The following photograph is one side of a stereo pair dating to the 1870’s. I’ve had the stereoview for many years and had often wondered about it. What became of the house? Who built it? Is it still standing? I had to know. Fortunately, someone had penciled “Gen. Gridley’s house” and “Grove St.” on the back of the mount. That bit of information, combined with the fact that the photographer’s imprint stated Bloomington, Illinois, made it easy to track down online.
So what kind of person built this Italianate gem? Gen. Gridley, it turns out, was Asahel Gridley, a Bloomington lawyer and businessman who was not well-regarded by the community. He built his house from 1859 to 1860. Below is a 3-minute video interview on Youtube with Guy C. Fraker, a Bloomington attorney who has written a book about Gridley’s role in helping Lincoln’s presidential campaign, Lincoln’s Ladder. The video sheds some light on the man who built the house:
The McLean County (Illinois) Museum of History’s website offers a biography of Gen. Gridley written by Candace Summers. About the house she wrote:
“In 1860, as a reflection of his wealth (and possibly to make it up to his wife for disillusioning her about what life would be like in Bloomington when he brought her west), Gridley constructed a huge mansion, known as “The Oaks,” at 301 East Grove Street. Designed in the Italianate style, the mansion was “constructed of cream colored bricks imported from Milwaukee with French windows along the front of the residence that opened out onto a stone patio roofed over with lacy ironwork. Each window and door was surmounted by a graceful arched stone header.” When the Gridley’s traveled overseas they would bring back grandiose tapestries, statues, and paintings said to have been painted by Michelangelo and Le Brun. A large Italian fountain stood on the front lawn and was surrounded by broad drives. The house was built at a cost of $40,000, which in 2012 would be about $1,100,000.00. It was said that Gridley once invited Abraham Lincoln, who was in town for a political rally for the upcoming presidential election of 1860, to see “The Oaks.” Gridley proudly gave Lincoln a tour of the mansion’s marvelously decorated interior. After the tour, Lincoln stated: “Gridley, do you want everyone to hate you?””
So what had become of Gen. Gridley’s house? A little more digging revealed that the house is still standing – but it has been obscured by an apartment house built around it in the 1930’s. A recent renovation has brought both the house and apartments back to good form.
This is how the Gridley house appears today… as a Colonial Revival apartment building. The iron fence in the foreground appears to be the same as the one seen in the stereoview:
The side of the house is more recognizable though it, too, has been modified to some extent. The projecting bay may be seen in the historic photo on the left-hand side of the house. This is how it appeared in a 2014 photograph by Lori Ann Cook-Neisler when published in Bloomington’s newspaper, the Pantagraph:
A view of the interior shows original plaster work still intact:
Thankfully, this old house has had a happier story than many.