Preserving Duncan Manor: A Family Affair

(Randi and David Howell at the Duncan Manor. Courtesy of the Howells.)

December 3, 2021

(This article originally published in the November 2021 edition of The Arch newsletter.)

Randi and David Howell put their passion and creativity to work restoring Duncan Manor, a large, 1866 Italianate farmhouse sitting on six acres on old Route 66 near Towanda. This imposing house is highly visible from Interstate 55 and was included on Landmarks Illinois’ 2007 Most Endangered list. The couple purchased the property in 2014 and have transformed the once vacant and deteriorated brick house into a habitable space, creating a home where they can proudly raise their two children and welcome community members for public events. The Howells’ efforts earned them a 2021 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award, and they were honored alongside fellow 2021 award winners at a ceremony in October in Chicago.

For the award-winning preservation effort at Duncan Manor, the Howells listed family members like their parents and siblings as major project partners. Randi said family have helped “physically, mentally and monetarily” with the restoration since day one.

“We literally would not be here saving this house if it weren’t for the support of our family and community,” Randi said. “We may sound like a broken record, but it’s the truth, it really does take a village. Our family, friends and community are sharing in this vision and making it possible for us to continue our preservation efforts.”

(David Howell (on ladder) and helpers work on a historic mirror inside Duncan Manor. Courtesy of the Howells.)

The Howells know the historic home has meaning to people near and far, and ensuring its maintenance for generations to come is the couple’s goal. They aim to keep the story of the home and its original owner, William Duncan, alive through their preservation efforts.

“Old buildings are being bulldozed without a second thought in our country because they are believed to be too expensive to upkeep,” the Howells said. “We think differently. If these historic structures die with us, we pass on no visual history of times past to our children.”

The Duncan Manor is “dripping with history,” Randi said, and she loves that the couple’s son Arlow and baby daughter Greta are immersed in the home’s antiquity.

“Our hope is that our children grow up to feel as passionate as we do about these old buildings and the history they hold,” said Randi. “This landmark is their reality, and every day they get to see just how much appreciation the world around them has for our home.”

(A wedding at the Duncan Manor. Courtesy of the Howells.)

The restored Duncan Manor not only provides a home for the Howells, but serves as a place where the community can come for a reprieve from daily life. Today, the mansion hosts weddings, tours, concerts and other events.

“This house is our home, but it is a home we plan to share with the community as long as we are the stewards,” the Howells said.

Click below to learn more about this award-winning preservation project.

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