DECATUR – Steve Schroeder guesstimates it would cost about $60 million in today's dollars to re-create the spectacular Decatur mansion James Millikin built for $18,000 in 1875.
And if Schroeder had the cash, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
“Oh, wouldn't it be nice?” asks the Bloomington man, who had just finished a guided tour of the city's most famous home with his friend, Cheris Larson, Sunday afternoon. “I would love to live this lifestyle, wouldn't you?”
The James Millikin Homestead was open for its regular 2 to 4 p.m last-Sunday-of-the-month tours. Schroeder had come over to see it on several previous occasions but mistimed his visits and discovered the ornate front doors locked. This time his timing was on the money and he found the house open and welcoming, kind of the way he imagined James Millikin, a self-made man who earned a forturne from livestock and banking, might have been.
“I travel around and see historic houses, and a lot of the people who had the money had an attitude to go with it,” said Schroeder, 47. “But it appears to me Mr. Millikin was a nice guy, and that makes me a little more appreciative of what he had. He was showing off his wealth, obviously, but here I think it was more of a case of 'I am building a big house and I want to make it pretty.' ”
Larson said Millikin got his money's worth: “Houses like this have a lot more character than houses do now,” she said. “Just a lot more of your personality went into them.”
David Bowman, a member of the board that helps look after the homestread, believes the secret to preserving Millikin's investment is maintaining public interest in it. He says it's hard to imagine now, but the homestead has been threatened with demolition in the past.
“You can never take a cultural asset, a community asset, for granted,” added Bowman, 62. “So we have community activities here, we have receptions for weddings here, and we have faculty activities for Millikin University. “The house is used in the right way, it doesn't detract from the property, it doesn't deteriorate the property, but it is used; it isn't dead. I think James Millikin would be pleased.”