Henry Ahrens House
Built in 1893, this historic home belonged to Champaign businessman Henry C. Ahrens and still remains in the family. It was designed by architect Seely Brown, who selected the Queen Anne architectural style for the home. It has an asymmetrical layout with an ornate wraparound porch, four kinds of wooden shingle patterns, and a slate shingle roof. The property is very well-preserved and still has its original carriage barn and wrought iron fence. The house has also kept its original light fixtures and radiators, much of its interior decoration, some of its original plumbing, and a claw foot tub.
Backstory and Context
Henry Ahrens was born in Oldenburg, Germany in 1837. As a teen and young adult, he was a sailor and traveled extensively in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and the Americas. While in the United States in 1860, he decided to join the U.S. Navy and serve in the Civil War. In 1864, he left sailing and became involved in a New York business that imported liquor and cigars. He married Anna Katharine Laun in 1870 and the couple had six children. Ahrens arrived in Urbana, Illinois in 1875, where he ran a saloon for several years. He later ran a saloon and wholesale liquor house in Champaign during the 1880s and 90s, before retiring and selling his business in 1898. Anna Laun Ahrens died in 1902, and Henry Ahrens in 1910. Their descendants have remained in the home ever since.
As Karen Kummer of the Preservation & Conservation Association writes, "The Ahrens house is the last single-family, owner-occupied house along East University Avenue, a predominantly commercial thoroughfare that once was lined with numerous single-family residences" (p. 3).
The Queen Anne style enjoyed popularity from 1880 to 1910. Typical features of the style include:
- round arches
- asymmetrical plan
- variety of patterns (in brickwork or shingles).
In Karen Kummer's estimation, the Ahrens house is a "textbook example" of Queen Anne architecture, thanks to its irregular plan, its steep shingled roof, and its variety of textures. The home's exterior, for example, contains four kinds of decorative wooden shingles (square, round, diamond, and octagonal). Pavilions and cut-away bays add further visual interest and asymmetry to the house. The L-shaped porch wraps around one corner and includes elaborate columnns and pilasters.
A wrought iron fence runs along the southern and eastern sides of the property. It features garland-patterned decorations with kissing birds as well as support posts with spear-shaped tops. The carriage barn is a 1.5-story clapboard structure with an attached chicken house. This structure is also original and remains in good condition.
Inside the house:
The entry hall boasts an oak staircase with double urn-shaped balusters. The fireplace mantel inside the sitting room is notable for its decorative tiles and pilasters. Decorations in the parlor, hall, sitting room, and dining room are all original to the house and are typical of Queen Anne-style residences. The designs are very naturalistic, featuring floral patterns (daisies, clovers, vines, acanthus, oak leaf), birds, and butterflies, plus large sunbursts in the hall. The wrought iron fence outside echoes these themes with its birds.
Kummer, Karen Lang. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, NPS. March 2011. Accessed November 17, 2017. http://gis.hpa.state.il.us/pdfs/113926.pdf.