be partially intact beneath significant renovations. “It might have been obscured, but that doesn’t take away from the significance of what’s there now,” Haaker says. Haaker says that as early as 1840 the original structure might have served as a 12-mile house, in which stagecoach drivers would have rested for the night.

Though historic, the property’s manager, Jeremy Crouch with Heartland Trust in Forsyth, says the structure is beyond reasonable repair. While burning is no longer an option, the owners of the property could still demolish the structure. Crouch, however, says the house’s fate is still in limbo. “They [the owners] are still looking to see exactly where the historical society [Sangamon County Historic Preservation Commission] stands and where their decisions are going to be,” Crouch says.

Chuck Pell, chairman of SCHPC, says his organization is still trying to identify someone who might be interested in buying the house. He adds that he would expect to have greater success in saving the structure if such a purchaser was also willing to move it to a new location. “It’s pretty clear that the ownership group, that they don’t want to carve out one or two acres and just sell it,” Pell says, adding that farm equipment moving nearby might disturb anyone living where the house currently rests.

Buffalo Mayor Bill Vetter says he’s still optimistic someone might come forward to save the house. “It’s getting more deteriorated, day by day,” he says. “We’re looking for a buyer and approval that they [the owners] will sell it.” He says that earlier this week he spoke with a couple that expressed interest in purchasing the house but not in moving it.

If someone is able to buy the house and the owners agree to sell it, Vetter says he’d like Buffalo to annex the property, which sits just outside of city limits. He says that could open the door to possible tax increment financing that could help a new owner pay for renovations to the property.

Buffalo Fire Protection District chief Mike Thompson says he’d be surprised if any private investors decided renovating the structure is financially feasible. “I think it’s a pipe dream,” he says of preservationists’ ideas. As a farmer himself, Thompson says it would only make sense for the owner to get rid of the dilapidated structure in order to use the land for agriculture. And if the end result is destruction, he asks, why not burn it for public safety training?

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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