The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, August 03, 2007

The One That Got Away

I've spent a lot of time this week cleaning the Devil Queen. Since we had to move the full contents of our rented storage room into the Devil Queen, it's been hard finding the house. It's hard to refinish a floor when you can't see it. As part of the on going effort to find those old pine floors, I've been desperately trying to get all of our books out of our 1001 boxes and onto the shelves. While doing so, I came across a box of photo albums. I'm a sucker for easy distractions, so I just had to look through them. That is where I found the picture above.

This is my paternal grandmother's family home in Kewanee, Illinois. My grandmother gave me this picture when I was 8 or 9. It is either on Tremont or Chestnut Street, but I can't remember which; they run parallel to one another one block apart so I'm not too far off in either case. I'm not sure who is standing in front of the house. It is probably my great-great grandmother. My Dad, the keeper of our family lore, is on vacation so I'll have to wait to ask him.

I'm probably getting it all wrong, but something like five generations of my family lived in this house. As a child, my grandmother spent several years living here with her extended family. She was married here in 1941. My dad remembers visiting the house. It was probably in the late 1940's or very early 1950's, but he remembers the milk being delivered door-to-door by a man in a horse pulled wagon.

I was looking for some town history online (click here for a history of Kewanee) when I found this excerpt from "Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois," written in 1885 and published by The Biographical Publishing Company of Chicago:

"The Kewanee Wagon Company is another of the valuable and thriving institutions of the town. It manufactures all sorts of road wagons, carriages, buggies, etc., and is a successor to the O'Brien Manufacturing Company, which was organized in January, 1882, with a capital stock of $10,000. The incorporators, John Chisnall, Thomas F. Chisnall, Willaim Howland, C.G. Taylor and August Grief, were all the old employees of the O'Brien Manufacturing Company, and each one of them fills his place under the new organization, not only as stockholder and officer, but as a mechanic, and in charge of some particular department of the works.
John Chisnall, the President of the company, is business manager, book-keeper and head of the wood-working department; William Howland, Vice-President, conducts the iron work; C. G. Taylor, Secretary, wood-worker and in charge of the fine buggy and carriage department, while Thomas F. Chisnall, Treasurer, is superintendent of machinery. Each man has his wages paid him weekly, and the residue or net earning goes to the credit of the company. New machinery is being added from time to time, the capacity of the concern is being increased and the undertaking as a whole is an assured success. (See biographical sketches of John Chisnall, William Howland and C. G. Taylor, this volume.)

Again, if I have my family history right, Thomas Chisnall is my great-great-great grandfather and John Chisnall is his father by adoption. John Chisnall is the one who bought or built the house pictured.

Here is John Chisnall's biography from the same book:

Since November, 1867, this gentleman has been an honored resident of Kewanee, and is to-day serving as special tax collector for the city. He was born in Lancastershire, England, January 27, 1833, and is a son of William and Alice Chisnall, who were lifelong residents of that country. The father died when a young man, but the mother long survived him, passing away in 1876, at the age of sixty-four years.
John Chisnall, the only child of this worthy couple, was educated in the common schools of England, and when a lad of eleven years was apprenticed to the wheelright's trade, which he learned thoroughly. He came to this country as a Mormon emigrant in 1831, prior to the insurrection of Brigham Young against the government and first located in Utah, where he remained until 1858, during the uprising. The following two years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, which city at that time had no telegraph or railroad lines and gave little promise of its present thriving condition. During all this time Mr. Chisnall worked at his trade. In I860 he went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he made his home until coming to Kewanee in I867. During the winter of 1866-67 he spent four months in visiting his native land. Upon his return he located in Kewanee, where he worked at wagonmaking principally until I888. Being economical and industrious he managed to save something from his wages, and this capital he invested in a lot in the heart of the city, upon which he erected a pressed brick double store building, which on account of its location is very valuable property. This he now rents to a good advantage.
In I857 Mr. Chisnall was united in marriage with Miss Ellen Sandiford, who was also a native of Lancastershire, England, and came to the United States on the same vessel with our subject in June. I831. Both are active members of the Latter Day Saints' Church, and during his residence in Kewanee Mr. Chisnall has served as pastor of the church of that denomination at this place. The congregation now numbers about one hundred families, and they have erected a good modern church edifice. Fraternally Mr. Chisnall is a member of the Knights of Honor, No. 1173, of Kewanee, and the blue lodge of the Masonic order at this place and the chapter and commandery at Princeton. He affiliates with the Republican party but has never taken an active part in politics. From 1892 with 1898 he was with the Kewanee Coal Company, and the following year was appointed by the mayor as collector of special taxes, water rents, etc., which position he is now most creditably filling. He has also served as health officer and justice of the peace since I893. He has led an upright, honorable and useful life, and is highly respected and esteemed by all who know him.

SOURCE: THE Biographical Record of Henry Co, Illinois. p 30

John and Thomas did pretty well for themselves. According to my grandmother, her mom was born "with a silver spoon in her mouth," and the family did not have to work for a living. The commercial building mentioned in John's bio was still in the family during my grandmother's early life. I'm not sure if this was the only property the family owned in the "heart of the city." Either he acquire more property or this was a very large commercial building because my grandmother said that her family owned a whole city block in downtown Kewanee.

And, of course, we lost it all. On the night of my grandma's wedding, just after she left with my grandfather on their honeymoon, downtown Kewanee burned to the ground. The property was all owned by my great-great grandmother at that time. According to my grandmother, my great-great grandmother's attorney had failed to renew the insurance on the family's property in town and it was a total loss. I think my great-great grandmother sold the remaining vacant lots. I've always thought that there was more of a story to this episode in my family's history, but I've never heard what it might be. Conspiracy? Incompetence? I don't know. In any case, all that we had left was the house.

My great-grandmother inherited the house upon her mother's death. When her husband, my great-grandfather died, she couldn't afford to keep it. I don't know when, but at some point in the late 1950's (?) she sold the house and moved in with my grandparent's in Chicago.

My grandmother took my sister and I by the house in 1985. It didn't seem to be in too bad of shape at the time. There were two big changes however. First, the carriage house is gone. Second, the entire front porch is gone. Some fugly stoop (concrete steps?) had replaced it. I haven't seen the house since, but I hope the last 22 years haven't been too unkind to it.

My great-uncle Chuck (my grandmother's brother) drew me the house's floor plan. So, if anyone out there buys the house and wants to restore it, I can tell you were everything was circa 1950. And, I don't think my family did too much to the house in their time there so it should be accurate back to a much earlier date.

I can't say that I've ever had any urge to move to Kewanee, Illinois. No disrespect to the home of my ancestors, but there was probably a reason why my grandmother and all of her siblings left and never moved back. Besides, after 20-some-odd years of living in the rolling hills of Arkansas, places this flat creep me out. However, I sometimes daydream of buying the house and restoring it just out of principle. You know, make a family museum at the very least or something like that. Utterly impractical, I know. And, I frankly don't have the fire in me or means to do it. Still, a nice thought I guess. Maybe after I get that whole book and movie deal worked out, I'll hire someone to do it for me.

In anycase, if there are any aspiring housebloggers out there that happened to have bought the ol' family homestead, let me know. My dad and I are probably the only ones left who know anything about the house's history. We'd be willing to share.



Anonymous tarr said...

Have you gotten onto Google maps and looked for it?

You seem to have escaped your morman republican yankee heritage well. Well, what side was he on during the War of Northern Aggression?

11:14 AM  
Blogger John said...

He lived in Pennsylvania during that time, but, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn't an active participant during the war. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure if or when he became an American citizen.

The rest of my family was still in the Old World, so the war is a kind of non-event as far as our family history goes. Now, Scarlet's family is a whole different story.

11:33 AM  
Blogger John said...

Oh, regarding Google maps, I have tried that. At the level of magnification available, I could pick it out. Good idea though.

11:35 AM  
Blogger John said...

Damnit. I meant to say "couldn't pick it out."

11:36 AM  
Blogger Fargo said...

Quite a story. Part of my family is also from Kewanee. My grandfather left there in the early 1930s, because the biggest businesses (including Kewanee Boiler) shut down in the depths of the Depression and there were few jobs to be had.

His grandfather owned a general store/ butcher shop and had given him a job as apprentice butcher. He managed to cut off the tip of one finger while cutting meat and decided that being a butcher was not for him. He took a chance and moved to Chicago, where he met my grandmother.

Many of my grandfather's generation (1910s) left Kewanee due to lack of jobs. A handful of folks from a few branches of the family remain there, but most of our family members in Kewanee are in the graveyards.

I visited there 2 years ago and met some family members still there. It's an attractive small town. Many of the old houses have survived and are well kept. Your family's old house may still be there.

5:18 AM  
Blogger John said...


That is pretty much what my family did too. They all left for brighter futures elsewhere. My grandmother went to Chicago where she met my grandfather. Glad to hear the town is still in good shape. Are you related to any Damaskes in Kewanee? Those are my grandmother's father's family.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Fargo said...

John - I don't think the Damaskes are related. I haven't seen the name anywhere in the family tree. My father's father's family is Kurbat - they're the ones who had the general store/butcher shop in Kewanee.

The Millers, Lempkes, Gleichs and Skoglunds are relatives from a few generations back.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I visited. It really was a pleasant surprise to see how nice the town looked and how many beautiful old houses were still around.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Lee said...


I live here! 423 S. Tremont

I was researching past owners Wilsey (the builder) & John Chisnall.

no, you can't buy it. lol. We bought it in 1993 and have spent the last 14 years working on it. one word. duplex. what were they thinking!

Lots of charm still remained. including the massive oak trim that was refurbished by previous owners. I would love to talk abt the house. We are avid historians and enjoy the search.

sorry to ramble, but my gosh what was the luck of that?


ps. can i get a copy of that picture? I have a few, but none head on. also, ask your family whose name is carved into the dining room window, there are different stories abt it.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I just happened to be web surfing and came across these pix and comments. FYI I also used to live at 423 S. Tremont!! Our family moved there in 1954 and we lived there till roughly 1970 or so. Beautiful big house for 8 kids. Our dad was the newspaper publisher for the Kewanee Star Courier for many years. Last name is Moriarity. In the pix that's a box elder tree on the left and an elm on the right. All the elm were cut down during the 60's with dutch elm disease. In my old records we probably have lots of old pix. My folks are still alive and I'm sure they have lots of old pix. I don't recall anything about a name in the dining room window. What is the name?

For your info next door to the south lived two sisters named Oliver, on the other side were Georgia and Eleanor Cummings, and next to them was Bernard and Minnie Hill. Dr. Terry's doctor office was behind us.

12:05 PM  
Blogger John said...


Thanks for the email. The name in the dining room window is "John." We have no idea who put it there. I've sent you an email and look forward to hearing from you!

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Interesting commentary. The Oliver sisters were twins. Helen and Hazel and they never married. They were my grandfather's half sisters. His name was Henry Oliver and my father's name was Thomas Oliver. We lived in Kewanee until 1959 then moved to Sacramento, Ca. He co-owed Buntin and Oliver Jewerly Store. I was in the Oliver home only a few times.

9:40 PM  

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