Save This House: An Italianate Manor in Central Illinois

A reader named Carrie wrote me about the plight of Duncan Manor: “This is a house in central Illinois that means a lot to many people. It sat empty and derelict for years until it was sold to a real estate agent and her husband who have a history of saving old houses. They got a lot of the structural work done but now have to sell. The house is sitting empty again and is longing for a new owner to rescue it.”


An Old Photo of the House:

According to the Landmarks website:

This grand Italianate home is one of the finest farmhouses in Illinois. It has been a striking presence on the rural landscape since its construction in 1875, and still draws admiration from drivers along Interstate 55. The home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but unprotected by any local landmark ordinance.

Duncan Manor Today:

The listing says:

“McLean County’s famed Duncan Manor, originally the home of William Duncan, boasts 7 bed’s, 6 fireplaces, 11 ft ceilings on 1st and 2nd flrs, 10 ft ceilings on 3rd flr, 4 covered porches (including widow’s walk), all original wood trimmings, including magnificent banister for grand staircase in center of home.”

You can see the house still has a long way to go, but at least the work has been started.

They’ve done a lot of the wiring, plumbing, and foundation work, as well as exterior restoration.

Ed Rascaille, who took the beautiful photo at the top of the post, wrote about his childhood memories of the house:

“When I was a boy, this large Italianate farmhouse built for the livestock farmer William R. Duncan was one of the ‘crane-your-neck and make guesses’ landmarks along Route 66 between Chicago and St. Louis. It sat isolated amidst thousands (seemingly millions to us kids) of acres of corn and bean fields and had an air of mystery…. It is sad that this historic old building is deteriorating rapidly and this memory of millions may someday no longer be with us. I hope something can be done.”

How the eaves looked before the current owners started the renovation:

They look beautiful today, restored and like new:

Want to save it? It’s on the market for $262,400.

2015 Update: Carrie tells me that a couple bought the house and they’re working hard to restore it. They have a Facebook page where you can follow their progress. They have asked the community for volunteers to help around the place and give occasional tours. It’s wonderful to see the house coming back to life! :-)

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  1. Elizabeth says

    Wow! This would make a great Bed and Breakfast! And you could have weddings there. Can’t you just see a bride sweeping down that staircase in a gorgeous flowing gown?

  2. Cindy Garrison says

    Julia: Interesting story in NC about a home for sale called Chinquapenn Plantation. All the incredible contents sold at auction a couple weeks ago. Gathered by wealthy couple over many years from all over the world. No entity seems to be able to afford to keep it up and not enough volume of folks come through the area in Central NC to see it, and generate revenue. Would be a great house for your site!

  3. Carrie says

    Thank you for taking the time to research my suggestion. :) It is an awesome home that we were fortunate enough to tour a few years ago, just after the current owners bought it. There is so much potential in this house. I really hope that someone will find this house and love it enough to save it. Thank you again, Julia.

  4. Emily says

    I live in Normal, just a few miles from this house and I have always loved it. Every time I pass it I have to slow down and drink it in – there really is an air of mystery! For a while there, this poor neglected house was torn apart by vandals so I know a lot of people were so happy when the house was purchased for renovation. If I had a couple million dollars I know what I would do with it.

  5. Kelli says

    Houses like this always make my heart race. How gratifying it would be to save such a beautiful, historic property like this one!

  6. says

    I wish I could save it! Those arched windows are so lovely. Maybe someone will decide to buy and then move it…moving a house sounds pretty incredible, but it really can be done.

  7. says

    I LOVE this house. We live within an hour of it. I missed the tour of it a few years ago and was so disappointed. I hope it can be restored someday. It is very impressive sitting there so majestically in the middle of a field.

  8. Mandy says

    I agree with Elizabeth! Someone could definatley get this place looking mahnificent and start holding events, such as weddings there. It have great bones, just needs some TLC.

  9. Donna says

    I believe I attended a party there when you could rent the house. Late 70’s or early 80’s, maybe??

  10. says

    I hate to be the naysayer here but I can’t imagine anyone soon is going to come along and spend the $$$ it will take to restore this. It would have to be someone who would do it only for the sake of restoring it, who had the money to give away. Anyone buying it as an investment is never going to get their money back. So let’s say it does get restored, what then? A B&B in the middle of nowhere is a tough sell. Anyone living in the area already isn’t likely to be able to afford the upkeep of such a large home, especially the heating bill. So let’s say the town takes it on as a tourist destination. I doubt the town would want to lose a property tax on the rolls and how many people would pay to take a tour? At at what price per head to make enough money a year to break even and pay the property taxes? I would rather see the bones of the house dismantled (which in itself isn’t cheap) and resold. I liken it to the patient has died but his organs were donated for another person to live on. As much as I love restoration and understand the reason people are urging this house to be saved, I don’t see the financial logic in it. Sorry.

    • says

      I respectfully disagree! Taking this house apart would be like grave-robbing! It’s true that it would take someone with a lot of cash to restore this home, but you never know. There might be some ambitious and handy DIY folks who would take this place on as a farmstead and work on it over the years as finances permitted.
      Hopefully new owners can be found, but if not, there is a certain beauty about this isolated house on the prairie gliding into graceful decline…

      • says

        While I understand your point of view, I have restored many a home in my day. It’s a very expensive task, especially bringing a home back to period details yet giving it modern conveniences. It isn’t an inconsequential sum of money and requires someone far more than capable than a DIYer. I too would hate to see this house go, don’t get me wrong, but I’m a realist and would rather parts of it be salvaged and recycled than the whole house sit abandoned again.

        • Ann says

          Houses of this magnitude need their own trust funds. I thought the same thing about saving the parts that could be saved. There are many of these magnificent houses deteriorating because they were stupendously expensive in their day and still are.

        • mike says

          You must not be a Hungarian finisher.

          Might as well burn it if all you would want to do is strip it. If you have the talent to replicate what you like (which you stated you don’t) then be gone.

          She’ll easily stand for another 50 – 100 years with or without you.

    • mh says

      Houses do not last forever. Dry wall, plumbing, wiring, heating/air conditioning have to be replaced. At some point, the exterior walls will have to be reinforced. The owner will have to have an occupation that allows him/her to be in the middle of nowhere. It’s just not cost effective to renovate this house.

      • mike says

        As long as the water is kept out, she’ll be fine.

        It’s not cost effective for those who don’t have the funds.

    • AJ says

      This house is hardly in the middle of nowhere. It is 5-10 minutes from I-55 and/or Veteran’s Parkway in Bloomington-Normal. There are two universities, two headquarters for major insurance companies, and Mitsubishi Motors. With the right renovations and some attention to the landscape, this would be a lovely place to stay for those interested in a B&B experience. I could easily see the house hosting weddings with rooms for family members to stay.

  11. Laura says

    Traveling back and forth from the suburbs to the Bloomington/Normal area for years now I have had the pleasure of viewing this house from afar. It is just as grand as it seems when viewed miles away on the interstate. If my husband and I had millions we would buy it in a heartbeat! I hope someone comes along to finish rescuing this beauty!

  12. Marcia says

    Beautiful home with a lot of potential. The location is unfortunate.

  13. says

    What an elegant and beautiful home! I agree with the previous comments that it would be a fantastic bed and breakfast. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  14. Tracy says

    Can you give us more information like price tag and location? I couldn’t find it online to see where it was. Thanks!!!

    • says

      It’s Towanda, Illinois. There is no listing price given, but Zillow estimates it’s worth around $400-500,000. It used to be priced around $450,000, so I’m not sure what it means that it has been removed from the listing. Maybe the owners are reevaluating because they haven’t sold it yet? I don’t know. If anyone has further information or updates, fill us in!

      Here’s the listing link:

  15. Rick says

    I hope somone comes along with the money and motivation to finish what was started. Sometimes people have a love affair with a house too. There are those that see a project like this as a chance of a lifetime and a way to leave their mark on the world.


  16. says

    Old Illinois Houses by John Drury mentions the Duncan house which he calls “Mansion in a Cornfield” and notes that there is “a trap door in one of the second floor bedrooms which lets down into a bare, dark room.” He associates this secret room with Negro servants, but note that this house was built after the Civil War.

    If I owned it I would spend every nice day outside looking at it. Too bad there is not more left inside–Drury remarks on “marble fireplaces, inside paneled shutters, copper bathtubs, and ornamental chandeliers.”
    –Road to Parnassus

  17. Zoe says

    I think it would look awesome and I wish I had the money and know how, or even lived near it to do it! But, I am guessing it is haunted!

  18. Kim says

    What a beautiful old house! I hope someone comes along and restores this to it’s original state instead of renovating it to today’s style.

  19. Andrea says

    I live 1 1/2 hours from Towanda which is near…Bloomington/normal where this amazing home is located……Bloomington/Normal is home to State Farm Insurance and has two large universities among other businesses to support a growing economy……anyone interested in moving? It’s a great community and a quick drive to Chicago, as well as St. Louis………(taking the Amtrack to Chicago is fun too)……..anyone? anyone?

  20. Carrie says

    The house had been used as a rental for the tenant farmers in the past. A wall was built around that magnificent staircase, so that only the first floor was lived in. Then it sat empty for years, with vandals gaining access and making a mess inside. When the current owners bought the place with the idea of saving it, they conducted a tour for the general public and all of us curious people were able to go through the house and grounds. The basement and the attic are fascinating and I’d love to see that staircase restored to its glory. The house is about 10 minutes outside of Bloomington/Normal, Il, twin cities that are home to roughly 150,000 people and to State Farm Insurance, Country Companies Insurance, Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University. It would be a great B&B or events location. It would also make a great family house.

  21. Beth says

    I’ve driven past this house many times and always wondered about it. That first picture does a perfect job of capturing the mysterious feeling of the house.

  22. says

    What a magnificent old treasure! I sure hope someone with the right inspiration – and financial backing!!! – takes the baton and finishes the work! I’d love to see what they could do with it…

  23. says

    I don’t know about a B&B, but I am fantasizing about this beauty restored as a perfect weekend “get-away-from-it-all” house. Is it close enough to Chicago or St. Louis for that? Can you imagine how amazing it would be decorated for Christmas (and with room for all the extended family to get away from life’s hustle & bustle)?! Too romantic, I supposed, but I hope someone with the money buys and restores it!

  24. says

    Wow, this really is unique for Illinois. I lived in IN for years, and this not a typical midwestern house.

    Thanks for sharing,

  25. Pamela says

    I, too, hope that someone will come along and finish polishing this beauty, but these kinds of house (the kind I *adore*) take *so* much money even when they’re in perfect condition.

    I wrote a series of articles (links below) for our local edition on a similar situation. This beautiful home had once belonged to a very wealthy, very prominent family. After the matriarch died in the 60s, it was first sold to a developer who never did anything with the property. A series of (mostly) well-meaning owners tried to restore it, but as you can see by the current condition, none of them could. The current owner is a realtor who swore to me she’s going to restore it, but I’ve been in the place and I cannot begin to tell you the expense involved in this.

    On the other hand, there are exquisite architectural details (leaded glass windows, solid wood floors, marble, etc) that *could* be salvaged and sold and re-used. It’s a sad situation all around. I hope the Duncan Manor finds a patron saint.

  26. says

    My comment disappeared, so I hope this doesn’t appear twice!

    When this was in the MLS database it was last listed at $449,900.

  27. says

    Even when a house has a trust fund, or is listed on the national register of historic landmarks, it doesn’t mean it will be taken care of. This antique near me is falling down, despite being listed as a national landmark. If there isn’t $ for these treasures, how can there be enough $ in the world for all the old homes we would like to save?

    My town is embroiled in a feud over a 1913 Tudor home. It’s a complicated but utterly fascinating story so rather than explain it, here’s a link to today’s update.

    • Brandy says

      Yes, sometimes it is an impossible task.

      Then again, sometimes it is not. Sometimes, it just takes the money and time PLUS interest, vision, determination, and a whole lotta elbow grease.

      I grew up in a town famous for its well-preserved (and maintained, different things) Antebellum, Victorian, and early 20th century homes and downtown. The most spectacular ones were (thankfully) spared Sherman’s torch, survived the Great Depression, and, darn it, are still holding on. They are beautiful, loved, lived in (generally not by the original families, either), and, while sometimes a pain in the arse, add value to the community simply by holding on.

      However, what if the dreamers you are (I hope) unintentionally deriding give up? The town would quickly become like every other sleepy Southern town and those houses would either be left to rot or would be replaced with McMansions. Boring, boring, boring. And sad, really, truly sad. Plus, if everyone gives up, there would be no market for the salvaged materials you’d rather the house be turned into.

      I don’t have the money or the time to save this home. But, I believe, it has stood this long for a reason. It will eventually find the right owner(s) who will have the vision, the bravery, the time, and the money to put into it. Or, not. But, let’s not discourage the dreamers from the get go.

  28. OKMrazor says

    That’s some serious handrail. Notice it’s wreath. No abrupt curve to level… hand carved.

    Beautiful work.

  29. Kathy says

    Having grown up in IL, whenever we headed to St. Louis, I always looked forward to driving by this house and wishing we could live there. It would be so sad for it to “disappear.” I hate thinking about grand old homes like this being torn down. Breaks my heart. :(

  30. Cheryl Stoy says

    Thomas Keller-French Laundry-Bouchon Bakery- in Chicago…I say we call him.

  31. Mark says

    Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool, since Julia lives in Ohio, several comments are coming from those in IL, another, like myself from IN….all so close….if we ALL could find a day to “visit” with tools and cleaning supplies in hand to “help” the owners save this house…lead by Julia of course, and it could be the ~”First Hooked on Houses – for Historic Humanity Project”???? Anyone game? I’d love to see the house and meet Julia!!!??? :)

    • Lisa T. says

      I think that is a wonderful idea. Of course, I am safe from having to participate in it since I live in NC :-).

      • Elizabeth says

        They’d probably be looking around for Ty Pennington.

        • Wendy says

          I would totally be game for that! And if you could get Ty there, you could doubly count me in! oooo la la!

  32. says

    Hi Julia,
    This is the area where I am from and I didn’t even know it existed. How surprised I was when I read this post and realized it was just a stone’s throw away from where I grew up. I hope someone can save it.


  33. Corporate Wife says

    Wow, that’s a blast from the past! I went to college nearby that old place.

  34. says

    What a magnificent house! The woodworking is going to be amazing when it is all restored. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a grand evening. Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  35. Wendy says

    Okay, just watched the video. That slightly spooky music is doing nothing to sell that house. That final shot of the basement and then the long pan was downright creepy!

  36. says

    Wowzers!! What an amazing piece of property!!! We just finished a bathroom renovation…and that was a job. I can only imagine the work that needs to go into this home, but like any project…when it’s done…it’s well worth it!!

  37. Terry says

    I live only a few miles from this beautiful old home. My husband and I actually considered buying it in the 70’s for our growing family. We were so happy to learn it had been purchased by a local realtor several years ago, and we enjoyed touring the mansion and seeing all the work they had done. I drove by it today and noticed that it is listed with with a local realtor. We’d love to see this gem restored to her original beauty!

  38. red riding hood says

    Such an expense and nobody has money like that to fix it up. A major money pit for sure.

  39. Kristina says

    Please, Please, Please do more listings on houses like this! I could read about these all day long! I keep buying Powerball tickets with the hope of finding a gorgeous piece of property like this and restoring back to former glory!

  40. HollyM says

    That’s where I grew up! McLean County, Illinois. I vaguely remember this house; it would be a shame if this renovation was not completed. Imagine how absolutely lovely it could be.

  41. HollyM says

    After reading through all the comments, I’m completely awed at how very many readers you have that live in or near Normal, my hometown! I’ve lived in Texas since I was 19, but Bloomington-Normal was a great place to grow up. My sister and her family are still there; my mother’s family has lived there for many generations. BTW, Julia, there are lots more great homes and neighborhoods in B-N and McLean Co. to interest you; Cedar Crest Historical District and White Place spring to mind.,_Illinois

  42. Erin says

    what a beautiful old home. I was wondering why it looked familar…and sure enough when I clicked on the link you can see it on teh map that its off I55. The main highway from Chicago to Normal, IL where I went to school (ISU). I always wondereed about that pretty hosue and waht it was doing in the middle of no where.

  43. Rob says

    I grew up in Towanda directly across the street (Lamplighter subdivision in Towanda in the early 1970’s) I could literally see the house from my window and it was always the first things you saw on the way to Normal. This placed scared the hell out of me as a young kid. Since moving to Chicago over 30 years ago, I have never forgotten this place and always wondered about it. I have stopped by it a few times over the years while passing by Bloomington and still find myself fascinated with it. This house really does need to be saved regardless of cost.

  44. Robert Kelly says

    This home is situated south of Chicago near Bloomington Normal Illinois. It’s about 2 hours drive to Chicago via Interstate 55. I live about 10 minutes away from it and it’s on the edge of town, but certainly not “in the middle of nowhere”. It’s 15 minutes away from the world headquarters of State Farm Insurance who employs 14,000+ white collar workers locally. Our local newspaper, The Pantagraph, ran some articles on this place a couple years back. here’s an excerpt of one of the articles…

    “Duncan Manor, the largest Italianate farmhouse in McLean County, was built for William R. Duncan as a symbol of his success in the livestock business. It was later purchased by James Scott and then the D.W. Kraft family.

    The manor was a family home for most of its existence, and eventually was a rental property. It then was vacant, open to the elements and the target of vandals for a couple of years before Diane and Bud Sullivan purchased it in the spring of 2008.

    The Sullivans completed the necessary exterior work, including repairing the foundation, tuck pointing the brick and repairing or replacing the corbels. Bud Sullivan said interior electric work is roughed in and the plumbing is half done. The house needs a well and a heating unit.

    “The rest is cosmetic work,” Sullivan said.

    The Sullivans had planned to complete the house, but Diane Sullivan… has a chance to become involved with historic preservation work on a national basis. She won’t be in the Twin Cities full time, said Bud Sullivan.

    That prompted the couple to place Duncan Manor on the market”.

    I hear it’s listed for sale by owner currently.

  45. says

    The video has been moved to a different YouTube account. You can now find it here…

    As it’s my video, I hereby grant consent to use it. I just wanted you to be aware of the new link, because the old one will disappear in a few minutes. 😉