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Original items with ties to the owner and architect donated to Dana-Thomas House

Among materials are 1700s vintage prints given by emperor of Japan to Frank Lloyd Wright          Send a link to a friend

[April 21, 2007]  SPRINGFIELD -- It took 64 years, but some items purchased during an auction at the Dana-Thomas House are returning home, thanks to the generosity of a Springfield family who purchased the material during the 1943 sale. The Dana-Thomas House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

On Wednesday, the Morton D. Barker Jr. family donated the original artifacts to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which administers the Dana-Thomas House. Among those present for the ceremony were family members R-Lou Barker, Robert John and Anne Barker, and John Andrew Barker.

"I am pleased to return Susan's personal items to the Dana-Thomas House. They are so particular to what would have been precious to her," said R-Lou Barker.

The donated materials include:

  • A three-piece, matching christening outfit with the original price tags still attached, purchased in Paris by Susan Lawrence Dana for the child she never had.

  • A large circa 1920 Turkish Oushak rug owned by Mrs. Dana.

  • An Abraham Lincoln print owned by her father, Rheuna Lawrence. The print hung in the original, Victorian-style Lawrence home.

  • Five Japanese block prints, three of them made in the 1700s and two around 1900, that were said to be a gift from the emperor of Japan to the home's architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who then gave them to Mrs. Dana. These prints were displayed on print tables specifically designed by Wright for that purpose in the home's Gallery Room.

The July 1943 auction of Susan Lawrence Dana's properties and personal effects was perhaps the largest in the history of Springfield and required five days. Several stores in the downtown area displayed some of the thousands of items that were being put up for sale.

The estate, which included the Dana House, the Lawrence Building on South Sixth Street and the Roland Building on the southeast corner of Sixth and Adams, was sold to the firm of Barker, Goldman and Lubin Co., of which Morton D. Barker Sr. was the senior partner. Earl Bice, Mrs. Dana's lawyer, arranged the sale, with Springfield's Marine Bank acting as trust officer. The Sixth Street properties were considered prime real estate at the time, but the Dana House, built in 1904, was not.

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The auction of personal effects, presided over by auctioneer Luke Gaulle Sr., occurred in a large tent at the corner of Fourth and Cook streets, where the YMCA is now located. Barker and his partners determined that what was not sold at auction would remain with the house, which kept the home's priceless furniture and art glass intact.

Mrs. Dana (1862-1946) was by then a full-time patient at St. John's Hospital, where she eventually died. She had outlived all members of her immediate family, but witnesses at the time reported that she was alert enough during the auction to ask, "Did you know they're selling my things today?"

A few weeks later, Charles C Thomas Publishing announced they were in the process of purchasing the home from Barker, Goldman and Lubin Co. The sale of the 12,600-square-foot home was finalized in April 1944. Charles C Thomas Publishing maintained the house, its extensive collection of Wright-designed oak furniture and its world-class set of 450 art glass windows, doors and light panels for the next 37 years, until the house and its contents were purchased by the state of Illinois in 1981. It has since served as a house museum, attracting more than 1 million visitors.

"This major gift from the Barker family brings us yet closer to the goal of owning and displaying all of the major artifacts related to the house," said Donald Hallmark, site manager.

The Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site, administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is open for public tours Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last tour of the day beginning at 10 minutes to 4. Tours require about one hour and generally are offered at about 20-minute intervals. The house is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and some state holidays. The suggested donation is $3 for adults and $1 for children ages 3-17.

[Text from Illinois Historic Preservation Agency news release received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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