Revisiting Duncan Manor: Owners see progress, and a long to-do list
On a cold mid-December day, Diane and Bud Sullivan talk about renovating historic Duncan Manor in rural Towanda. (The Pantagraph/LORI ANN COOK) LORI ANN COOK

TOWANDA - The original grandeur of the 134-year-old Duncan Manor is finally starting to return after years of neglect and abandonment. | Updated photo gallery | VIDEO: Duncan Manor, then and now

The corbels that add a decorative element around the top of the house have been repaired or replaced and painted. There are new porches on the front and side of the Italianate farmhouse and glass panes again fill its 65 windows.

Inside, the walls have been replastered and the kitchen has been stripped to its original wainscoting.

The window frames have been restored and faux finish is under way.

"We're as excited as ever and anxious," said Diane Sullivan, who purchased the house with her husband, Bud, last spring.

"By the end of summer the interior will be finished," said Bud Sullivan, a general contractor who is doing much of the work.

The renovation by the Sullivans could have been much further along if it wasn't for vandalism.

The house that sits at the end of a long lane off Towanda Barnes near the Lamplighter subdivision has been hit by vandals three times since the Sullivans purchased the home for just under $200,000 from owners Daniel Greer and Helen Cox.

Cox and her father, D.W. Kraft, had purchased the house from James H. Scott. Scott had purchased it from heirs of William R. Duncan, who built the house in 1875 as a symbol of his success in the livestock business.

The Kraft trust rented out the house for several years, then it sat vacant for about a year. It was named to the state's Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in 2007 because of its deteriorating condition.

While vacant, vandals had caused a lot of damage. But the worst came in May after the Sullivans' purchase. It forced them to rethink some of their renovation plans.

Bud and Diane Sullivan originally had enough salvaged antique "wavy" glass for all of the windows in the house. The glass came from the Old House Society and from the old Chenoa grade school before it was razed.

Diane Sullivan is president of the Old House Society. She also is a Realtor for Coldwell Banker.

The glass was at Duncan Manor waiting for installation when vandals broke into the house. The vandals shattered it with hammers.

They also damaged many of the hand-turned walnut spindles on the handrail of the three-story winding staircase. The newel post, at the bottom of the railing, was hit with such force that it pulled the staircase out of the wall.

Vandals also used a hammer to knock a cherub off the front of the dining room fireplace. Such force was used that the fireplace separated from the wall.

Originally, there were two cherubs on the fireplace. One was missing when the Sullivans purchased the home. Diane Sullivan searched the Internet and found a replacement in Australia.

She doubts there are any more available, so she said they will have to make a mold impression and make a second cherub to finish the fireplace.

Window-frame painting, stained glass

The couple has other plans as well.

Diane Sullivan said Justin Faulk, a McLean County sheriff's deputy who has a "passion for old houses" and is an expert faux finisher, is doing the painting technique on all of the window frames in the house.

Reggie Hankins, a local glazier, is creating stained glass for the windows in the two front doors.

The Sullivans plan to take down part of the wall between two of the second-floor bedrooms and make a doorway for another closet. The bedroom on the front side of the house will be turned into a master bathroom.

"We're using marble from the old Bloomington Library in the master bath," said Diane Sullivan. "I'd like to encourage people to think along those lines and not use everything new."

An old sink the couple salvaged from Chenoa grade school will be used in the home's laundry room.

Bud Sullivan plans to remove two supports in the attic and add a support beam so the room can be an open space. The exposed brick will remain. The room will become one of their son's bedrooms.

All of the bedrooms in the house will have their own bathrooms when the renovation is finished.

The house also will have an intercom system and surround sound system and there will be an electric gate at the front. Wiring for the installations already is complete.

Among items still on the "to-do" list is refinishing the wood floors throughout the house and painting and repairing the staircase spindles.

"I had three people volunteer to turn spindles" after the May 31 story in The Pantagraph on the Duncan Manor renovation project, said Diane Sullivan.

There's also more work to do outside.

A lot of time was spent on the nearly 100 corbels.

"When we took them down we didn't realize how rotten they were," said Bud Sullivan.

Some couldn't be repaired, so new ones had to be made.

"More than 50 percent of the scroll work (on the corbels) also had to be remade," said Diane Sullivan.

The outside brick still needs to be tuckpointed and Bud Sullivan plans to put stone on the front porch.

Then there's the list of long-range work to begin tackling. …

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