Category Archives: Bygone Landmarks

Central Illinois Adobe Homes

A 1935 Illinoian-Star newspaper article tells of an adobe house under construction near the Schuyler County village of Browning. The writer claimed that only two mud houses existed in Illinois, and that both were within a 14-mile radius of Beardstown.

Laurence Royer was building the Schuyler County dwelling, after his family lost their home in a 1931 fire. The Allendale house, constructed in the 1850’s and located a few miles from the city of Virginia, was the other home referred to in the story.

It might come as a surprise, but eighty years ago Mr. Royer was concerned about energy costs and wanted to replace his former dwelling with an economical and more energy-efficient home. His wife, who was born in a sod house, was originally skeptical of her husband’s desire to build a home made of clay.

The Royers had heard of the Allendale place and decided to travel to Cass County and see it for themselves. Many Virginia residents had forgotten that the house was constructed of adobe, but Mr. and Mrs. Royer finally got directions to the house from a man who recalled that there was something unique about it. Once she saw the “artistic, quaint house,” Mrs. Royer changed her mind and lent her approval to her husband’s plan.

Royer consulted information available from the U. S. Department of Agriculture before beginning his project. After his own experiments, he determined that yellow clay, mixed with straw and molded into bricks was the most practical method of construction. He used native lumber for the rafters and joists. Construction of the adobe house began in August, 1931 and by December of 1935, all that remained to be completed were the bathroom and the finishing of one bedroom.

Unfortunately, the roof and interior of the house burned some years ago and the adobe walls have since been bulldozed into the basement. The fireplace is all that remains.

Besides being a builder, Mr. Royer was a farmer, artist, and a writer. One of his stories, “More than a Horse,” is found on page 7 of Tales From Two Rivers II. He passed away in 1993.

There is not a lot of information available about the house built by Laurence Royer. That is not the case with Andrew Cunningham’s historic Allendale home:

The house on the Allendale farm was constructed in 1852 by Andrew Cunningham, a native of Scotland. His granddaughter, Miss Hilma Jones, resided in the home when the newspaper story was written. Cunningham was a contemporary of Archibald Job and both are interred in Robertson Cemetery, about a mile from Allendale.

Links to further information about Mr. Cunningham and his home:

Allendale Home
Old Illinois Houses
Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

Andrew Cunningham
Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties
Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois

The Dowler Elm

Beardstown was the site of a towering tree known as the “Dowler Elm.” The tree was located in front of the home of Mrs. Johanna Dowler, on the north side of Fifth Street between Jefferson and Monroe. Mrs. Dowler was a beloved teacher who instructed several generations of Beardstown children.

The trunk divided into massive branches, held together with a large iron bar and chains. Cavities in the trunk had been filled with cement to prevent an accumulation of water, which would have caused the wood to rot. Mrs. Dowler and some of her friends hired a specialist to care for the tree in 1924.

According to Mrs. Dowler, the tree was planted in 1837, which was the year Cass County was organized. When the tree succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-1960’s, it was said to be the oldest and largest tree in the city.

Below is a 1909 postcard of the Methodist Church at the corner of 5th and State Streets. The y-shaped tree is visible in the background.

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