Farm house

Historic Old Leland Farmhouse to be demolished | News

Click to enlarge

PHOTO BY CINDA ACKERMAN KLICKNA

The old house, built in the 1860s, as it appeared earlier this week.

Like Illinois Time is in press, the demolition of Willemore and Wiggins’ old brick mansion, known as the Leland Farm house, seems imminent. The house was to be demolished by its owner, Frank Vala, this week. Vala, a prominent Springfield businessman, is chairman of the Springfield Airport Authority.

Rumors had swirled around town about the impending demolition, creating a buzz on Facebook and spurring the formation of the Friends of the Original Leland Farm House, a group hoping to save the house.

On Monday August 9, a few members of the Friends group were granted access to the house. What they discovered was a house in need of repairs but still intact. Intricately patterned marble fireplaces, oak paneling, hardwood floors, and a grand carved spiral staircase were still in place. The light fixtures, old glass windows, and even the wicker furniture on the porch hadn’t been touched. No contact with salvage companies or restoration groups had been made, which the group encouraged Vala to do.

Vala said he saw no historical significance in the house.

In fact, the large Leland house (see Illinois Times, August 20, 2020, “Life on the Old Leland Farm”) has enormous historical significance. Built in the mid-1860s, it spanned 600 acres that encompassed what is now Washington Park, Jerome, and Leland Grove. Horace Leland, his sister, Clarissa, and her husband, Colonel Noble Bates Wiggins, lived on the farm. Horace and the Colonel owned the Leland Hotel at Sixth and Capitol. The farm provided much of the food served at the Leland, a thriving hotel that has been the scene of political events for decades. The farm hosted picnics, receptions, parties and fairs. Leland Land later became part of the area with streets named Noble, Bates, Wiggins and Leland. A nephew, Jérôme, who was an orphan when his parents died, came to live in the house in the 1870s, and in 1928 he sold part of the farmland to found Jérôme.

The former Leland House was purchased in 2020 by Frank Vala. He reported that the house is in such poor condition that there is no choice but to tear it down. But when asked why he demolished the house, he replies: “I want a big piece of land. I bought this house with the intention of demolishing it.

Theresa O’Hare, who started Friends, says, “I’ve only been in Springfield for 16 years; this house is my favorite. I always thought it was well maintained. So being told she was in bad shape was a surprise, and I wish I had started saving him sooner. Our group wanted to raise funds and move the house. It’s such a wonderful place and has such a history that we thought we should try to save it. Mr. Vala told us that he would consider selling it. His demands were that we create a $500,000 endowment in his name and then move the house within nine months. He gave us 10 days to decide.

Click to enlarge Theresa O'Hare, who started the Friends of the Original Leland Farm House, spends a moment in the driveway with Frank Vala, the owner.  The group of Friends were trying to persuade Vala not to demolish the house, or at least to recover the relics.  - PHOTO BY CINDA ACKERMAN KLICKNA

PHOTO BY CINDA ACKERMAN KLICKNA

Theresa O’Hare, who started the Friends of the Original Leland Farm House, spends a moment in the driveway with Frank Vala, the owner. The group of Friends were trying to persuade Vala not to demolish the house, or at least to recover the relics.

The group posted on Facebook, planned a petition campaign, contacted media and public officials in the affected area, tried to generate interest and called on Vala to take care of historic preservation.

Before the 10 days were up, Vala told the group that the house would be demolished. He had already applied for a demolition permit. Vala followed city ordinances, according to Leland Grove Mayor Mary Jo Bangert. “The house was never listed on the national registry, so it is considered a private home,” Bangert said.

If the house had already been listed as National Historic Significance like other Springfield sites such as the Dana-Thomas House, Governor’s Mansion, Vachel Lindsay House, etc., the group might be able to bring the case. before the courts. Without this, the owner has the right to dispose of his property as he sees fit.

Click to enlarge The Leland House contains fireplaces and staircases with rich detailing.  However, there were no plans to salvage the interior materials.  - PHOTO BY CINDA ACKERMAN KLICKNA

PHOTO BY CINDA ACKERMAN KLICKNA

The Leland House contains fireplaces and staircases with rich detailing. However, there were no plans to salvage the interior materials.

This, however, hurts some. Lisa Moffett, a member of the Friends group who visited the house, explains: “I love this house. For years my husband and I have walked by the house and thought about buying it if it ever came on the market. We had told the previous owners of our interest, but we didn’t even get a chance to make an offer. It sold without being put on the market. The house could have found an owner and lasted long after we Let’s all be gone. She has such a big impact on the history of our city. Standing here today, I feel sick. We could have done so much with this incredible property.

O’Hare agrees. “The incredible Marbold House in Greenview and the restored Governors Mansion, which dates from around the same time as the Leland House, have found donors. We could have done the same if we had had the chance. ”

Vala agreed to give the group the summer kitchen, a small brick building adjacent to the property, for free. They plan to move it and will raise funds to open a museum to explain Leland’s history and feature photos of the house. “We appreciate Mr. Vala giving us the summer kitchen,” O’Hare said. “It’s sad, however, that we weren’t offered the opportunity to remove a fireplace or a light fixture or something from the house. Our group would have raised funds to purchase items to keep this house forever etched. in our memories.”

Cinda Ackerman Klickna often contributes articles on Springfield history and has written about the Leland family and the house.