Monday, September 3, 2012

Home of First Italian Settler in Geneva, IL

The story begins...

sometime in 1872.  This property itself was originally part of a 160-acre parcel of land owned by F. Stratton and registered with the U.S. Government on June 6, 1842.  Due to later subdivision and holding of this property by various investors, it is difficult to determine the exact occupants of the home throughout its early history.  However, a name that shows up in the chain of title, Joseph Payson, is found to have taken out a mortgage on a section of the acreage on November 5, 1856, which was released on August 30, 1872.  This release coincides with the 1872 build date as recorded at the Assessor’s office.  So, it is possible that Joseph Payson was the original builder of the home as the Geneva History Center indicated that the names showing on the title in 1867-1879 were more than likely investors.   What is known for certain is that on August 10, 1892, a 20-acre parcel including this property was subdivided from a 39-acre parcel into Cheevers Subdivision and that Guiseppe, aka Joseph, Rabella and his wife, Aldwena, purchased the lots containing the home on August 19, 1901.  

Mrs. and Mrs. Rabella were Italian and when Joseph passed away in October of 1919, his obituary headline said he was the “Oldest Italian Citizen” and “said to have been one of the first Italians to make a home in Geneva”  He was known to be a “quiet and steady laborer” who had worked for the City of Geneva.  His wife continued to reside at the property and eventually remarried Toni LaVendi, who was employed by the C&NW Railroad.  Although Geneva is known for its Swedish settlers, many do not realize that Italians numbered almost as many as the Swedes in the early 1900s.  In fact, many of the Italians grew grapes in the area.  Interestingly, on April 1, 1903, Mr. and Mrs. Rabella purchased lots 25-29 which would be the present-day lot directly to the south.  One can imagine that the purchase was to utilize the land for growing grapes as ancestors of the Rabella’s stopped by and told the present-day owners, Lee and Janice Faulkner, that their family had lived there and had grown grapes on the land.

Architecturally speaking, the home is a “Gable Front and Wing” which is also referred to as “Upright and Wing” or “Temple and Wing” and is considered to be an American vernacular style.  Vernacular architecture reflects local needs, materials available, and local traditions.  The Gable Front and Wing is a descendant of the Greek revival style but without ornamentation.  This architectural form was originally built for the middle class and generally designed and built by tradesmen as opposed to the homeowner.  It was a popular style for most of the 19th century particularly during 1830 to 1890.  This Gable Front and Wing is an L-design which holds the traditional bedrooms and kitchen in the “L” portion of the house while the wing holds the parlor, staircase, and additional bedrooms.  The Faulkner’s added an addition onto the back of the house creating additional living and bedroom space as well as enclosing the back porch to create an inviting eating area with splayed ceiling.
The Faulkner’s made some delightful changes to the home which reflect the Victorian era in which this home was built.  In essence, the Faulkner’s brought this home into a more Princess Anne styling wherein there is complexity in the roofline; a variety of architectural forms and textures; various colors and exterior wall surface materials; and gingerbread trim on the porch.  A Princess Anne style is sometimes used to describe a simpler version of Queen Anne architecture.  Surely these changes reflect the type of alterations a homeowner would have made to update their home to reflect the current “fashion” during this very era.

This home was built using ballon-style framing--a building technique that originated in Chicago in the 1830s, came into popularity in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, and was actually utilized in the building of the elaborate architectural featres found during the Victorian era.  According to historian Kingston heath, "The balloon farme is clearly a product of the American Industrial Revolution"  The principal advantages were that it used less lumber (albeit longer pieces of lumber), involved less construction time, and didn't require extensive skills for constructing thereby resulting in a 40% reduction in constsruction costs.  (Heath, Balloon FrameExterior walls are created utilizing long 2x4s extending uninterrupted from sill to roof line.  As opposed to the earlier style timber framing which utilized large timbers interlocked with chiseled joints secured with wood pegs, the balloon framing relied upon nails to secure each piece and floor joists are nailed to the studs.  Modern-day building codes discourage this type of framing wherein the walls are open from sill to roof.  During their extensive remodeling, the Faulkner’s put fire-stops in between the floors and insulation in the walls thereby filling the void resulting in bringing the structure in line with modern-day fire codes.
All the plaster walls—originally made utilizing a mortar mixed with chicken feathers then covered with a thin coat of lime—were replaced allowing for the insulation of the entire home.  Interior and exterior woodwork and windows were replaced while remaining true to the architectural elements of the period.  The extensive remodel resulted in the removal of any woodwork and walls that would have contained any hazardous painting materials.  
A bathroom which had been added that took up a portion of the now-living room was removed and the pantry in the kitchen converted to the new bathroom.  As mentioned, the Faulkner’s enclosed the old porch, insulated, and raised the ceiling creating the delightful breakfast nook.  The basement stairs, which originally were entered through a trap door in the basement, were rebuilt and utilized a new doorway from the breakfast nook to gain access to the basement.  The basement was long-ago hand dug out to accommodate more storage.
The Faulkner’s, having just celebrated their 43rd year of owning this home, have been the longest owner’s of the home.  The second longest owners were the Martin’s from 1942 to 1969, and  the third being the Rabella’s from 1902 to 1927.  In 1933 the home was taken back by the bank during the Depression and rented by C. Edgar Murray, a Geneva photographer who had a studio at 319-1/2 W. State St.  Forever a part of the history of this home, The Faulkner’s have lovingly wrote their story in its care and preservation that will remain as part of its history as the next chapter awaits to be written by the new owners of this charming historic home.

This Looks Like Home!

For more information about this home contact:

Marian Boveri, Historic Homes Specialist
Keller Williams Fox Valley Realty, 847-308-2424

Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
(An old Irish blessing)

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