Homes: A barn, a home
A barn, a home
A barn and a home filled with history and surprises.
Story: Travis Bean
Photos: Robin Scholz
Ebenezer Noyes, original founder and first mayor of Mattoon, Ill., owned a number of properties throughout the town during the mid-1800s. One of those properties now belongs to Sue and Ron Legrand.
The Legrands keep a book of their home’s past deeds, which date back to Noyes’ days. Being history buffs, it’s no surprise they have filled their home with antiques.
Their biggest antique happens to be a bright-red barn sitting in their backyard. Built in 1943, the barn was a rotting mess that was falling apart when the Legrands first encountered it.
“My first remark when I saw this barn was, ‘Oh, we could tear this down and have grass,'” Ron said. “It was in shambles. The upstairs had wild cats roaming through there.”
The Legrands wouldn’t have been in the minority for tearing down the barn. Between 1920 and 2007, the number of barns in the United States shrunk from 6.5 million to 2.2 million, according to the National Trust of Historic Preservation.
But then they explored the barn. Even though the side rooms’ wooden floor was rotting and the walls had an unflattering turquoise color, the beautiful cobblestone floor in the barn’s walkway and the antiques spread throughout the rooms and horse stalls had too much history to throw away.
“Sue and I love antiques,” Ron said. “Something that’s just old — you just can’t tear something like this down. You can’t even buy oak boards like this anymore.”
He replaced the barn’s cedar siding with plastic siding 20 years ago when the Legrands moved into the home. In November 2010, the couple decided to renovate the barn.
On the inside, Ron stripped away the rotting floorboards and replaced them with concrete to match the cobblestone floor. The wide cracks between the cobblestones presented various cleaning problems, as horses lived in the barn until 1989.
“I’ve cleaned quite a bit of manure out of these cracks,” Ron said.
Signs of horses are everywhere. Each stall has its own box feeder, and there is even a large birthing stall. One room’s door is missing a large chunk chewed off by a horse. One stall contained a black stake with a metal horse head decorated on top.
“The owners, they would ride up to the house and tie their horses on it and have lunch,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I kept that.”
One room contained many saddle holders, for which the Legrands bought saddles, including two antique ones from the 1950s. The saddle room is full of various antiques, including cowboy hats, grain bins and old pulleys.
Adjacent to the saddle room is where Ron had the task of stripping the turquoise paint from the walls and ceiling. It took an entire summer to accomplish.
The room is littered with antiques: an old black furnace, a gas stove, a radio, old water jugs and farming tools. There’s an aged Marlboro advertisement hanging on the wall, along with a framed poster for the 115th Kentucky Derby in 1989.
In contrast with the barn’s antique feel, the outside appears brand new. The Legrands replaced the plastic siding with new, bright-red siding and put some white on the doors, giving the barn a classic, yet brand new appearance.
“It looks interesting on the outside and there’s a story on the inside,” Ron said.
There’s a story inside the Legrands’ home as well. Actually, lots of stories.
Like the barn, each room in their home is stuffed with antiques. The living room alone gives the entire barn a run for its money.
Each piece of furniture is a result of the Legrands’ constant search for antiques. Sue said she found her etagere when she wandered into a random antique shop attached to a gas station.
“It was in the corner on Christmas day,” she said. “We were there getting gas and it had dust all over it. I just asked the owner how much she wanted for it.”
Next to her etagere is a German grandfather clock built in the 1890s she bought from a University of Illinois professor. It is one of several grandfather clocks throughout the house.
In fact, Sue is a bit of a clock aficionado. In her living room, she has an entire shelf dedicated to 14 different antique Ansonia china clocks, which come in blues, pinks, greens and various other colors that are mixed into elaborate designs that shine off the clocks’ china material.
“We’ve been collecting these for ten years,” she said. “We have them scattered all over the house.”
The dining room, Sue’s favorite room, holds lots of old furniture and a family-dominated theme, including family portraits and Sue’s grandmother’s old china cabinet.
The cabinet, which Sue’s grandmother bought in 1940 for $40, rests in the corner. It contains various antique china pieces painted with peacocks and old chintz covered with flowers and colorful designs.
The Victorian sideboard across the room matches the Victorian theme throughout the home. The Legrands drove three hours back and forth to Havana, Ill. to retrieve the piece. The room also contains an old fireplace, a grandfather clock and a glass chandelier above the dining room table.
Chandeliers are also a frequent piece throughout the Legrands’ home, including one that hangs in their bathroom. The chandelier in their den is imprinted with the phrase, “Made in Czechoslovakia.”
“When we were in Czechoslvakia, a lady was dragging it across the street to an antique shop we were at,” she said. “Ron said, ‘Can I help you with that?’ And the lady said she was going to sell it to the owner, and he asked how much she’d like for it.”
The back doors leading outside to the Legrands’ sitting area, which is decorated with two large white pillars, are French doors that were built in 1933 that retain their original hardware.
“The man who built these doors was an oil magnate from Oklahoma, and he spared no expense building the house,” Sue said.
Likewise, the Legrands have spared no expense with the home they’ve lived in for 22 years. They remain avid antique shoppers and are constantly renovating. Like their barn, they’ve even begun to fix up the chicken coop in their backyard.
And like the home and barn, it will be new on the outside — old on the inside.