Houses in History – Abraham Illk House
Growing up, our first ‘house’ was really a trailer in my Aunt’s yard. When I reached second grade my parents bought a historic home that had history that included my family. The Abraham Illk house. It was currently owned by Ralph Goodrich. At the time my parents bought it with most of the contents included.
The house had over time been added to and changed. The original house was made from bricks made in the nearby woods, and hadn’t included electricity or even a regular kitchen.
The house by the time we owned it, had electricity added, plumbing for the kitchen and one bathroom was stuck onto the side of the house. The window in the picture is where the door to the lean to was. My parents added a bathroom upstairs and a half bath downstairs, then took the lean to of the house and replaced all the windows.
Over time they also added an attached garage to the house and redid most of the inside. My brother now has taken over the house and has been working on it room by room.
The history of the house starts with the house being built by Abraham Illk. It’s in the Lakeshore School District in Oakwood Illinois. Abraham lived from 1835 to 1916 and was from Germany – married to Catherine Ford. As far as my family, Abraham and Catherine’s daughter Frannie married my grandfather’s twin brother, Lesley. I’ve mentioned the house and Catherine’s history before.
Growing up I’ll always remember though how strong the house seemed. Inside the house nothing could be heard from outside. My father would say that the house has been standing for 100 years and will be standing for 100 years more. Ralph Goodrich was related to the family also through the daughter Catherine who married a Goodrich.
Tried to e-mail you, Jeff but didn’t go through. – just happened to find your post on Uncle Samuel Illk – don’t know much about him, but do have some records that I got from Ralph Goodrich – whose mother was Catherine Illk, daughter of Abraham Illk of Vermillion County, Illinois. She married George Goodrich, and lived s.west of Oakwood on the Illk farms. My mother, Ethel Illk Oakwood was the daughter of Frederick Illk and Mary Watson Illk – my grandfather Fred was a brother to Abraham, the first Illk brother to come to America. So Aunt Kate, as my mother called her was a first cousin to my grandfather; and Ralph and my mom and uncle, Glenn Illk were second cousins. We were very close to Uncle Ralph as we called him. …. –from ancestry boards
The house was not huge, but to me as a child it looked huge! Now going back, I’m surprised at how much smaller it was than I though it was. The house originally had four bedrooms upstairs that, three that we used and one that my dad turned into a hodge podge of rooms that included a full bathroom, a closet, a gun shell loading room, and a hallway. The area included a window that looked out over one of my parents fields. The house wasn’t built with closets originally – when the house was built houses were taxed based on the number of rooms and closets counted as rooms, so my parents paneled every bedroom adding a closet at one end and drop ceilings to lower the ceilings to a more normal height.
My brother and I had a great time with the drop ceilings using them to play hide and seek. The main rule was that you had to stay on the cross beams holding up the tiles. One wrong step and you would be in the room below. There were at least a couple tiles stapled up to fix missteps. We would climb up the shelves in our closets and disappear. The top of my brother’s closet was huge and became a hang out for a while. There are probably still little odds and ends up on the ceilings in some of the rooms.
To add conventional heat my parents used the vent work that was in the house as much as possible. The old house had some vents in place for coal in the basement in order to circulate air, but they were few and far between. My parents put in vents up the side of rooms in the downstairs under the paneling going up to the upstairs and added heat. Later they included an air conditioner when they found my hay fever was too much for them to bare living with. After a few years they added an option for a wood burning furnace. – We split our own wood and added a wood burning stove to the kitchen also.
The house was always in a state of flux. To finish off the upstairs, my parents wanted a better way to reach the attic. The original house had a little square in the ceiling with a metal ladder that was in the hallway at the top of the stairs. I never saw in the attic myself. My dad though came up with the idea to build a set of stairs up to the attic out of their bedroom closet. – My parents had the one room upstairs that was built with a closet originally. So my dad removed one side of the closet and put in plywood over the stairs at a slant. I think each project started during the winter and came to an end at harvest season. This was one that never started up again. So the plywood slant over the stairs became a place to store clothes and things for my parents.
Downstairs, my parents, added a wood burning stove in the kitchen, redid the kitchen, and I remember them frequently moving where the doorway was for the living room. It reminds me a little of the Winchester House when I think of my childhood and my parents never finishing our house. My brother now is redoing the house. He is doing a beautiful job and hopefully will finish in his lifetime.
On the wood burning stove I remember my mother making deer jersey and even maple syrup from the trees in our yard. We even had a few instances of my mother raising chickens in our kitchen. I’ll also never forget the day my mother caught the house on fire with dry wood in the fireplace. My mother was burning wood that was really dry and the fire got extremely hot. The supports under the bricks in front of the fireplace caught on fire and the fire department was called. My dad had already gotten the fire out, but all the firemen had to trek through the house and check.
There is also the day that my mother got a new dryer. My dad let my brother and I disassemble the old one… and play with all the parts. When the new one arrived, the turn to the basement was 2 inches to small. The delivery person said he couldn’t get it down the stair without the 2 inches…. So my mother got a hammer. I think the delivery person about panicked, when my mother said are you sure you just need 2 inches? and then proceeded to make 2 inches more out of the wall (with the hammer!).
The basement was another great place to play in the house. I think my brother now uses it for haunted houses but for us kids it was pretty cool. There were three rooms, one that contained the hot water heater – we just never seemed to enter, one that we played school in with some old school desks mom found (and we kept our hamsters there for a while), and the laundry room which included a furnace that took up half the room. The stairs were old rickety wooden stairs that seemed fine as a child, but looking back…. My mother stored old lunchboxes and things under the stairs. To the right of the bottom of the stairs was an open door that went to dirt steps going up to the floor of the kitchen.
I remember my cat having kittens under the kitchen and having to climb up every so often to check on them. The steps originally went out of the house and out to the old summer kitchen which was long gone by the time we got there. There were a few other places that the foundation was open to the dirt. With a shovel, I don’t think you could ever get completely trapped in the basement – which probably explains the mice that were always getting in the house throughout my childhood.