SOUTH BELOIT - "This is the house for the people," said Bushnell-Wheeler Home volunteer Sandy Patrick. "They enjoy touring the house and looking at their shared history."
"It's a place we call ours," added volunteer Ken Beebe.
The historic home, located at 542 Wheeler Ave., was constructed in 1856 and is a local treasure attracting a loyal base of about 25 volunteers. The group consists of mostly South Beloiters, but also includes some newcomers. Those at Bushnell Wheeler Home are always open to expanding their circle and bringing new volunteers to their ranks. The group meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of the month. There is also a craft group that meets at 9 a.m. on Mondays.
During the 30th Annual Ice Cream Social and Open House for the Bushnell-Wheeler Home in June, volunteers shared a little bit about the event, the home and their devotion to it.
Volunteers explained that most of the pieces in the home are donated and represent the type of furniture people had in this area during the mid to late 1800s. A vintage piano is featured in one parlor. Antique dresses, clothing and quilts are displayed in upstairs bedrooms.
In the cool house interior, delicious-looking bake sale items were available for purchase in one of the first floor dining rooms. Also up for grabs were South Beloit Centennial books and 100-year old cookbooks, written by South Beloit Historical Society members.
John Patrick has been involved with the home since it became a museum.
"If a town doesn't have a museum like this, then people don't know the history," he said.
John Patrick said he feels that the home provides a sense of pride for South Beloit residents. Parlors on the first floor contain South Beloit High School graduation class pictures from the 1930s and onward. People often come in and identify themselves or family members.
The remodeled barn annex serves as both a gift shop and eating area.
"I like everything here. I do maintenance, cut the grass and my wife is involved too. I'm very happy to have served on this committee for 10 years," said volunteer Ken Beebe.
"I think it's wonderful. I'm not from around here so I have made many friends while being a part of these activities," Georgia Beebe said.
During the open house a craft tent offered unique items such as purses, place mats, stuffed toys, coasters, pillows, aprons, attractive magnets and sports team items for sale.
Diane Lukich, a volunteer at the tent was a school teacher and became involved with the historical society after retirement.
"I enjoy the Ice Cream and Christmas socials," she said. "It's fun to take care of an old Victorian home."
Another volunteer at the craft tent, Mary Lou Shaw, said she enjoys helping at events and with the Christmas decorating later in the year.
The original residents of the Bushnell-Wheeler house had a long-lasting influence on the Stateline Area. Beloit College Professor Jackson Bushnell first invested in the land. The actual home builder was the Rev. Alexander Montgomery, a missionary, who passed away a few years later. The property was deeded over to the Bushnell family who lived there for more than 20 years.
The next owner was William Wheeler, founder of the Eclipse Windmill Company, which later became Fairbanks Morse Corporation. Wheeler also planned the layout of some streets in South Beloit.
As time went on there were other owners who re-purposed the home. By the 1980s, the house was vacant, needed repair and was finally sold to the city of South Beloit. Demolition of the house was considered, but local businessman, Mac McCleary, paid for several repairs on the home.
Things were looking up for the property as the South Beloit City Council worked with a citizens' committee to form the South Beloit Historical Society. The historical society purchased the building for one dollar with the agreement that the group would continue restoring and maintaining the house.
"I came to learn how to quilt but ended up with a paintbrush in my hand," said Evy Williams, an original member of the historical society.
Williams is retiring from the society but still plans to come to the open house events just to be there and answer questions.
The Patricks and other volunteers look forward to the Annual Christmas Open House which takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving. They especially enjoy adorning the inside and outside of the house with festive holiday decorations before this event. Quilt raffle winners will be announced the Sunday of the open house.
For more information visit, http://bushnellwheelerhome.com.