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Historic homes given to public

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Sue Staack, director of the Butterworth Center and Deere-Wiman House, sits in the library of the Butterworth Center, which was built in 1892 as a wedding gift for Charles Deere's youngest daughter, Katherine, and her husband, William Butterworth, Deere & Co.'s third chief executive. The house was opened to the public in 1955.

MOLINE -- Conveying the history and importance of two of Moline's most beautiful homes is no small task.

However, it's one that is warmly embraced by Gretchen Small, historian and tour guide at the Butterworth Center, 1105 8th St., and Deere-Wiman House, 817 11th Ave.

``Even though I've been giving tours for 11 years, I still really enjoy doing them,'' Ms. Small said. ``It's really fun when you have just two or three people come through and they're just fascinated. They ask such good questions.

``What's interesting is they are so different,'' she said of the homes. Deere-Wiman was ``definitely a family home,'' with six children growing up there over the years, whereas the Butterworths didn't have children, Ms. Small said. Deere-Wiman also represents the late 1800s and the Victorian era more clearly, she noted.

Butterworth was dramatically enlarged by the family, and taken in a ``completely different direction,'' Ms. Small said. ``It became a home for business entertaining. It's much more formal and in some ways, more ornate.''

Among Butterworth's additions were a library, kitchen, bedroom, and half the living room and dining room, as well as two-thirds of the basement level.

``People always ask which house I like better and I say, I like them both because they're both so different,'' she said.

John Deere's son, Charles, built the Deere-Wiman House -- then known as Overlook, for its striking views -- in 1872. Charles Deere's granddaughter, Patti Deere-Wiman, lived in the home until 1976.

The former Hillcrest, Butterworth was built in 1892 as a wedding gift for Charles Deere's youngest daughter, Katherine, and her husband, William Butterworth, Deere & Co.'s third chief executive.

Mrs. Butterworth died in 1953 and, in her will, created the William Butterworth Memorial Trust. Her home opened to the public in 1955 and Deere-Wiman was left to the trust and opened in 1979, Ms. Small said.

While it's not unusual for historic homes to be open to the public for meetings and other events, Butterworth and Deere-Wiman are unique because they are offered free of charge and only to nonprofit organizations.

Many preservation groups that maintain older houses charge fees for meetings and tours, as a way to meet costs. The Butterworth trust does neither, Ms. Small said.

``We provide just an incredible benefit to the community,'' she said. ``Mrs. Butterworth was very active in the community and saw a need for there to be a facility for these groups to meet in.''

The trust does not allow purely social functions or political fundraising to be held in the homes. Alcohol also is prohibited.

Sue Staack, director for the homes, said she gets lots of requests from people wanting to host personal parties or receptions at Butterworth, but they are politely declined.

``It's a beautiful setting. It has an elegant atmosphere, with lace tablecloths and we always have flowers on the table,'' Mrs. Staack said. ``It's much more gracious setting than they get anywhere else.

``The people are always so happy,'' she said of those attending events. ``We love to hear the laughter at meetings. They really do enjoy this.''

Butterworth also is used often for recitals, since there is an organ and grand piano in the home.

``I'd like to think there's interest in some dignity and elegance that everyone has pushed aside,'' Mrs. Staack said of the homes' appeal. ``The whole world dresses in tennis shoes nowadays.''

``The biggest misconception I have to deal with is people assume that we're owned by Deere & Co. or funded by the city,'' Ms. Small said. ``We're totally self-supporting.'' She would not reveal the trust fund's value.

Two years ago, in order to cut costs, the trust closed Deere-Wiman to virtually all meetings, limiting them to art and history-oriented affairs, she said. Any other meetings on the property are encouraged to use the Deere-Wiman carriage house.

Butterworth was home to about 1,200 meetings and functions last year, while Deere-Wiman hosted 500, Mrs. Staack said. More than 5,000 people tour the houses each year, Ms. Small said.

``People come here because they like old buildings, they like history, the furnishings, the woodwork,'' she said. ``Another area we've expanded in the past year is the gardens. We're stressing the history of the gardens during tours.''

If people have time to see only one house (since tours take about 45 minutes), Ms. Small brings them to Deere-Wiman, in part because it's older and gives a better reflection of Deere & Co.'s early history, and also since Butterworth is more heavily used.

The homes attract many school groups and Ms. Small has trunks filled with Victoriana and lesson plans for teachers. Selected grade-school students are invited annually for workshops on local history, produced in conjunction with the county historical society, Ms. Small said.

Although the homes are not on the National Register of Historic Places, the trust is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is included in a newly published book by the trust, called ``Meeting Planner's Guide to Historic Houses.''

There are 11 other Illinois sites in the guide, and none in the Quad-Cities. Ms. Small noted that Illinois tourism officials are giving a big push to history-related tourism.

``The buzzword today is heritage tourism,'' she said. ``We live in such a throwaway society. People like to make connections with the past and see things that have stayed consistent over the years.''

-- By Jonathan Turner (January 22, 1998)

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