CHILLICOTHE — The tall double-arched window hung precariously disconnected from the old house for a moment Monday two stories above the ground. On one side of the window were two men outside riding on the platform of a hydraulic lift. On the other side were three men in hard hats and steel-toed boots standing inside where the window had spent the last 155 years.
"Careful," Bill Sullivan said through the open hole where the window had been. Sullivan is a co-owner of Whiskey City. "Don't want to lose it. Good, looks good."
The lift eased away from the house and the window was delivered to safety. On to the next salvage.
A crew of seven Whiskey City workers spent some daylight hours Monday in and out of 721 N. Third St. looking for old stuff to save from the landfill. Built in 1862, the house is "probably" the oldest structure in the city, according to local historian Gary Fyke. But a fire on July 14 ruined any hope of rehabilitation and left its fate to the salvage pickers and then to the wrecking ball.
"Would have liked to save it," Fyke said Monday. "But it was too far gone."
Whiskey City planned to spend three days in and out of the house dislodging any and all items that could be cleaned up and resold. Lighting fixtures, windows, doors, ornamental corbels and shutters, stairwell railings and more. Whiskey City won the bid for salvage rights for $3,700 and will sell the stuff it hauls out of the house later this month after it is all cleaned up. A request for proposals to demolish the building will go out this week.
The structure has an interesting history. It was constructed in 1861 for L.A. Wood, one of the most prominent men in the area at the time, Fyke said. It stayed in the family until it was sold to Frank Bacon in 1936, another Chillicothe big shot. The house was renovated into four apartments and an addition was built to the front of the building around 1971, Fyke said. Ownership changed hands and it was embroiled in a minor dispute with Peoria County for operating a nursing home-type facility with no nursing services, according to Fyke. By the 1980s and 1990s it had fallen to some level of disrepute. It had been vacant and shuttered for about 18 months, prior to this summer's fire.
Tim Sullivan is Bill Sullivan's father and a retired Dunlap teacher. He's been helping out at salvages, taking photographs, giving advice and lending a hand. He stood at the bottom of the stairs Monday admiring the ornate railing.
"We washed this down and it looks like a very nice piece of work," Sullivan said. "They don't make them like that any more. That's why we like to save them."
The place was a mess. What wasn't burned had been soaked by a fire hose. Ceiling tiles buried a leather sofa in an upstairs room. Sodden insulation and glass littered the unstable floorboards. It smelled of smoke and ash. Upstairs in a small living area off of a small kitchen on a begrimed wall behind an old and ruined JVC television about the same size and with about the same portability of a large filing cabinet, hung a metal cross. It was about 4 inches tall and contained two angels embedded in the metal. On it was a quote from G.K. Chesterton, an English writer, poet, philosopher, journalist and literary and art critic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"The only faith that wears well and holds its color in all weather is that which is woven of conviction."
Hard to say how long it had been there.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.