History

of The Culver House

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Josiah M. Clokey purchased the property at 412 W. Prairie St. in 1881.  He broke ground on the new residence in August of 1888.  The main entrance was on the East front.  On the first floor there was a reception room, a parlor, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, china closet and pantry.  The second floor was an open space/hallway and five bed chambers.  The cost of the house was approximately $10,000.

 

Mr. Clokey and his family moved into the house in the fall of 1889, despite the house not being finished.  The original estimate was $8,000, which turned in to $10,000 and ended up at $13,000.  

In February of 1898 he traded the residence on W. Prairie and some other city property for a farm in Henry County.  The trade was made with Louis E. Brown of Tazwell County.  Mr. Clokey gave his residence, five lots in East Park Boulevard and 41 lots in Urban Place for a 1,163 acre farm in Henry County located seven miles from Genesee.  Mr. Clokey remained in the house a short time after the trade and rented from Mr. Brown. 

 

In July of 1898 John H. Culver traded his house on N. Edward St., along with some other holdings, with L. E. Brown for the former Clokey house.  He make extensive improvements to the property. 

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In July of 1898 John H. Culver traded his house on N. Edward St., along with some other holdings, with L. E. Brown for the former Clokey house.  He make extensive improvements to the property which were designed by architect B. O. Rosen.   The porch was re-designed to cover just the front of the house with a separate small porch on Edward St. Bedford stone lintels were placed above the windows and a ballroom was added to make the house three stories.  The sitting room became John's library.  He owned over 1,000 books at that time.  The reception hall was divided to make a parlor and sitting room.  

 

John and Florence Culver, along with their two daughters Elizabeth and Ruth, moved into the house in November of 1899.

Several years after the Culvers moved into the house, they finished the 3rd floor ballroom.  The side rooms and cloak room were used as library space for John's growing collection of books. 

 

John Culver passed away in the house on July 5, 1943. 

Florence Culver continued to live in the house after John's death.  After Ruth's death in 1949 she decided the house was too much for her.  

 

The house was sold in 1950 to real estate developer Roy Phillips, who turned it into six premier apartments.  

 

After Phillips passed away, his son sold the apartment building in 1977 to Robert and Barbara Zuege.  They added a 7th apartment.  

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A fire broke out in a 3rd floor apartment in May of 1979.  The cause was determined to be a faulty extension cord.  The Zuege's received money from the insurance company and took out a loan to do repairs.  They made it eight apartments, and did the repairs as inexpensive as they could.  The 3rd floor was left unfinished and a flat roof was put on.  

 

In January of 1981 the apartments were again ready for occupancy.  

 

Barbara Zuege obtained ownership of the apartments after their divorce.  She did not keep up with the repairs of the Section 8 apartments.  There were numerous city code violations.  The house was eventually shut down by the city and boarded up.  

 

During the vacancy, there were homeless people and drug addicts who spent time in the house. 

 

In November of 1992, HUD inspected the house but could not do anything because they did not have a clear title to the house due to Mrs. Zuege not signing some paperwork. The city had a demolition order, but nothing could be done until there was a clear title.  

 

Once HUD obtained the rights to the house, they sold it at auction.  Steven Luker, the new owner, began working on the house, but was stopped by the city for not obtaining a work permit.  He also had to follow codes for the historic district.  He had not been told about the demo order, so he was given time to bring the house up to code.  However, he did nothing for three years.  In May of 1997, the city posted that the house was abandoned, unsafe, and would be demolished.  

The Historic Decatur Foundation was formed in 1998.  This was a group of 18 community activists who were united to preserve history.  Their mission is to preserve the unique architectural heritage of Decatur by encouraging the preservation of historically significant sites and structures and increasing public awareness of their value to the community. 

 

They knew that restoration of The Culver House was not possible, but a renovation was.  The group approached the city about purchasing the house.  Attempts were made to purchase the property from Luker, but he did not follow through on his agreements. 

 

In 1999 a bulldozer showed up to start tearing down the twin-turreted, Queen Anne style mansion.  However, one brave lady stood before the bulldozer and said "Stop!"  The HDF was granted a stay on the demolition order but had to raise $150,000.  Thanks to a grant, they were successful in meeting the deadline, but it still wasn't enough.  After a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and some help from a financial backer, they finally gained full ownership of the property in 2002.  

 

 

The roof was re-constructed, but due to financial constraints, it was done with a truss system which meant losing the ballroom.  It restored the original exterior look though. 

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Over the years there has been work done on the house, as money allows.  Materials from other historic properties were repurposed and used in The Culver House.  The first floor will be a Decatur museum, and, when finished, the second floor will be office space.  

In 2019 work was done on the main level including all new light fixtures, wallpaper, sanding and polishing of the hardwood floors, a complete kitchen renovation and more! 

Work done in 2020 and 2021 included tuckpointing, scraping and painting windows, tile on fireplaces, carpet in the parlor and curtains.  

 

It has been a long, hard road to get this house back to what it was, but the HDF is a determined group and will continue to perservere and get this historic architectural gem  back to its former glory! 

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