While visiting DeKalb recently, we looked in at Ellwood House. Our timing was a little off as the guided tour wasn’t until 1pm and we had arrived early in the morning but the Visitors Center was open so we took advantage of the opportunity to view some of the exhibits on display.
The Ellwood mansion was originally built for Isaac Ellwood, who, with his business partner, Joseph Glidden, established the world’s first barbed wire factory. By 1879, 50 million pounds of barbed wire were being produced annually and Ellwood became one of the wealthiest men in Illinois.
The Mansion, part of the 1,200-acre estate, was home to three generations of the Ellwood family and was gifted to the Dekalb Park District in 1965 by Mrs. May Ellwood and her three children. It is now the Ellwood House Museum.
Isaac Ellwood’s wife, Harriet Miller Ellwood, loved to collect curios which included family heirlooms, rare books and manuscripts, historic and scientific novelties, old pewter and chinaware, war relics, geological specimens, minerals, rare gems, butterfly specimens, shells and souveniers from her extensive travels. In 1905, a private museum was constructed in the grounds, to house Mrs. Ellwood’s collection. An inventory of her collections made before her death listed nearly 500 objects.
Also nearby is another adorable Little House that was originally built in 1891 as a contractor’s model and parade float. William Ellwood acquired it to use as a playhouse for his daughters Jessie Jean and Harriet Elise. It was later handed down to various grandchildren and was eventually given away but, in 1973, the Oderkirk family returned the Little House to the Ellwood Estate.
Isaac Ellwood and his son Will were successful importers and breeders of French Percheron draft horses. Their horse farm, Ellwood Green, was also part of the estate. The farm, once located near the Visitors Center, itself converted from an old five-car garage, included sales barns, enormous stables and a business office, which have since been torn down. The only thing remaining is the stone water tower that supplied fresh water to the stables.
Isaac Ellwood’s business of barbed wire and his passion for horses seemed rather strange bedfellows, especially when viewing some of the exhibits in the Visitors Center, which included samples of the wire that his company produced and a collection of remedies for horse injuries caused by barbed wire, accompanied by a rather gruesome advertisement for same. The expression on the horse’s face definitely does not tally with the severity of its wounds. He seems to be taking the whole thing very calmly.
Tours of the Ellwood House Museum are offered on Wednesday thru Saturday at 1pm and 3pm. Photography is allowed inside the building so I’m hoping to pay a return visit sometime in the future.