The Higham Home

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The Higham Home

The Highams have made this gothic girl come down-to-earth

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Briana Floyd

The first impression when pulling up to the Higham home in Monticello’s “Millionaires’ Row” is one of awe. We thought we would happen upon a beauty to be observed and viewed. What we found was a home to be felt and experienced. Welcome is the word that comes to mind, and not just because it was on the door mat.

There’s a certain expectation when going into a home that has stood for a century or more. Since this home is old, there’s the awareness that many people have lived under its roof, many memories have taken place in its confines and if the home could talk, it would have a story to tell that would rival any master story-teller or author. Plus, since this home is a three-story, meticulously constructed gothic Victorian built in 1873 on a massive lot at the highest point on State Street,  distinctive 10 foot rounded entry doors, elegantly curved main staircase, and 11 foot ceilings, it was obvious that the entire home is an architectural masterpiece.

The Highams have made this gothic girl come down-to-earth, however. It’s livable, inviting and comfortable, although still incredibly stunning and beautiful. Indeed, they have created that perfect union of stately home merged with livable comfort. It apparent that they truly enjoy their home.

An example is the maid’s quarters, which is now a craft room. Or the back sunroom, which before was used as a dining area with garden views. The Highams use it as a family gathering room, complete with an entertainment set-up, bar, beverage refrigerator and plush, sink-into furniture.

They live in 100 percent of the house. There are no formal rooms that are off-limits and only for entertaining. The good use of space in this very large house is amazing, and if this house could speak, we reckon it would say, “Thank you” to its now owners.

“We’re old house people,” Anna said. The home was built for Preston C. Huston, a local banker.  Although it’s not officially recorded as such, it is said that the Higham Home was the first to have running water and electricity in Monticello. Special mahogany furniture was built for its first owner.

The next owners were relatives of the Allertons, the Thompsons. Jessie Thompson married banker William Dighton and the Dightons owned it for many years, followed by the Wilfong family, then the Huisingas and then the Peterson family. Many lovely social events took place in the home, according to Maureen Holtz, author of “Monticello, Images of America.”

“It’s quite a wonderful home,” she said. “It is truly unique.”

The Highams bought the Victorian in 2014 and hope to add to the happy memories.

Anna is a breast cancer surgeon for Carle. She grew-up in near-by Mattoon, and recently lived in a little house in Oak Park, near Chicago, with her husband, Tim Higham. Tim works at Starbucks Corporate.

“Tim was born in Philadelphia-he’s a big eagles fan. We both lived in Chicago, but we met in Aurora on a blind date,” Anna said.

As it often is when couples find “the one,” they had a whirlwind romance, married and are now parents to four-year-olds Eve and Lucy.

Two adorable basset hounds stood near the one-of-a-kind spiral staircase.

“That’s Daisy and Gracie,” Anna said.

The girls-all dressed and pressed-stood behind their daddy’s legs. Energetic Eve was the first to say hello.

“Hi, I’m here,” she said excitedly, as she jumped from behind her dad.

Lucy hugged her daddy’s leg a little tighter. She smiled ever so sweetly as she tilted her head shyly.

The Highams have already made their mark on the gothic Victorian like Anna’s craft room-she is a surgeon and she, no doubt, has a steady hand-and Tim’s sports’ treasures in the library.

“My husband has an affinity for vintage airplanes,” Anna said, as she showed us a display of pictures and other artifacts that Tim is very proud of owning.

The girls, on the other hand, showed us their play food, ran to their rooms to show us their hair ribbons that frequently adorn their curly locks, and pranced outside in the incredible gardens that Anna and Tim have worked on tirelessly to renovate into a refuge that truly represents them.

The Huisingas, who owned the home from the 1980s to the 1990s did most of the current renovations, Anna said.

“They updated the plumbing, the electrical system and heating. They restored it to its former glory. They brought in the greenhouse, which was originally attached to the house,” she said.

The greenhouse was designed by a company owned by architect, Francis Machin, whose anodized aluminum conservatories and greenhouses feature distinct ogee arched roofs. The Petersons relocated the greenhouse to its current place in the back of the 1.5 acre yard. Anna calls the greenhouse her “office,” as gardening is one of her loves.

The Highams have worked extensively on the gardens. The garden off of the back patio originally had prairie grasses and flowers. After much digging and pruning, the Highams have a lovely rose garden, too.

“Tim made the planters out of old shutters,” Anna said.

Tim has skills in the carpentry realm.

“Tim took a chain saw to this room,” Anna said as she showed us one the girls’ bedrooms. “In fact, we started our updates in the bedrooms.”

The bedroom had originally been a dressing room with closet-like structures in the middle of the space. One would never know the room was anything other than a little girl’s room, with its cute “froggy” décor.

The other bedroom is the “ballerina room.” The beds come from Anna’s family.

“These are the beds I slept in,” she said, as Eve hugged her, jumped into the bed and showed us how comfy it was under the covers. They even have a “Granny room” for when their grandmother visits.

The Highams enjoy living in their home and it’s obvious. We were true witnesses to that adage: “Live, love and laugh” on our visit to Millionaire’s Row in Monticello.