Douglas Warren guided the tour for my friend Annie Jansen and I this past week. He was a fascinating guide, with a great story about a marvelous house!
“James Millikin was born in 1827,” Douglas said. “He was the 6th of eight children. Born in Ten Mile Washington County, Pennsylvania he was part of a middle class family.”
James grew up on a farm. He could see a need out west, which incidentally was Illinois at the time! He decided to bring livestock to the prairie and brought sheep and cattle alike. Eventually he became known as “the cattle king of the Prairie State”!
Ready to settle down and raise a family, James’s sisters took this matter in hand. “His sisters said they had met a young lady. The father was a pastor in Mt. Zion. They met and married within a month,” Douglas Warren shared.
The young woman turned out to be Anna Bernice Aston. She was the daughter of Rev. Samuel M. Aston, Pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Mount Zion. The young couple married January 1, 1857.
Being business minded James had been buying property. He became more involved in real estate and banking and less involved in farming around 1860. “He was very earthy and he loved kicking the dirt,” Douglas Warren said.
Douglas added that this would have been a big help working with farmers, and ranchers. They were the type of people that were building the economy in Decatur at the time.
The property the James Millikin Homestead is built on was purchased in 1862. It was part of a 22-acre tract. James Millikin paid $2,200 for it, but sold off portions over the years. He retained six acres for the James Millikin Homestead.
The James Millikin Homestead
The Millikins had lived in a small cottage for 20 years While James was interested in farming and business, Anna was interested in the arts. With no children, Douglas said she wanted a grand house, thus the James Millikin Homestead! “The house was started in 1875 and finished in 1876. You have to remember, we were on the edge of Civilization back then,” Douglas added.
The house cost $18,000 to build. It is filled with art and was used in part by Anna as a place where she taught and discussed art.
Highlights of the house include the staircase constructed with walnut and butternut wood. The original staircase was replaced in a renovation. Douglas said this was because Anna wanted to see who came and went!
Stained glass windows on the landing with a bench to seat ten are also show stoppers.
Drapes were not used in the James Millikin Homestead, but rather shutters that have been replaced. These are so lovely!
Ceiling murals are quite stunning and fireplaces are also quite eye catching as well. Over all the entire house and contents are quite alluring along with the story of the family.
Today at the James Millikin Homestead
James Millikin died in 1909, and Anna in 1913. Both had been active in the community and established the college. They also helped with other philanthropic endeavors as well. In their will, they left the home and its contents to be used as an art gallery, institute, and museum.
It took time to sort this out and for six years the house was empty. It was used as a hospital during the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918! In 1942 Millikin University became the owner. Then in 1979, the James Millikin Homestead, Inc. a not for profit corporation was created to restore and preserve the interior of the landmark.
Visiting the James Millikin Homestead
The home is open the last Sunday of the month April – October from 2-4 with a suggested donation of $2 – $5. Groups are limited during COVID -19 to a total of six including the guide. You can also have a private tour for $25. Groups numbers are also limited at this time.
The home can also be rented for small weddings and events during non-COVID-19 times!
Any monetary donations are appreciated since the cost of running a home of this age is always more expensive that what budget allocations allow!
This is a lovely home and just a note, there is a residential Frank Lloyd Wright home across the street! If you enjoyed the historic home, you might also enjoy the Hunter Dawson Home story as well!