The history of a home built in 1910 can hardly be brief considering the years it has stood. The home was built by Jesse Newton Dick. The home is a “Craftsman Style” home, which is a style emphasizing clean lines and more simple construction in reaction to lavish and complex “Victorian” structures. Mr. Dick came from Wingate, Indiana with his parents in the late 19th Century, and took over the farm of his father, Eli Dick who was married to Jane Meharry. Mr. Dick’s farm was located west of Philo on County Road 900. Sadly, Mr. Dick was only able to enjoy his amazing home for seven years before his death in August, 1917. He is buried in the Meharry family cemetery in the country near Wingate, Indiana. The funeral was held at his home early enough in the morning to utilize the train through Philo to transport the body to Wingate for burial. Mr. Dick was a member of the Philo Methodist Church, which is now a home two lots to the east on the opposite side of Jefferson Street.
Mr. Dick’s widow, Harriet, and her estate retained ownership of the home until 1934, though it is uncertain how long she lived there. Some information suggests that Mrs. Dick went to live with her daughter and son-in-law, who was a successful attorney in Paris, Illinois, toward the end of her life in 1932. Following that, the home became the property of the her two daughters who sold it to Thomas and Mary O’Neill. This would suggest the home sat empty from the time Harriet went to live in Paris until it was sold in 1934.
The home was purchased in 1946 by Dr. Robert and Olive (RN) Brennan. The layout allowed for the Brennan family to live more in the back of the home, while a medical practice was operated on the second floor in the front portion. Pocket doors closed off the main living room from an entryway, and the front staircase allowed immediate access to the second floor. The large second floor hallway allowed for waiting room overflow, while what has been used for approximately the last 60 years as the master bedroom was the main waiting room. Two doors are in that room, one from the hallway and another connecting to a smaller room on the south-side of the second floor which is was used as the exam room. It was during this ownership that the garage was created out of a basement room in the southwest portion of the home. Also during this time, the coal-fired boiler was replaced with one that burned oil. The oil boiler was converted to gas when it became available in Philo, and continues to heat the home to the present day.
The home was sold in 1955 to Audrey Baker. Shortly after, Audrey married Elmer Cole. They lived in the home for only four years.
In 1959, James and Jane Payne purchased the home. Jim worked at UI, and Jane was a school teacher at the Philo school. Among longer-time residents of Philo, there are stories of Jane opening her home to local students. Jim built up an impressive woodworking shop including 3-phase power, something few residential buildings have. Double hung windows in the basement were replaced with glass block, adding to the home’s security as well as increasing energy efficiency.
In 1986, Jim & Jane’s son Tom and his wife Chris purchased the home. Tom continued to improve the woodshop in the basement, and also finished out the cellar which is entirely under the porch for wood storage. It is assumed that the cellar was a root cellar in previous generations. Many infrastructure upgrades were made to the home, including coating and painting the brick walls of the entire basement except for the garage. Chris taught school at Unit 4 in Champaign, while Tom was an international airline pilot. The home was thus in ownership by the Payne family from 1959 to 2015.
Following Tom’s retirement, he began to improve land purchased on Roosevelt Road in the south of Philo. This land was the location of Johnson’s Welding and Repair, which Tom restored and improved, including a lift that is the oldest existing lift of its kind still in operation. You can read all about it here This lead to a desire to construct a home for his retirement. Tom, impressed with the extra effort put into making Unserhaus the most modern home in Philo when it was completed in 1910, wanted to do this for future generations at his land on Roosevelt. His home, completed in 2018, certainly fulfills that dream. Constructed of very fine materials, with a HVAC system utilizing Geothermal technology that includes an advanced computerized control system for air treatment, exchange and purification. Certainly, the words used to describe Unserhaus when Jesse Newton Dick built it in 1910 now apply to Tom and Chris Payne’s new home at their estate they call Timberhaven: “handsome modern residence, one of the finest in the place and a model of comfort and convenience.” quote from here
This lead Tom and Chris to place Unserhaus for sale in 2013. After two years, the property became attractive to Sharon Griffin and Jeff McPike. They were looking for their first home together, a home that would also allow for Sharon’s parents, to live there as well. Papers were signed in October, 2015, and they decided to name the then-105 year old home Unserhaus, (“our house” in German) honoring their intent to provide a home for Sharon’s parents as well as a place for family to come. Within the first few years, several projects have lead to the refinishing of stairway floors, redecorating, and some remodeling, including a rather impressive bar with several beers on tap (mostly Riggs Beer as well as Bitburger in the southeast portion of the basement. A bathroom was also added to the basement. The amazingly efficient (especially considering its age) 1910-designed heating system is now supplemented with modern “ductless” or “mini-split” heat pumps in various rooms that primarily provide air conditioning, though some heat (in the basement bar) in the winter. A large upper bedroom was converted to a library by Greg Miller of Bellflower.
We are grateful to Jesse Newton Dick for his foresight in building such a magnificent home, for various stewards of the home since - including the Paynes - for their care of it. We hope to see the home improve under our own stewardship.
Do you have information about this home's history that you can contribute? Please contact me!
Sharon S. Griffin, Ph.D.
Jeffrey D. McPike, M.Div, BCC
May, 2022 at Unserhaus in Philo, Illinois
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