The Downton Abbey of Springfield, Ilinois

March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last Saturday Mike Jackson, FAIA, led a group of volunteer interpreters on a special tour of the Dana-Thomas House.  Mike’s current title is Chief Architect of the Preservation Services Division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA).  Early in his career with the IHPA, he was a part of the team that oversaw the renovation of the Dana-Thomas House after the state of Illinois bought it from the Thomas family.  Although I was interpreting the house during that time, I had either forgotten or never knew several of the points of interest that Mike discussed on the tour Saturday.  His first person account of the how and why decisions were made were especially enlightening, and he gave me some new insights that I will add to my interpretation.

One of those insights is very obvious, but I had never thought of it before.  Mike noted that architecturally, we have our own Downton Abbey on Fourth and Lawrence Streets in Springfield.  The Dana-Thomas House is divided into two distinct sections: the elegant floor plan designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Susan and the rooms tacked on the west end of the building where the staff lived and worked.  With the steep narrow stairs from the servant’s bedrooms to the butler’s pantry, the lack of any ornamentation on the windows, and the traditional boxy design of the rooms, the “back” section of the house looks very much like servant quarters in other homes built in that period.  By contrast, the main areas of the house boast open floor plans, subtle steps from one level to another, and striking art glass windows.  Class distinction of that historical period is equally as obvious in the architecture of the Dana-Thomas House as it is in the PBS Downton Abbey drama. 

Downton AbbeyMike is offering a similar tour to the public on Saturday mornings twice a month from April to July.  If you are in the neighborhood, I highly recommend that you make a reservation at 217-782-6776 to join him.

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