A Contrast of Style

As noted in previous posts, there are a number of wonderful murals around DeKalb.
Then there’s a contrasting style of art …

(click on the images to enlarge)

Hey, it got the attention of the red tail hawk, so it can’t be all bad.

Lincoln Inn and Bakery

All towns began because someone came from somewhere else and decided to stay.

In the case of DeKalb, while the four brothers Glidden, who settled there in 1841, are among its most active citizens, the first settlers of this township were John B. Collins and Norman C. Moore. Collins who arrived in 1835.

The mark of a truly viable community is when settlers continue to arrive and plant their flag.  That’s exactly what happened in 1989 when a young man from Buffalo New York pulled into town.

Bill McMahon came to DeKalb as a grad student at NIU and forgot to leave.  Romance, love, marriage the whole bit played into that decision, but, what I find most interesting is that this freshly anointed Masters in Mathematics decided buying a restaurant was his ticket to success.

In 1994, with no culinary or business experience, Bill bought The Lincoln Inn Restaurant. I wonder if Bill knew at the time that independent restaurants have a failure rate in the 60%+ class.  It doesn’t matter now, The Lincoln Inn is an established and successful diner, bakery and catering business.  Open only for breakfast and lunch I strongly encourage you to visit when in town.

Like many of the buildings in DeKalb the Lincoln Inn has been re-purposed from it’s original use. It’s actually only been a bakery/restaurant since 1976. In the 1940’s there is evidence to suggest it was and A&P (Atlantic & Pacific) grocery store.  Also, hanging proudly in the restaurant is a news article announcing the Grand Opening of Duffy & Modeen Firestone Store in 1944.  Previously Duffy & Modeen was located at 1st and Locust.  If you wanted to call them the phone number was 102.

Oh, and by the way, if you happen to travel through DeKalb, be certain to stop at the Lincoln Inn.  The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and City of DeKalb presented the 2012 Business of the Year Award to The Lincoln Inn at the Chamber Annual Meeting on Jan. 31,2013. Check out their web site at The Lincoln Inn


Andys & McCabes

Andys & McCabes is a building, actually 3 buildings, that holds some mystery and intrigue for me.


The building was constructed in 1891. The original McCabes Lounge was a barber shop. In 1944 owner, James McCabe decided a tavern would be more profitable and DeKalb’s First Night Club began.  It was the 2nd business in DeKalb to be issued a liquor license after prohibition.  The first was Andy’s.

Andy’s was owned by Andy Pleasa when it opened in 1933.  At that time Andy’s was located on 10th Street.

The building that currently houses Andy’s was a pharmacy and a Rexall drug store in the very early 1900s. When the pharmacy moved out the Pleasa family moved in.  There was a restaurant in the basement, a bar on the main floor and they lived on the upper floor.

The Pleasa family owned and operated Andy’s until Sept. 1, 2000, when Bob Goering and a partner took it over. 

The rest of the chronology is a little sketchy.  It appears McCabes as a business might have bounced around to a few different locations within DeKalb landing at it’s current location in 1976.   Further, I gather it’s been through several owners.  My interpretation from the little I’ve been able to find out is that Bob and Glenn Goering bought and owned the business until 1991 when they sold it or lost ownership somehow and bought it back in 2,000 for $156K.    It also seems like McCabes the building may have seen service as a bank, a hardware store and a restaurant.


That was is the intriguing part here’s the mystery.  According the Northern Star newspaper, Andy’s and McCabes is part of the Renew DeKalb project.  You can even seen the development plans here.  It’s one of the coolest looking buildings in DeKalb so that makes sense and comparing this image to the plans you can see some of the work was done.  According to various forums discussing DeKalb and especially those frequented by NIU students McCabes was a happening place where most everyone ends up.  Yet, the business is closed.  So what happened?

I thought Bob Goering may be able to help me clear up the chronology of the building and update me on the current circumstances.  Being not completely without resources through property, business, tax and license records. I’ve identified a fair amount of information about Bob Goering. But none of the associated phone numbers are in working order.

So, if anyone who reads this has more information about the history of McCabes or the history of this building at 315 E. Lincoln Highway,  please drop me a comment.

Courtesy of Curtis Clegg a local photographer:
“In front of the far right doorway of this building, a horseshoe is embedded in the sidewalk. It probably dates back to the time in the 1870s when Phineas Vaughan had his blacksmith shop there. Vaughan was instrumental in helping Joseph Glidden manufacture his patented “Winner” barbed wire.”


Wurlitzer Piano

On May 20, 2012 a portion of the old Wurlitzer factory collapsed in DeKalb IL.

Eve of Destruction
The building is to be torn down but as of this date it is still  standing as it appears here on Pleasant St.

There are a number of historical and news accounts related to the history of this building from which I borrowed excerpts below.




Melville Clark Piano Co 1906

The building itself began as the Melville Clark Piano Company and at the time of it’s collapse apparently housed 5 different tenants.

From the Joiner Room Journal …

The Melville Clark Piano Company started construction on the factory building in 1904. When it was completed in April of 1905 it was a three-story, 300 x 500-foot building.

The DeKalb Daily Chronicle ran a subscription contest to determine who should get the first piano to roll off the
assembly line. After the votes were tallied, Mary Fitzgerald was declared the winner of a mahogany Melville Clark

The Wurlitzer Company obtained exclusive sales rights to the pianos in 1914, and in 1919 bought out
Melville Clark. Wurlitzer pianos were made in DeKalb until the company decided to meet overseas competition by moving production to a newer and lowerwage plant in Mississippi.

Building pianos in DeKalb came to an end in December of 1972.  Space in the old factory was later rented to “cottage” industries. ………

My observation is that while some of the original brick and structure still exists, the building has clearly had exterior upgrades and interior remodeling done over the years.  This is evident by the metal wall framing shown in the lead photo.

As I always do when studying old buildings I look for photo opportunities in old windows. I just never get tired of the beauty and texture of old brick and broken glass.  Especially glass blocks.

Wurlitzer Piano Company


Fortunately, as far as I can tell, when the building collapsed no one was around.  But, when I saw this sign hanging among the ruins I couldn’t help but wonder how true that might have been since all three floors fell in.

Wurlitzer Piano Company
For more information click either of these links.
Melville Clark
Joiner Room Journal

Thanks for Looking

Nehring Insulated Wire Company

In your photographic vision quest around DeKalb, don’t forget to poke around the Industrial sections of town. There are a number of old factories that present photo ops and much like the town itself you are immediately transported to another time in history. In this case, I was attracted to the Nehring Electrical Works on Locust St.
Nehring Insulated Wire Company

The Nehring Electric Works, which produces copper and aluminum wire and aluminum cable was established in Sycamore in 1912 but moved to DeKalb in 1916. The company is “the oldest independent company of its kind in the world”.

Nehring Insulated Wire Company
It was originally named the Nehring Insulated Wire Company but was renamed to Nehring Electrial Works after a few years.

The original plant was located at the old barb wire facility on East Lincoln Highway but the company later expanded and moved to a new location on the corner of Locust and Ninth Streets.

In 2012 Nehring celebrated their 100 year history. They employ approximately 115 people and expanded to an additional facility in 2009.

Nehring Insulated Wire Company

Keep in mind that photography isn’t always about the big picture. Look for the structural elements that have great texture, color or patterns that make them stand out.

Nehring Insulated Wire Company

In my case, I love old windows and sealed-in window walls. I look at a scene like that and it makes me wonder about what might have happened on the other side of that glass. I think about what stories could be told or what amazing artifacts might lie within.

Nehring Insulated Wire Company

Issac Ellwood House

Issac Ellwood, bought into Joseph Glidden’s design for Barb Wire and the duo became mega-wealthy through the partnership.  The third principal mover and shaker in the Barb Wire world from that time was Jacob Harish.  The whole barbed wire movement between them all seems to have started from their joint attendance to a County Fair in 1873 where Lucien B. Smith’s original design was demonstrated.   These 3 gentleman and the subsequent investment and management of their financial empires plus their cultural generosity seems to be responsible for a lot of the way DeKalb was shaped.

The Ellwood House
The history of these gentleman and Barbed Wire is well documented and it’s easy to find through Web Search engines if that’s your interest.  In fact, here are a couple of links that can jump start you down this path.  But, my focus for this blog is about the buildings, not the people.

Issac Ellwood Wiki  

Barb Wire Society

Barb Wire Soc Ellwood

The Ellwood mansion/museum featured in this post was a Victorian style home built in 1879. The architect was George O Garnsey.Issac Ellwood Mansion

The home features a Mansard Roof which was popular with the French Second Empire Style.  The porch and strong pillars are consistent with Victorian and Gothic styles.

The home was updated in late 19th Century by architect Charles E. Brush to newly popular Georgian or Colonial Revival Style.

Issac Ellwood Mansion

This was not however, the original Issac Elwood Homestead.  That was located on 315 E Third Street.  Currently, you can see a picture of that house by doing a Google search for the address using “Street View”.  Don’t know if the home still exists based on a Daily Chronicle article.  But, it’s on my bucket list for the next trip to DeKalb. The mansion seen here was only built after Issac acquired his fortune from the Barb Wire business.



Day,night, good light or bad the buildings and structures of the Ellwood Musequm are pretty impressive. Located right off N 1st St. less than a mile north of the Lincoln Highway intersection.

The property originally consisted of more than 1,000 acres, and was primarily a horse farm for Issac’s collection of Perchoran Draft Horses: “Elwood Greens”
The Little House
Of course, I embark on no adventure without my trusty hound dog, who usually inserts himself into photographic moments.   In this particular case, Brody is sitting on the front porch of a Miniature Victorian Playhouse that Issac Ellwood acquired for his children. The house was originally built as a model for marketing purposes and was also used in parades as part of a float until purchased by Ellwood.

This gives you a better sense of the scale.
The Little House

Here’s another novel idea orchestrated by Ellwood. In 1905 he had a museum built on the property for his mother. Her playhouse so to speak. It was built by William S. Ralph.

The design was Colonial Revival and Federal and was used to house her person collection of artifacts and extensive collection. Harriet Miller Elwood passed away in 1910 and apparently left behind an impressive accumulation of heirlooms and highly prized books and manuscripts among other significant historical pieces. Seems like a reason to go there when the Museum grounds are actually open to the public.

Mrs Ellwoods Museum
Ellwood Silo

Another structure I find interesting is this Silo. I look at it and think Grain Silo, when in reality it was originally built as a water tower to supply the farm. The original tower was topped with a wooden tank and water was pumped via a windmill. The top was replaced when Ellwood began raising cattle in Texas and stopped raising and training draft horses.

Much of what’s covered here can be found on the historical plaques the museum has posted around the property. For your reference, and perhaphs a few extra gems, I’ve included photos of them. Click on the thumbnails to see a readable size of the plaques.
IMG3142 Thanks for looking.

Photo Ops

The opportunity for photography in DeKalb extends beyond just the Architecture and Railroad Artifacts.  A walk around this small town reveals that the window displays and store fronts of many of the shops also present interesting photo ops.

DeKalb Coaling Tower

On of the landmarks of DeKalb is the Coaling Tower.  Coaling Towers can be thought of as the gas stations for steam engines.




A simple process really.

First, coal was hauled up to the bin by a conveyor system and stored.  Then when a train came through it would park with the tender under the chute and gravity did the rest. The bin could hold 50-100 ton of coal






Though it hasn’t been used for it’s intended purpose for decades this tower still stands tall serving it’s secondary purpose as a photographic model.


The fact that the tracks under the tower are still active makes it even better.


Frankly, structures like this are able to survive because they were built like tanks.  Steel reinforced and concrete encased made this coaling tower strong and very, very expensive to try to remove.

I was not able to find any history on this specific Coaling Tower but I did discover you can buy a scale model of it.  (DeKalb Coaling Tower)

So, if you visit DeKalb, make your way to Rotary Park and you’ll be within sight, sound and walking distance of this beautiful giant.

(This Photo Contributed by J Long)

Where Chicken Is King

Those driving east down Lincoln Highway may have noticed a seemingly abandoned storefront topped by giant lights spelling one word: CHICKEN.

The name of that restaurant is Lothson’s Karry-Out, 644 E. Lincoln Highway, “Where Chicken is King.”

Opened by DeKalb native Keith Lothson and his wife Arlene in 1949 at their first location on Market Street and relocated to it’s current location in 1957-1958.  Lothson’s began as an egg and dressed poultry restaurant and began frying chicken in 1950. Lothson’s also serves fried perch as well as fried livers and gizzards. The majority of the restaurant’s business comes from university students.

All info gleaned from a Northern Star article.

Sign Says open 4:30PM to 8:00PM Wed-Sun. Sounds to me like very targeted operating hours.  I’m thinking the hours most people eat and likely the days with the heaviest traffic.  On the other hand, it could just be the days Janet Fawcett, who runs the place is available.

Note: Through mid-2012, I found postings and reviews from folks supporting Lothson’s as the best chicken ever.  Nothing from the last several months.  It’s been closed every time I’ve driven through, but then again, I haven’t hit the magic days or times.

Postscript: 3/31/2013: Janet saw this post and comments that the carry out is still open during it’s scheduled hours.  In fact, we can expect some upgrades this Spring.  See her thoughts in the comments.


Normal Schools – Altgeld Castle

The Northern Illinois State Normal School was built in DeKalb thanks to the efforts of DeKalb Daily Chronicle editor Clinton Rosette, entrepreneurs Isaac L. Ellwood, Joseph Glidden, Jacob Haish, and many others. Glidden asserted political influence and donated the 72 acres upon which the original campus was built. Haish and Ellwood donated funds totalling some $30,000 and construction began on October 1, 1895.

The original campus consisted of only one building then known as “the castle on the hill” and later named Altgeld Hall after Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld, who suggested the architectural style and approved the bill allowing for its construction. The exterior structure is designed in Tudor Gothic style, in imitation of the English castles of that period. In contrast to its medieval facade, the building’s interior was built in contemporary style. (Taming the Wild Prairie – Normal Schools)



When Altgeld Hall was completed in 1899, it housed the entire university; Classroom, Boardroom, Library, Gym, Lecture Hall and Administrative Offices.  In 1999, the Capital Development Board approve a rehabilitate and restore effort.  This project took 5 years and it reopened in Sept. 2004. (Altgeld Hall History)




Along the breezeway between buildings they’ve built this really cool skeletal glass covering. I have to believe there would be some interesting shots within that structure






Even still, there is a lot to look at phtographically just on the outside.  Be sure to put the campus on your bucket list if you visit DeKalb.  There are several very beautiful examples of Architecture.  Other examples will be posted in the Gallery as I shoot them.