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New book commemorates the 150th anniversary of Bloomington's historic David Davis Mansion

david_davis.jpg
The David Davis Mansion, 1000 Monroe Drive, Bloomington.

The way Marcia Young remembers it, she was too "naïve" to decline an offer from the David Davis Mansion Foundation Board for her to write a commemorative book detailing the 150-year history of the historic home at 1000 Monroe Drive in Bloomington.

A historian and former site manager, Young is now also the author of a detailed history of the Victorian mansion that former Illinois senator and associate Supreme Court Justice David Davis built in 1872.

"I think my naiveté didn't allow me to hesitate — I just felt so honored," she told WGLT in an interview. "I kept saying, 'You know, if there's somebody else, please don't hesitate to ask them — don't feel you are stuck with me.'"

But Young had been chosen for the project for several reasons, including the fact that she'd been the mansion's site manager for 24 years before retiring in 2014.

"I think it was the length of my service, and the breadth of my experience in that position, and my academic training, because that was the academic training (that) was important to the publisher," she said.

But she also jokes about being tasked with chronicling the mansion's history at all, saying that she'd been picked for the job "because they couldn't get rid of me."

"I was still around, so they thought, 'Okay, We'll put her back to work,'" she said.

What exactly that work entailed, however, wasn't something Young understood until she started doing it. For that, too, she credits a sense of naiveté.

"My naiveté resulted in a far better book, I think, because I thought, 'I know this story. It'll be easy to tell.' And that was not the truth," she said. "I learned so much that is new, was new to me, and I think will be new to the readers. The story is far bigger than I could have dreamed of, before I started writing the book."

Young spent a year researching the mansion and the lives of its occupants — including Davis' wife, Sarah, his son George and those who worked in the home, typically "immigrant servants" — and a year writing the book.

"If I had been able to write as long as I thought I should be writing, they wouldn't have published (the book) at all because there's so much depth," she said.

Despite having more than two decades of experience giving tours of the mansion, being responsible for its upkeep, training volunteers and learning how to make history feel alive to the public, Young discovered she hadn't fully realized many aspects of the history that she was telling, including Sarah Davis' role.

"I really reassessed that and I give her an even bigger role than she had been given up until that point, or that I had appreciated," she said. "I (had been) concentrating on the life of Sarah as a very unostentatious person who lived in the shadow, in some ways, of her husband, and was the proper Victorian wife and mother and so on. I didn't fully appreciate the larger world that was out there."

The book, titled The David Davis Mansion: 150 Years at Clover Lawn, reflects a greater sense of appreciation for the Davis' role in American history, as well as the testament to history that such houses serve today.

"What I did was take this story and put it not just in the framework of how important Illinois is to American history, but how important understanding the mansion is as as part of understanding American history, writ large," she said.

"There are major themes in American history that the mansion illustrates and without those major themes, we would not understand, fully, the importance of the mansion, or its impact or what it meant to the people who lived in it, and how it represents the changing face of America."

The hardback book is slated to be published and delivered by March 1, 2022.

Copies cost $100 and are available for pre-order on the museum's website.

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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