Voices from History: From the Pastoral to the Rough -- an Evolutionary Tale
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-- The staff of David Davis Mansion and David Davis Mansion Foundation
By Pat Schley, DDMF Researcher
As towns turn into cities and their populations grow, city limits expand into what were once rural areas and farms turn into subdivisions. Older residents who remember what those farms once looked like bemoan the loss of farmland to urban expansion: “This would never have happened in the old days!” Is this a modern phenomenon or has it been happening for generations?
In the spring of 1848, David Davis was contemplating acquiring some nearby land belonging to an old friend of the Davis family, a former resident of Bloomington.
The farm belonged to Dr. John Flournoy Henry, Sr. (1793-1873), a physician who had settled in Bloomington in 1833. He was born and raised near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a distinguished family. His father, Gen. William Henry (1761-1824) served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. In the latter war, Gen. Henry served alongside 3 of his five sons. One of these was Dr. John Henry, who served as a young surgeon. He received a lifelong pension for his service during the war which he used for benevolent purposes.
In 1832, while living in Cincinnati, OH, with his 2nd wife [see endnote #1] and family, cholera broke out. He worked tirelessly throughout the outbreak despite the great danger to his own health. Afterward, he published a treatise on cholera which became a standard authority on the subject for many years.
Dr. Henry visited Illinois and found it very desirable, and in 1833, he, his wife, and their 2 sons moved to Bloomington. They traveled via the Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois Rivers as far as Pekin, IL. From Pekin, they traveled overland to Bloomington. (David Davis would, himself, follow this same route just 2 years later when he left Lenox, MA, and the love of his life, Sarah Woodruff Walker, to make his fortune in the West.)
In 1834, Dr. Henry bought 5 city lots (lots 7-9 & 11-12) on the north side of the square. He built his office on lot 12 and built his home and a stable on the other lots. They commenced housekeeping on Christmas Eve 1834. This was to be their home until they moved from Bloomington to up and coming Burlington, Iowa in 1845, where they lived the rest of their lives.
One of the things that the doctor and David Davis had in common was the belief that land was a very good investment. When he lived in Bloomington, in the mid-1830s, Dr. Henry bought a farm located approximately where the Bloomington Country Club and the Bloomington High School football field and the houses to the south of it are today. He built a small house on the farm for a tenant farmer to use and intended to someday build a larger home there for his family and himself, however, they relocated to Iowa before the larger home could be built.
Dr. Henry was also an avid tree planter, rivaling Jesse Fell in that regard. It is possible that a few of the gnarled sugar maples along Towanda Ave., in front of the Bloomington Country Club, were planted by Dr. Henry.
By May of 1848, David Davis was about to complete a deal with Dr. Henry to buy his Bloomington farm. The farm was located to the east of the Davis farm, land which Davis bought from Jesse Fell in 1845. At this time, the Davises were living there, in the old 1-1/2 story Fell farmhouse. The Henry farm was a beautiful piece of land called Bellemont, named thus either for its situation on a hill (a “belle monte”, or beautiful hill, in French) or for the Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary Belle Henry (1835-1894).
“I shall comply with Dr Henry’s propositions, & of course shall buy the farm –“ Bloomington IL, May 10 1848 (AL) DD-LWB
The Davis home and the Henry farm were approximately a half mile apart. It is so hard for us who are familiar with what that area looks like today, to imagine what it would have looked like in the 1830s and 1840s. In the black prairie night, the lights of the houses on the two properties would have been visible to one another. Back then, if you looked northeast from either house during the day, the timber on the Mackinaw River in Money Creek township would have been visible, though it was nearly 10 miles away!
There was, however, more than the beauty of the property to make the farm a desirable acquisition for the Davises:
“Dr Henry when he sold it to me, mentioned that the remains of his wife[i] were buried there, and that it pained him to sell it & enquiring what I intended to do with the field – Is it not strange, Dearest, that the place, where our poor child that did not live[ii] – is laid – should now be owned by us - & that after the lapse of eight years? –“ Bloomington IL, June 19, 1848 (ALPL) DD-SWD
There was a small burial ground on the Henry farm. We know for sure that, at some point, Mary Wilson Duke Henry’s remains had been moved there from Missouri where she had died, and that the Davis’ first child had been buried there in 1840. In May of 1840, when the 1st child, of what would eventually be 7 children, was still born, there was no public cemetery in Bloomington. Church burial grounds and family burial plots on private land were the usual places, depending on one’s means.
According to a timeline on the Evergreen Cemetery website[iii], it wasn’t until 1851, that the city of Bloomington bought what had been known as the Kimler Burying Ground for use as a city cemetery. It was re-named the Bloomington City Cemetery. For the next 11 years, from 1852-1869, the city continued to acquire land contiguous to the cemetery to enlarge it. This group of land acquisitions also became known in later years as the Old City Cemetery. (It was not until the mid-20th century that Evergreen Memorial Cemetery was established).
Two other Davis children, Mercer Davis (1845-1846) and Lucy Adam Davis (1850-1850), died before the City Cemetery was established. It is unclear where those children were buried. What we do know from their parents’ correspondence is that, wherever they are buried, they are buried together:
“Our dear child [Lucy Adam Davis] passed away very gently – and looked so like angel in her cradle that I could not have the heart to wish her back in this world of trial. She would have been 8 months in five days and was as lovely a child as any Mother could desire. When I weaned her I had a great struggle, as I feared the hot weather would prove fatal to her – but there was no alternative. And now George is our only child. Lucy was buried by the side of her brother [Mercer Davis] on Monday afternoon. We miss her glad noise but must learn to bear our loss.” Bloomington IL, September 5, 1850 (ALPL) DD+SWD-LAW
After the Judge purchased the Henry farm, he continued to rent the farm to tenant farmers who continued to live in the small house already on the property. When the Davises bought the land, it was being farmed by a man named Houghton. William Houghton[iv], listed as “Head of Household” on the 1850 US Census, was a brother of Stephen Houghton. Stephen was a 21-year-old farm laborer who was working the Davis farm alongside Lyman Betts[v], 22, a half-brother of the Judge. Both young men were single and enjoying the freedom that bachelorhood afforded them.
When the purchase of the farm was made, Sarah Davis and their 5 year old son, George Perrin (1842-1917) were back East in Berkshire Co., Massachusetts, where she had been visiting her family and friends since the spring of 1847, after the sudden death of their 3rd son, Mercer, in September, 1846, at the age of 10 months. The Judge was a delegate to the 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention and was gone much of the summer in Springfield, attending the convention. In the fall, when his circuit began again, the Judge boarded with friends, James & Latricia Robinson, when he was in Bloomington. In the hope of having on-site caretakers, the Davises rented their home to Rev. David I. Perry, his wife, Mariah Birdsall Perry, and his family.
. Rev. David Perry and his wife, Mariah Birdsall Perry
The Judge visited Sarah in Massachusetts in December of 1847. It was then that they decided that it would be best for her to stay through the next summer in the hope that she would be completely restored by a stay at the seashore, after which she would return home to Bloomington in the fall of 1848.
By June of 1848, the Perrys had procured another longer-term place to live and had moved out. Lyman Betts and Stephen Houghton, who had been living with the Perrys in the Davis house, were happily looking forward to doing what was called “keeping bachelor’s hall”:
“Boys [are]keeping bachelor’s Hall- Live Neat & pretty mean[vi]- I assure you – they dont [sic] have access to any part of the house except kitchen & sleeping room up Stairs- “ Bloomington, IL, July 13, 1853 (ALPL) DD-SWD[vii]
“Mr Perry’s people are moving today… Lyman & Stephen seem glad that they are leaving – They will live in the kitchen (the balance of the house being shut up) and Mrs Houten [sic] will cook their meat & bread – which they will eat cold -& they have a cow to milk – not using coffee &c – My impression is= they will get tired of this way of living, & finally board with Mrs Houten[viii], who lives on the Dr Henry place – The farming operations have been got along with – very comfortably – and both farms [the Davis farm and the Henry farm] look beautifully …” Bloomington IL, June 19, 1848 (ALPL) DD-SWD
There is no report on whether or not Lyman and Stephen found “keeping bachelor’s hall” any more to their liking than boarding with the Perry family.
Nearly 20 years later, on June 17, 1869, in Attica, Indiana, the Davis’ son, 27-year-old George Perrin Davis, married Eliza Ellen Hanna (1846-1921). Eliza, who went by the name Ella, was a niece of a prominent Bloomington lawyer, William Harrison Hanna. She and her sister, Sarah Elizabeth (1843-1934), often visited Bloomington before they were married. Sarah Hanna would also marry a local man, Bloomington physician, Dr. Hiram C. Luce (1839-1888), on March 16, 1870.
George Perrin Davis, date unknown
After George and Ella returned from their wedding trip, they lived with the Judge and Sarah. It was very common for newlywed couples to live with one of the sets of parents while they looked for or built a place to live, often not “going to housekeeping”, as it was then called, until after the first child was born.
The story has always been that George and Ella lived with the elder Davises until their new house was finished in the fall of 1870. It was built on the old Henry farm property and was called Bellemont, after the original name of the land on which the new house sat.
While doing some research for this article, however, I came across a Pantagraph article dated Saturday, November 27, 1869, which clearly states that George and Ella Davis were in the process of renovating and updating the original tenant farmer’s house on the old Henry property:
“THE FIRE ON THURSDAY NIGHT [Nov.25, 1869]. – The residence of George P. Davis, Esq., just east of this city, was destroyed by fire on Thursday night. The alarm was given in town, and the firemen soon had the machines out on Washington street, but the distance to the fire seemed so great and the roads were so muddy that they soon returned. It is not known in what manner the fire commenced. The house was unoccupied, as it had been for sometime [sic] undergoing repairs, and a large addition newly erected. We learn that it was insured to the amount of $7,500[ix], as follows: Mr. Davis had $4,000[x] upon the old house, in the Bloomington[xi]; Mr. Greenlee, the contractor[xii], $3.500[xiii], as a carpenter’s risk on the new part in the Aetna[xiv].”
1869 Pantagraph ads showing 2 insurance companies which held policies on the tenant farmer house that burned.
It is hard to imagine that firemen would just turn around and go back to the station because it seemed too far to go on the muddy roads but these were horse drawn fire engines on unpaved roads. It is likely that both the horses and the fire engines were becoming bogged down in the mud and to go any farther could have caused loss of either horses or machines. In any event, despite being a total loss, the house seems to have been well insured!
Interestingly, the account book entries for the “George Perrin Davis” account, lists under the heading “for old house”, the following expenditure:
This raises the question: was Alfred H. Piquenard, the architect of the David Davis Mansion and the house that would be built to replace the destroyed renovated tenant house, somehow involved in the addition to the ill-fated tenant house? That is a question that remains unanswered. What also is unclear is whether this renovation to the tenant house was being done with the intention of it being George & Ella Davis’ 1st home.
What we do know is that, by early 1870, both George Davis and his father were working with the distinguished architect, Alfred H. Piquenard (1826-1876) to build both a new post-fire home for the young Davises and the new David Davis home for David and Sarah Davis and their daughter, Sallie. It is amazing to think that Mr. Piquenard had time to do those 2 projects. In 1867, Mr. Piquenard’s firm, Cochrane & Piquenard, had submitted plans for the new Illinois capitol building in Springfield; in 1869, for the new McLean County Courthouse; and, in 1870-71, for the new Iowa capitol in Des Moines. All of these plans were chosen to be built. Mr. Piquenard was the supervising architect on all of these projects, two of which (both capitol buildings) lasted until his death in 1876!
This may also be a partial explanation for why, less than a month after George, Ella, and their 6-month old daughter, Alice Scranton, moved into their new home in late November, there very nearly was a serious fire:
“You certainly had a narrow escape from fire – How can Mr Piquenard excuse himself for defective chimneys – The house was built under his direction, & he is responsible for it – By the way are you sure that you are protected now? The examination into the defects of construction should be thorough, & the reconstruction be of such a character, as to leave no room no doubt that your chimneys & flues are perfect – More fires have occurred through defective flues & chimneys than in any other mode –“ Washington DC, December 18, 1870 (ALPL) DD-GPD
This would not be the last time that there would be a fire in a George Davis home, either on the Bellemont property or off.
The Davises lived at the Bellemont house for 16 years, until shortly after Judge Davis’ death on June 26, 1886. Despite the fact that they were quite content where they were, George Davis was persuaded to move into his father’s home on Jefferson St., the house that is today known as the David Davis Mansion.
Their old house was then rented to tenant farmers, one being Leander Young, who is listed on the 1900 US Census as being a “farmer”. Mr. Young and his wife, Lida Goodrich Young, lived there until 1902, when the Bloomington Country Club contracted with George Davis to lease the Bellemont house and the 52-acre estate.
In October of 1902, just days after the lease was signed, fire struck the Davises again. This time, it was a serious fire at the old Judge Davis homestead on Jefferson Ave., where George Davis & his family had been living for about 17 years. It began in the attic, accidentally, by workmen who were using alcohol-fueled blow torches to remove oil-based paint outside on the eaves. Though many of the furnishings and belongings were rescued from the house, smoke and water damage made the house uninhabitable. Even today, a number of the letters and documents held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield IL, show evidence of this fire as they bear scorch marks along the fold lines.
The family moved back to the Bellemont home, which they still owned, where they stayed until repairs to the mansion were complete, likely by late winter or early spring 1903[xv]. The country club was then able to move onto the Bellemont property in March 1903. In time, the country club renovated the old Bellemont house into a proper clubhouse and laid out a 9-hole golf course.[xvi] The renovated house served as the Bloomington Country Clubhouse for about 26 years, until a warm May morning in 1929.
George Perrin Davis' Bellemont Estate as it was when he leased it to Bloomington Country Club, ca 1903-1905
On Tuesday, May 21st, at about 11:25 a.m., a groundskeeper saw flames breaking out of the roof of the clubhouse. When the fire department began fighting the fire, it became apparent that the fire had been going for some time in the attic before the flames managed to break through the roof and be discovered. Only a few furnishings and personal belongings of the caretakers could be saved, otherwise, the structure was a complete loss in just a matter of minutes.
The country club held a week long fund drive in the fall of 1929 and by October 1930, the new clubhouse was dedicated. That building remains in use to this day. By 1941, when the second 9 holes were added to the golf course, Bellemont’s evolution from the pastoral to the rough[xvii] was complete.
 Mary Wilson Duke (1797-1821), daughter of Dr. Basil Duke of Washington, Mason Co. KY. They were married on 18 May 1818. The Henrys had a daughter, Elizabeth Julia, who was born on March 17, 1819. She became ill and died on September 13, 1821, at the age of 2 ½ years. Her broken-hearted mother followed her in death just 13 days later, on September 26, 1821, in Perry Co. Missouri. At some point, after Dr. Henry and his 2nd wife, Lucy Stringer Ridgeley Henry (1805-1876) settled in Bloomington in 1834, Dr. Henry arranged to have his 1st wife’s remains moved and re-interred on the Bellemont farm.
 The Davis’ first child, an unnamed boy, was stillborn in May 1840.
 William Houghton (1820-1852), brother of Stephen Houghton.
 Lyman W. Betts (1825-1888), half-brother of David Davis; son of Franklin & Ann Mercer Davis Betts.
 The word “mean” as used here refers to “basic or simple” living conditions- just a bed and kitchen.
 Though this letter describes the living arrangement for 2 other young hired men, George W. Walker (1832-1896) and Edward Scanlan “Ned” Walker (1835-1876), sons of George E. & Harriet Mercer Walker and maternal cousins of David Davis, it describes exactly the arrangement used by Lyman Betts and Stephen Houghton 5 years before.
 Mary Ann Sumner [Mrs. William] Houghton (1823-1853), sister-in-law of Stephen Houghton.
 This would be about $141,713 in today’s dollars.
 This would be about $75,580 in today’s dollars.
 Bloomington Insurance Co. which had its office in Schroder’s Opera House in Bloomington IL. Two of the directors of the company were Asahel Gridley and David Davis.
 Robert Greenlee (1830-1893) was the contractor on the construction of the renovation of the tenant farmer house, the c. 1870 Bellemont house, and on the David Davis mansion 1870-1872.
 This would be about $66,133 in today’s dollars.
 Aetna of Hartford Insurance Co. See top of left column. Their office was over the McLean County Bank.
 https://bloomcc.com/About-us/BCC-History.aspx If you read this history of the Bloomington Country Club, please be aware that there are several errors. One is regarding the origin of the name “Bellemont”. The name derived, in part, from the name of Dr. and Mrs. Henry’s daughter, Mary Belle Henry. George & Ella Davis’ only daughter was named Alice Scranton Davis. The second error is the date of construction for the home built by George & Ella Davis. It was built in 1870. The Davises moved into the home in October of 1870.
 The rough: an area on a golf course covered with tall grass that makes it difficult to hit the ball. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/the%20rough or the part of the course bordering the fairways where the grass is untrimmed https://www.thefreedictionary.com/rough