RINGWOOD – In the early stages, not many could look past the faded blue paint and cracked siding. Gail Brown saw potential.
She saw the future by envisioning the past. That broken down farmhouse was once a beauty – it could be again.
“I never saw this,” said Brown, pointing toward a pre-renovation picture of the historic Powers-Walker House from 1996, when officials had it slated for demolition.
She redirects her finger to the “after” photo. The building looks strong, polished. There’s a new off-white paint job with dark green trim. The siding is repaired. The summer kitchen has been rebuilt.
“This is what I saw,” she said.
It took some convincing to get here. It’s a cool, wind-blown Saturday in Ringwood’s Glacial Park. Brown is one of a few volunteers dressed in clothing from the Civil War era, talking about the history of the home during the McHenry County Conservation District’s Living History Open House.
The Powers family built the Greek Revival-style home in 1854.
It housed Elon and Mary and their eight children. Samuel Walker, a wealthy man who owned much of what now is Glacial Park and was the Powers’ nearest neighbor, bought the farmhouse when the Powers moved in 1863, according to the conservation district.
Fast forward to 1996, and the house is broken.
Gloria Mack, a volunteer on the restoration efforts from day one, remembers trying to sell the project to the conservation district’s board of trustees.
“They all looked at it and said it can never be done,” she said.
Mack and Brown weren’t deterred. “If we could convince one, we knew we could convince more.”
They convinced one. Eventually the board came around, and volunteers spent the first year clearing out any attempts through the years to modernize – “peeling back the layers,” Brown calls it.
Aided by old photos, the crew started carefully reconstructing the farmhouse, including adding on the summer kitchen. Homes from the Powers era had separate kitchens for summer and winter, to either capture or release the heat put out by the family’s stove.
Thanks to a grant from a local Questers group, volunteers recently finished restoring the winter kitchen.
“It’s sort of a labor of love,” said Brown, who coordinates restoration efforts for the project. “Everyone has their [way of] giving back to the community, and this is ours.”
Brown said she’s always had an interest in architectural history. She’s worked on several other buildings throughout the county, including a current project on the McConnell Farm in Richmond.
Brown and Mack worked hard on the Powers-Walker restoration, and they say getting to share with the public makes it all feel worth it. They’ve seen people come out for a picnic near the home when it’s closed. That, they say, is gratifying.
There also are programs that allow kids to come learn about the home. Children filed in and out all afternoon on Saturday.
“Kids read a lot in history books, “ Mack said. “But when they come here, they can see history.”