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Local News

Friends of historic Edwards House band together

Downers Grove resident Tom Nybo stands in front of the Edwards House, the impetus behind his starting the Facebook page Help save 942 Maple in Downers Grove.
Downers Grove resident Tom Nybo stands in front of the Edwards House, the impetus behind his starting the Facebook page Help save 942 Maple in Downers Grove.

DOWNERS GROVE – A passion for architecture, history and pride in the village of Downers Grove has drawn together a team of people from a variety of backgrounds in recent months with one common denominator: saving the Edwards House from the wrecking ball.

Collectively known as Friends of the Edwards House, Tom Nybo inadvertently started the group in April 2014 when he noticed the 1890s Queen Anne Victorian home at 942 Maple Ave. was up for sale. A condo development was planned for the space where the home stood, and Nybo took action. A Facebook page, Help save 942 Maple Avenue, was created and through word of mouth and shared interest in saving the home, the band of residents gathered steam.

While the condo development was approved by the Village Council, the core mission of the group never wavered: saving the home. The village, John and Lauri Tillotson and the developer are in discussions for a three-party agreement to facilitate the relocation of the home to the Tillotson's property at 743 Maple Ave. before the developer begins construction on the condo building this spring.

"It started with stopping the condo development, but we all want to save the house," Nybo said. "It is not a cookie cutter house. It is very unique."

Considering Nybo's history with architecture, it seemed inevitable that he would take on the venture.

"I have had a love for historical architecture my whole life," Nybo said. "When they tore down St. Joseph's Church when I was in the fifth grade, I would bring home bricks."

Nybo also fought to save the Mayslake Peabody Estate, a 39-room Tutor Revival mansion in Oak Brook, he added.

"Now it's hitting close to home and I am really fired up," he said.

Located just down the street from the Edwards House on Maple Avenue, Christine Martin and her family reside in a Victorian home that she and her husband have been restoring. In fact, most of the weekly meetings take place in her living room.

"I've been grateful to be part of this group," Martin said. "There are no power grabbers. Tom is in charge because he started it, but everyone works really well together, and we all have our different talents to bring to the table. I've enjoyed watching it evolve."

Those talents include architects, arborists, stay-at-home moms, attorneys, business owners, preservationists and a graphic designer, to name a few skill sets.

"I see a group of multi-talented and gifted people working together," Lauri Tillotson said. "I've never experienced that before. People don't always work well together."

In addition to the Facebook site Nybo started, the group's graphic designer, Melissa Nyssen, has created multiple fliers and signs that have been seen throughout the village in support of their cause. She also created the latest tree map that indicates the affected trees along Maple Avenue that would be impacted by the move.

Historic preservationist and architect Douglas Gilbert has offered his advice on the importance of the home to Downers Grove to not only the team of people trying to save the home, but has also presented his remarks to the Village Council.

Mike and Mae Behm were the first Downers Grove family to come forward to save the home by offering their property at 621 Maple Ave. The group grew when the Tillotsons stepped forward to offer their property because it was closer to the original location of the house and, they thought, a better alternative for the home.

"It seems like it is something that needs to happen," John Tillotson said. "Without (Mike) Behm doing groundwork, there is no way we could take this on. Life is about a journey, and we've made great friends out of this."

Ken Lerner, chairman of the board of directors for the Pierce Downer's Heritage Alliance, has long shown support to preserve the home by speaking at Village Council meetings.

"It's been wonderful to meet and work with these people from all walks of life about this issue and work together in a dedicated and effective way to make this project happen," Lerner said. "It is heartening to see people express that this (historic home) is important to them."

The PDHA is now offering support in a new way.

"The PDHA recently approved a measure that we would act as an organization to collect donations from people interested in saving the Edwards House to offset the cost of the move," Lerner said.

While Friends of the Edwards House continues to call, email and promote their cause, the ultimate fate of the home remains uncertain.

"Regardless of how this turns out, I know we are prepared to take on the next house or historic building," Martin said.

Nybo agreed. "We won't go our own way after this," he said.

The next scheduled council meeting to discuss the fate of the Edwards House will take place March 3.


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