Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tearing Down Old Mansion

From historian Steve Bigolin's collection, a photo of the Haish mansion. | Photo by Jessi LaRue

The article below was printed in the Aug. 16, 1961, edition of the Daily Chronicle:

Tearing Down Old Mansion
By Marcella

Formal proceedings have started to send one of DeKalb's grand old mansions on the way to oblivion. According to information received from members of First Lutheran Church, their Parish House, the former home of Jacob Haish, DeKalb inventor, will be torn down in the very near future.

An old community landmark, the Jacob Haish residence became the property of First Lutheran Church about six years ago, having been purchased from the Jacob Haish estate. While the furnishings of the home were gone, appointments inside and out were such as made it a unique spot in DeKalb. Priceless treasures decorating the home at Third and Pine Street have been sold for use in a commercial enterprise.

Jacob Haish's home is one of the finest homes ever built in DeKalb and in years to come, this city may well regret that it isn't around for the edification of tourists when most of the neighbors are gone. Visitors to the house often find themselves in spontaneous conversation with others. There is a comradeship which stems from a mutual admiration of the Jacob Haish story. 

The veteran manufacturer's inventive genius and shrewd business ability contributed largely to the prosperity and growth of the city of DeKalb as a city. The story of the city of DeKalb or the chapter of history concerning barb wire would be incomplete if the name Jacob Haish was omitted from the picture. 

Mr. Haish was born in Germany in 1827 and at the age of nine came to this country and the state of Pennsylvania with his parents. At 19 the call of the West reached him and he came to Illinois, settling first in Naperville. He married Sophia Brown in 1847. In 1853, he came to Buena Vista, now DeKalb, impressed by the cordiality of the people.

Glancing at the splendid mansion of the Haish family built about 1884, it is hard to picture Jacob Haish and his lovely wife living in a crude shanty on First Street, south of the tracks. A lumber business he launched was effective, but he could foresee the day when the board fences would have to be replaced because of its expense, its limited supply and its weakness.

Mr. Haish's barb wire idea is reflected in inscriptions on the front of the house. There is "Victory, 1874," and the name "Sophia," an association that could have come from the help his wife gave him as she turned the handle of a coffee grinder while he studied it to see how his barbs might be made. His first patent was granted Jan. 20, 1874. Further experimentation led to his development of "S" wire which he began manufacturing.

Some of the statuary has been removed from the grounds, but that near the house is there still. An old fountain has simulated barb wire around it as a replica of the Haish era. Then there is the likeness of Mr. Haish, to the left of the front walk as one approaches the residence. The phrase "patentee of barb wire," is engraved on the back of the animal likeness which forms the step-rail. 

Within the house, elegant crystal chandeliers are still in place, as are many of the fine mirrors. Six marble fireplaces, each of different color and design, added to comfort as well as the beauty of the rooms. The original painted murals hang on the walls with birds and gold-trim which tend to lighten the ostentatious mood. Cut-glass door panels, stained glass window and hand carved wood decor excite those who appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the building of this dream of a little bearded German immigrant. 

Mr. Haish's contribution to the City of DeKalb was not only his wire industry or his "man-against-the-millions" courage. His civic leadership and financial aid to education and welfare organizations; his generosity toward his employees and his various enterprises in the manufacturing of farm implements, gas engines and cream separators, all combined to further DeKalb and make it the wonderful city it is today.

That voices of youth rang out to keep the house alive as the Intermediates, Boy Scouts and other church organizations met in the Parish House, might seem a living monument to this DeKalb pioneer and his wife. For this glamorous "castle" to be replaced by a modern home of a layman assistant to the church seems hardly the end DeKalb wants for this 134 year old Haish story.

Perhaps the city of DeKalb --- a group of civic minded persons --- or person would be interested in purchasing the home for the purpose of establishing a memorial and museum to the inventor of Barb Wire?

Thanks to the Joiner History Room for sharing this article.

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