The Old House Society has been a
Bloomington institution for 34 years. It started as a social group
whose membership got together to discuss restoration of old and
historic houses. They saw old houses being demolished with no
attempt to save valuable parts to be repurposed by people who were
restoring houses. The group decided to start the Old House Society
as a registered nonprofit tasked with saving parts of houses before
they ended up in a landfill.
From that beginning, the Old House Society has grown into a large
undertaking with a 6,000-square-foot warehouse containing everything
the staff and volunteers have been able to save when they are
allowed to access a house scheduled for demolition. The warehouse in
Bloomington is stocked with flooring, doors, headboards and
fireplace tile, just to name a few items. They also have a large
store of hardware from old houses.
But the Old House Society is much
more than a repository of unique and hard-to-find items for
People who are demolishing houses
and give parts to the Old House Society become eligible for
significant tax credits, up to $5,000. In addition, the society
gives grants to those restoring old houses, and members receive a 10
percent discount at the store.
The Old House Society also gives
clinics at their warehouse, at 214 E. Douglas in Bloomington. People
seeking to restore can learn the skills necessary to bring their old
house back to its original glory.
Walden also pointed out that they
have a "Second Thursday" event each month. Wine and hors d'oeuvres
are served at a house that is undergoing restoration, including an
on-site tour of a work in progress.
Completed restorations are given a
"Gift to the Street" award in the form of a bronze plaque that can
be placed on the house, noting the original construction year.
The Old House Society also offers a
helping hand to other nonprofits that can benefit from their
The society's annual house tour
sells out every year. It has become such a popular event in
Bloomington that tickets are being limited this year to 1,000.
The organization also loans items
from their inventory to schools that want to use them in plays and
The society will also sell
non-architectural items they salvage from houses, and all of the
proceeds are given to the owner.
Walden pointed out that many of the
old house items they sell go into new houses, not just restorations.
There is a growing trend to incorporate old items into new houses to
give a new home the feel of an old one. Pocket doors, doors,
headboards and windows used for wall decoration are especially
The Old House Society operates in a
large area of central Illinois, not just Bloomington. They will go
to the Peoria area and locations east of Bloomington. They maintain
additional storage space in Lexington.
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With all of their activity, Walden
said that getting the word out about the Old House Society is still
a problem. People tearing down old houses may not know about the
society, or they may think that their soon-to-be-demolished house
may not have anything worth salvaging.
Walden begs anyone thinking about
demolishing a house to contact the Old House Society and let them
make the call on items worth saving. When the society hauls off
items worth saving and reusing, they save homeowners the cost of
having these items hauled to the landfill, and also save landfill
"The Old House Society was into
recycling before it became popular," Walden said.
Walden herself lives in a tiny 1859
house that she restored in Lexington. "I have also restored several
old houses in Bloomington," she said. In fact, that is how she
became familiar with the Old House Society. She bought items from
them for her own projects. One thing led to another and now she is
head of the organization.
Her personal doorknob collection
was on display during her presentation in Lincoln.
"I even frequent pawnshops trying
to find vintage doorknobs I can't do without," she said with a
Walden wants to get the word out
that no house should be demolished before the owner contacts the Old
House Society. Their experts can spot parts of houses worth saving,
even if an owner may not see an architectural gem. They can see a
door worth saving that is lurking under five coats of paint. A
complete spiral staircase may be their most unusual item in
inventory now. Her story of how that was removed intact from a house
was an adventure in itself.
The Old House Society is
headquartered in Bloomington at 214 E. Douglas. The phone number is
309-820-0548, and the website is
The Logan County Genealogical &
Historical Society, which hosted Walden's presentation in Lincoln,
meets monthly on the third Monday at 6:30 p.m. at their research
facility on Chicago Street. Volunteer members also provide research
for people from all over the United States who may have had
relatives in the Logan County area. The group is currently working
on a request for research from a person in Salt Lake City. The
nominal fee they charge for this research goes into maintaining
their research facility and a growing collection of Logan County