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First house in Plainfield becomes example of history home preservation

PLAINFIELD – John and Keebie Bright’s new home in Plainfield, at 24010 Commercial St., is filled with antiques.

An old-style fireplace in the living room is topped by an old mantel. Above it hang a few items Keebie has collected over the years as a history buff. The family room floor still has original flooring, and the elderly couple’s beds are styled and raised like in the 19th century.

But the most notable part about the couple’s new home is that it’s the oldest home in the village, thought to have been built in the 1830s by the founder of Plainfield, Chester Ingersoll.

The Brights bought the house and began the renovation process in 2013, after it survived the threat of being torn down.

“Back then [in 2013], we thought it would be a fun retirement thing to do,” Keebie said. “It took two years, and we’re not in very good health, so we probably wouldn’t have considered it now.”

Saving the house

Keebie was wearing a 19th century outfit June 17 while Plainfield Historic Preservation Commission Chair Michael Bortel presented her and John with a plaque for their investment into the historic house.

The presentation drew a crowd of about 20 people who toured the home, which at one point was about to be demolished by former owner Dr. Peter Muraglia, a dentist who owns Plainfield Dental next door.

“He was going to demolish it so he could expand his business,” said historic preservation commission member Debra Olsen. Olsen negotiated with Muraglia to buy the house and moved it about 30 feet west so Muraglia could expand. Olsen also owns the property bordering the other side of the house.

The Brights bought the house from Olsen, investing $300,000 to renovate it to its original 1830s appearance. Olsen helped coordinate the restoration with Plainfield-based Hometown Builders and Arris Architects.

“We had a lot of interior of the building that wasn’t the original,” Olsen said. “We had to do a lot of demolition to get it down to the historic bones of the house, and that took about six months.”

Historic designation

The research and process of designating a historic structure often is started or led by local history enthusiasts.

Former Morris Alderman Ken Sereno, who resigned in May after 34 years on the city council, has spent hours with old Morris Herald-News microfilm searching for events that have added to historic homes’ histories.

“I used to go down to the courthouse to look up the history of who has lived in the houses, and that’s what I used as a basis,” he said.

Sereno has authored books on the historic homes of Morris, helping to identify the 41 homes in Morris that are used by the Morris Downtown Development Partnership’s “Heritage Homes” project.

The goal of the Heritage Homes project is to create an interest in older homes and the community’s history.

To be listed, a house must be located in city limits, 75 years or older, in good condition with no significant alterations, have documented evidence and represent a unique architectural style or design, according to the Heritage Homes criteria.

Owners are expected to maintain the homes.

“They had to go down to the county clerk’s office and find out when the historic home was built and what changes were made,” said Debbie Steffes, from the Grundy County Historical Society.

Downtown district

Historic homes have restrictions on repainting and remodeling, but the designation also comes with tax incentives, Steffes said.

A stretch of Lockport Street in Plainfield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Under the designations, historic building owners can receive a 20 percent federal income tax credit for the property, or a property tax assessment freeze, Bortel said.

The national register lists 35 properties or districts in Will County and seven in Grundy County.

A larger local historic district was designated in the same area by the village of Plainfield. But the tax incentive motivates owners to restore the property to an older look, Bortel said.

One example of this is the recently renovated “Opera House” at the intersection of Lockport and Des Plaines streets, which owner Bill Habiger restored to its original 1889 Queen Anne style.

Habiger spent more than $1 million on the restoration, meaning he will likely receive a tax credit upward of $200,000 on his more than $1 million restoration.

For Keebie, a former member of the historic preservation commission, the Ingersoll house was more about seeing history preserved.

“This was the very first home and to tear it down? I’m glad it turned out this way,” she said.

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