Peace on the prairie

Carol Roehm/Commercial-NewsRetired Danville District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman simply refers to his family’s 1880s farmhouse southwest of East Lynn as “the farm.”

EAST LYNN – Retired Danville District 118 Superintendent Mark Denman simply refers to his family’s 1880s farmhouse southwest of East Lynn as “the farm.”

The white farmhouse, with a green shake-accented second-floor exterior, is a tranquil haven.

“It’s a very peaceful place,” he said. “I like to come up here and read, do the yard work and have family gatherings from time to time.”

It is also the home where Denman’s great-grandparents, William and Eliza Burton Arnold; grandparents, Jay and Ella Arnold Denman; and father, Wayne Denman, had lived.

“My family lived in it for three generations,” he said. “I can look out and see where my great-grandparents (initially) lived, and I can look the other way and see where my great-great-grandparents lived.”

Denman’s farmhouse, though, was originally a couple of miles away within East Lynn’s village limits.

“This house was moved here,” he said.

The home now sits on land that Denman’s ancestors farmed when they came to Illinois.

“This is in Butler Township, and this part of Vermilion County wasn’t settled,” he said. “It was swampy with prairie grass as tall as a man.”

In 1869, Denman’s great-great grandfather, Nathan Merritt Arnold, purchased 240 acres in Butler Township, but didn’t immediately move to the farm. So when Denman’s great-grandparents, William and Eliza Arnold, married, they built a log cabin on the farm. Denman said the log cabin is now encapsulated as part of a house that sits to the west of his farmhouse.

“My great-great-grandparents moved to the farm in 1872 and lived on the farm, which eventually had 360 acres,” he said. “They built a two-story home on the southern edge of the farm.”

His great-great-grandparents’ house can be seen to the south from the front porch of Denman’s farmhouse.

Denman’s farmhouse has a rich history and was built by Francis Hall, one of East Lynn’s most prominent families because of the success of Hall’s son, Arthur.

“Arthur Hall was born in East Lynn and went on to become a well-known Danville lawyer, judge and a University of Illinois football coach,” Denman said.

“My great-grandparents bought the Hall House in East Lynn in 1900 when my great-grandfather retired from farming,” he explained. “Then my grandparents lived in the Hall House in town before they moved to Danville in 1957.”

Sometime after the house was in Denman’s family, possibly around 1917-1919 during World War I, the house was remodeled, the roof was raised and the interior was redone in the Craftsman style that was popular at the time.

Rich walnut woodwork is featured throughout the home.

“I love the woodwork and the Craftsman style,” he said. “I remember coming here, and I always told my dad I was going to buy it.”

Keeping his word, Denman bought the house in the fall of 2007 and moved it June 2008 to its current location a couple miles southwest of East Lynn on the last remaining 50 acres of his family’s farm.

“It was a big event moving it,” he recalled, adding that the house passed by the graves of his great-grandparents, William and Eliza Arnold, who used to live in the house.

Denman called upon Bob Yapp, who had a popular TV series in the late 1990s about home restoration and served as director of Renaissance Danville in 2007.

“I asked him if he would make the blueprints for the house,” he said.

“It had to be completely rehabbed. It looked old and worn out,” he said. “I learned a lot about construction.”

The restoration work was completed in 2009. Throughout the home are numerous old photos of Denman’s family; some of them hang on the walls in the exact location where the photo was taken.

“I wonder how many meals were taken in this room,” Denman pondered. “How many family occasions were held here?”

Denman said he was surprised when an Old Town Preservation Association member contacted him about the house.

“I finished the house 10 years ago, but they asked to take a tour,” he said.

Old Town President Dick Cheney said he was well acquainted with Denman’s father, Wayne, and the house.

“Mark’s father and I refereed basketball together,” he said.

“The furniture is amazing, and his dad’s room is just like how it used to be,” Cheney added.

Denman was one of five to receive a Legacy Award last month from the organization.

“I appreciate the honor,” he said. “I appreciate the good work Old Town does to promote the preservation of homes and structures in Danville.”

Denman said he is glad he was able to preserve an important part of his family’s history so that other family members may enjoy it.

“We had a big family reunion here in 2017 with more than 30 people,” he said. “I’m glad I preserved it for another generation or two.”

MEETING TIME

The Old Town Preservation Association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month in the first-floor classroom at Lakeview College of Nursing, 903 N. Logan Ave.

Anyone is welcome to join OTPA. Memberships are available to individuals, families, seniors, organizations or as lifetime members.

The association plans to have a fall tea at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Harrison Park Clubhouse. “Putting on the Glitz” will have a Roaring 20s theme and will remember 1920s torch singer Helen Morgan of Danville. Tickets are $40.