Pulsifer House – 1979 Pulsifer House December 2005
The Pulsifer House
The year was 1839 and the Village of Hennepin was in its “infancy.” Twenty-six-year old Edward F. Pulsifer arrived from Ohio with his family to seek his fortune.
In 1844, Edward built this Georgian townhouse with a Greek Revival interior on a tract of land purchased from the State Bank of Illinois, perhaps anticipating many more homes in a row. Five fireplaces, elaborate Greek Revival woodwork, servants’ quarters and a kitchen quite removed from the house indicate that Pulsifer was a successful entrepreneur. When the business lagged, Pulsifer moved to Chicago in 1863.
William Thomas purchased the home in 1904. He and his descendants retained ownership until 1979 when the Porter family deeded the one-half-acre lot and house to the Village of Hennepin.
In September 1979, the house was listed in the national Registry of Historic Places.
Windows indicate it was a special room. Over-lights and sidelights are very old and very Federal. Sidelights open for ventilation. The floor was raised in the 1930’s but returned to ground level in 1988. Mr. Pulsifer’s River Shipping Office was more accessible to customers at ground level. Another clue that this was his office was that the east entrance to the dining room was a shuttered door, steering customers to the River Shipping Office. When the summer kitchen was added in the 1850’s the west office door was added. The outline of the summer kitchen can be seen on the exterior west wall. The color of the woodwork is the original green. The Putnam County Historical Society business office was moved here in the fall of 1988.
None of the furniture in the home is original to the Pulsifer family. The dining room was a kitchen and dining area until the summer kitchen was built in the 1850’s. The dining room is in the secondary portion of the house. The Beverly L section has the roof sloping in one direction – to the west. The east entrance door to the dining room was shuttered, possibly to encourage Pulsifer River Shipping customers to use the office door. Doors on the south wall lead to the basement and servants’ quarters on the second floor. It is believed that the second door to the office was added when the summer kitchen was built. Before the office floor was raised, this was a pantry door. The fireplace is a “fake” with a stovepipe hole about 5 feet above the mantel. Window placement is a result of perfect symmetry on the exterior. Long panels in the doorway between the dining room and the ladies’ parlor are called fielded panels – a very unusual door. All woodwork is either white pine or fir and always painted. The doors are called Christian Doors due to the molding making a cross and reverse double cross. A dining room quite apart from the summer kitchen indicated affluence. The carpeting is “in grain reversible” and was woven especially for this home in Pennsylvania. It is historically accurate, color and pattern.
The fireplace makes it an ideal place where the ladies had tea and conversation after meals. Wall coloring is original. The carpeting was woven in England and copies the colors and designs used in the Empire period.
(Possibly a child’s room or a bedroom)
No one of authority has established the original use of this room. The Society uses it for a research room and library. Originally there was a closet on the south wall. Also a stovepipe hole was found on the west wall near the ceiling.
Men retired to this parlor after a meal where they smoked cigars, visited, and drank brandy. All fireplaces throughout the house had stoves in front of them. This was “progress” and unusual for a home on the prairie in 1844. Since Pulsifer was in the river shipping business, he could acquire items for the home that other pioneers would not have. All the windows throughout the house are 6 over 6. None of the windows are original; all were replaced the first year of the restoration
The two bedrooms are identical in size to the parlors below well as the placement of the windows and fireplaces. Two closets upstairs were rare in 1844. Candles were the first forms of lightning. Later oil lamps were added. There is an oil line groove visible in the bedroom floor. The small room off the second bedroom could have been another bedroom or a child’s room.
The servants’ quarters can be reached from the dining room or a step down from the second bedroom upstairs. Because of this step down, many historians believe the “Beverly L” was added later. Most architects, however, agree that the house was built as one unit originally. The servants’ quarters consist of three small rooms. The first room has a door on the east that opens out to the roof of the east porch. These three rooms were a small apartment for a caretaker at one time but have since been returned to use by the Society.
The attic is a pleasant room over the entire primary portion of the house. It has two windows on the east and one on the west making it airy and light. Pegs hold the beams together. Walnut boards some 20 and 22 inches in width make up the flooring.
The limestone foundation is in excellent condition and for that reason the restoration was promoted by the State. The limestone was probably quarried locally. A new basement floor was poured in the summer of 1988, after the 1930’s cistern was removed. The basement is the size of the entire house except for the River Shipping Office.
A complete restoration of the carriage house took place in the summer of 1988 with original siding on the east wall. Historic architects think this may be one of the oldest wooden structures in the State. Evidence indicates that it was original to the house from the way it was attached to the north wall. The smaller door on the north end is where the horses entered and the large double door was the carriage entrance. Historians feel that the raised platform on the south is where the Pulsifers laundered their clothing and where they placed the toilet. Evidence on the original wood siding proved to be the red that it is now as well as the color of the shutters.
Evidence of a brick smokehouse is on the west lawn, a few feet from the carriage house.
The Federal period ended in 1820, yet this house is listed as a good example of Federal architecture. Carl Ehnle, Peoria, our first consultant, said the house is Georgian, 1830-1850 and probably was built as the first of what was thought would be a row of townhouses. The Pure Greek Revival interior has no major changes since the house was built in 1844. Consequently, the integrity of the house is perfect. Windows and chimneys were built to form perfect symmetry on the exterior. Four fake windows on the east – where the front stairway is located – create this perfect symmetry. Note the three stars on the east and west of the third floor. This indicates the ends of three steel rods in the attic to keep the walls plumb.
Pulsifer wanted to show more class on the front of the house by placing limestone sills there. The sills on the remainder of the house are made of wood. Limestone for the foundation was probably quarried locally. Bricks for the house were probably kiln dried on the lawn since they are rather uneven in size and some are blackened more than others. An addition of two stories onto three stories, with the low story section having a roof sloping in one direction is called a “Beverly L”. The Beverly L is called the secondary portion of the home and the remainder is the primary portion.
Edward F. Pulsifer – Builder of the house, born in Vermont in 1813, married in Ohio and father of two children, August C. and Frances M.
1839 – Pulsifer arrived in Hennepin hoping this river town would become the shipping and transportation center of the Midwest.
1840 – Ledgers indicate the first business transactions in Hennepin, with the title “E. F. and S. Pulsifer, Forwarding commission Merchants and Dealers in Dry Goods, Hardware and Groceries.” Other businesses that he was to become involved in were real estate, grain, bill collections and a major stockholder in the Hennepin Tribune.
1844 – In February, Pulsifer purchased the tract of land on which the house stands from the State Bank of Illinois, which had recovered the property from Thomas Hartzell in judgment against him. Hartzell originally purchased the land for $1.25 an acre. Pulsifer built the Federal style home with Greek Revival interior. Integrity of architecture is excellent today.
1851 – Mr. Pulsifer bought out the merchandising business from his brother, Sidney for $4,190.
1863 – Pulsifer left Hennepin to settle in Chicago for the remainder of his life. He was a partner in the Chicago, St. Louis Transportation Company.
1900 – Pulsifer deeded the land and the house to his two children, August Charles Pulsifer and Mrs. Frances M. Thompson.
1902 – Edward F. Pulsifer died in Chicago. At the time of his death, he was a director of the Commercial National Bank, Vice-president of the Union Trust Band and owner of considerable real estate.
1904 – The house was purchased by William Thomas, a farmer in Hennepin Township. His wife was the sister of Mrs. John Stouffer. The John Stouffer and William Thomas families occupied the home until the last of the four died, which was Mrs. Thomas in 1935. Then a succession of tenants occupied the home and farmed the land until March 1966. It was then vacant until August 1967 when J & L Steel Company used it for an office until 1970. Again it was vacant until the Putnam County Historical Society moved in 1979.
1916-1917 – Electricity, a furnace and a bathroom were added to the house.
1935 – Maude Holly and Mary Porter, nieces of Mr. Thomas, inherited the house.
1976 – Mary Porter died. Her sons, John, Lyman and Palmer Porter, deeded the ½ acre plot and the house to the Village of Hennepin on January 1, 1979. The Putnam County Historical Society has a 99-year lease on the property and the home.
1979 – In September, Pulsifer House was listed in the national Registry of Historic Places.
The house was identified by Architectural historian Paul Sprague – former director of the Illinois historic Structures Survey – as one of the outstanding Federal Style houses in the State of Illinois.
The Greek Revival style flourished in America from about 1820 – 1860, appearing first in cities on the Eastern seaboard and then spreading gradually west as the young nation expanded. In the 1830’s Chicago was experiencing an economic boom, part of the rapid growth of the country that occurred during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, 1829 – 1837. America was then a young nation seeking its own identity and its increasing prosperity enabled the country to realize its ambitions. The words of writer James McConkey, about another Greek Revival house, apply also to the Pulsifer House: “a dream of order and balance and proportion set down in a rude wilderness to represent the original owner’s sense of himself and what he could achieve as well as a spiritual attitude that justified his striving.” Excited by this idea that their own governmental ideals resembled those of ancient Greece, Americans saw the Greek Revival style as an expression of their developing national character.
Prior to the emergence of the Greek Revival as the style of choice, American architecture had been based largely on European styles which themselves derived primarily from classical Roman precedents. Both the Georgian and Federal styles, which prevailed from the early eighteenth century through the early nineteenth, were based on these precedents. By the 1820’s Americans were looking to these sources for inspiration. Beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, accurate knowledge of the differences between Roman and Greek forms emerged, primarily as a result of archeological explorations. The Antiquities of Athens, published in England, contained engraved illustrations of classical Greek buildings and had an important effect on encouraging the use of Greek architectural elements. Joined to this new knowledge of antiquity was the sympathetic American response to the Greek revolution of the early 1820’s. There was an understandable identification with this war of independence from the Turks and relief funds were sent from American towns to Greece. These two influences combined in America to produce a desire to emulate the Greek traditional forms and classical Greek decorative elements were used to create a distinctively American style.
In America, Greek Revival structures were often made of wood and brick. A columned portico or porch topped by a triangular roof shape was the most prominent feature of both the classical temple and its wooden American counterpart. Nineteenth century visitors marveled at the white “Greek Temples” that appeared in cities and dotted the countryside.
A local carpenter using readily available pattern books or builder’s guides may have built the Pulsifer house.