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NORMAL - Marjorie Taulbee vividly remembers many of the unique aspects of her childhood home. The outside edge of the dining room floor was covered in tile. Gray-stained oak beams decorated the ceiling and there were custom-built, floor-to-ceiling, built-in cabinets.

The big windows of the main kitchen looked out on Fell Avenue. Taulbee's mother had a separate pantry for her baking.

"One of the loveliest things of the house was the stairway that curved," she said. The landing was graced by three leaded-glass windows designed by her father, Aaron T. Simmons.

Simmons, an architect, also designed the house at what is now 1 Clinton Place. But that wasn't the only mark he left on historic Cedar Crest neighborhood. He built nearly all the houses in the subdivision and was responsible for introducing the idea of curving streets to the area.

"They were artistic," Taulbee said of the streets. "They did it a lot in Europe."

Simmons was hired by Bert Marley Kuhn, the developer of the then- cutting-edge subdivision. The land was on the outskirts of Normal and the neighborhood was the first to embrace the idea that people would commute to work. Garages were included as part of the houses.

"He (Simmons) did all kinds of new things," said Taulbee, 93, now a resident of Heritage Manor in Normal. "He graduated from University of Illinois in 1901 when there were great changes in architecture."

Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz asked Simmons to come to Bloomington to help rebuild the city after the great fire in 1900.

"Because of the fire, they sorely needed architects," Taulbee said.

After he graduated from U of I, Simmons worked for Moratz full time until about 1908, when he started his own firm. He built the family home in 1915, incorporating many of the new trends.

"People would come to our house to see them," Taulbee said.

One innovation was having a toilet on the first floor of the house. Upstairs was a second bathroom with a traditional tub and a gas burner above it. Taulbee remembers her dad turning on the burner to warm up the bathroom before her or her sister, Pauline, took a bath.

On top of the roof was a decorative cupola, which was destroyed in a 1933 fire started by sparks from the incinerator in the basement of the house.

"We had a swing up there," Taulbee said.

Simmons liked stone, said his granddaughter, Emily Evans Schmidgall of Minier. Schmidgall and her four brothers and sisters also grew up in the house.

"He wanted stone on the outside but no builders had ever heard of such a thing," said Taulbee. Simmons ended up showing workers how to split stones so they could be put on the house, she said.

The house was the second in town to have an Oil-O-Matic heater and an Ice-O-Matic refrigerator. Simmons was a friend of Charles U. Williams and his son, Walter, who invented the new concepts. In 1945, the Williams' company merged with Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Co. of Detroit, Mich., to form Eureka Williams. The company is now known as Electrolux.

Building houses played only a minor role in Simmons' architectural career. He designed 71 Carnegie libraries (funded by East Coast industrialist Andrew Carnegie) and numerous schools, churches and courthouses.

"He enjoyed and liked to build beautiful places," said Taulbee.

When World War I broke out, there was no work for architects, she said. "Most just went out of business."

But thanks to the elder Williams, Simmons had plenty to do. Williams hired Simmons to design the Lafayette Apartments, the Castle Theater and the Paxton building, all in Bloomington. Simmons later worked for Williams as head of the European sales of the Oil-O-Matic.

"He loved to travel," Taulbee said.

The last house Simmons designed was for Taulbee and her husband Marion at 8 Ridgemont Road, where they raised their sons, Tom and Dr. Kent Taulbee.


Who: Aaron T. Simmons, architect

What: Designed most of the houses in Cedar Crest, Normal; 71 Carnegie libraries (only the one in Delavan holds his name); and numerous schools, churches and courthouses.

Family: Wife, Katherine Hulva Simmons, deceased; daughter, Pauline Simmons Evans, deceased; daughter, Marjorie Simmons Taulbee, resident of Heritage Manor Nursing Home, Normal; and grandchildren, Dr. Kent Taulbee, Bloomington; Tom Taulbee, Texas; Emily Evans Schmidgall, Minier; James Evans, Arlington, Va.; David Evans and J. Richard Evans, Springfield, Mo.; and Susan Lancaster, Florida.


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