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Deere House on list of 'endangered places'

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The John Deere House at 12th Street and 11th Avenue in Moline is on the list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

It is so close.

The once-dilapidated John Deere House in Moline is close to being restored, but until it gets an owner who is willing and able to finish the job, the building regarded by preservationists as the most significant historic property in the city is endangered.

That is why the home was placed Tuesday on the annual list of Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois by the nonprofit preservation group Landmarks Illinois.

Among those attending a news conference in Springfield to announce the list was Barbara Sandberg, a member of the Moline Historic Preservation Commission and the person who made the nomination.

She has been living the “ups and downs, the highs and lows” of the Deere house for more than 17 years.

It was Sandberg, a former Moline alderman, who helped save the home-turned-16-unit-apartment building in 1993 by convincing the city to buy it and then helping to broker a sale in 1996 to Roger Colmark, a Sterling, Ill., accountant who planned to turn the building into a bed-and-breakfast.

Although Colmark accomplished a tremendous amount of the necessary work — including a new roof,  foundation, floor joists, cedar siding, period windows and mechanical systems — most of the construction stopped about eight years ago because of disagreements between him and the city over code issues.

The home went into foreclosure last summer, and Sauk Valley Bank of Sterling bought back the mortgage for $167,000 at a sheriff’s sale in January.

Since then, nothing concrete has happened, and “we would hate like anything” to see the restoration not happen, Sandberg said. “We want to see this finished.”

Russ Spitzer, senior vice president of Sauk Valley Bank, said he wants to see the project completed, too. It was not until March that the bank got the final deed to the property, Spitzer said, adding that he has made telephone calls to people who were interested in the building at the time of foreclosure to see whether any of them remain interested.

Spitzer has not received any solid responses yet. Failing that, his next move will be to find a company “who would market the property best for us,” he said.

Why it is so significant

Preservationists consider the building significant because “there’s nothing that compares to John Deere in the history of Moline, and this is the last property that directly relates to him,” Sandberg said. “Everything else is gone.”

Deere was a Vermont blacksmith who moved to Illinois, invented a self-scouring steel plow and founded a farm implement business based in Moline that has grown into a worldwide corporation.

Two earlier Deere homes on 3rd Avenue — now River Drive — have long since been demolished, as has his first factory and several subsequent factories that stood where the i wireless Center is today, she said.

“This is his crowning achievement,” Sandberg said of the home at 11th Avenue and 12th Street.

The home began circa 1870 as a modest two-story house built for a Moline grocer.  Deere bought it shortly thereafter and spent five years building additions that more than doubled its size and dressed it up with porches, turrets, iron cresting, window bays and a grand walnut staircase. He called it Red Cliff.

Another reason preservationists are concerned about the property is that they and the city no longer have any control over who buys the property and their intentions. The only leverage remaining is that, because the building is designated a local landmark, any exterior changes would have to be approved by the Moline Preservation Commission, with an appeal to the city council available.

By placing the building on the endangered list, Sandberg hopes word on its availability will get out and that someone from the restoration community — or the Deere world — will step forward.

The work is at least three-fourths done, maybe more, she said. Two years ago, Colmark said he would need $355,000 to finish the project.

Sandberg and other preservationists also hope that any restoration would be at least partially open to the public. “That’s the whole goal,” she said.

The city wants that, too.

Mayor Don Welvaert thinks the house would be an attractive tie-in for tourism.

In addition to the more than $2 million Colmark has said he spent on the building, community volunteers put in thousands of hours of “grubby grunt work” to clean out the building during the early years, and members of the Moline Preservation Society raised $45,000 to replace the roof.

In addition to being locally landmarked, the home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The state’s endangered buildings list is intended to focus attention on sites throughout Illinois that are threatened by deterioration, a lack of maintenance, insufficient funds or inappropriate development, and to drum up support to save the sites.



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