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No neon lights, just stunning homes 'On Broadway' for this year's Old House Society tour

 A mahogany bookcase in the foreground filled with leather bound books, behind which is a short hallway to a wall papered room with mirrored dresser in the background.
Old House Society
A sneak peek of one of the homes featured in this year's Old House Society tour. All the homes are on Broadway in Normal, after a decade of tours in Bloomington.

The Old House Society’s annual home tour takes place this Saturday, a popular sneak peek into the Twin Cities’ oldest residences that returns to Normal after more than a decade in Bloomington.

“We’re glad to be back in Normal,” said Todd Trainer, an Old House Society board member and the group’s foremost “door knocker.”

“All the houses are on Broadway, which is even better because it could be a walking tour.”

Trainer often finds the most successful way to recruit homeowners to opt into a tour is to show up in person.

“You kind of hear what the public wants,” he said. “They want the big, grand, old houses that look cool, and you just can’t wait to see inside. When I’m knocking, I don’t know what’s behind that door. And you wouldn’t believe the people who just say, ‘Come on in.’”

For the first time ever, the tour includes a members-only bonus house.

“Members are very important to our organization,” said board president Quentin Rabideau. Membership benefits include social events and discounts at the architectural salvage warehouse—a key resource to acquiring ephemera needed to restore old homes (or add character to new ones). Members also get discounted tickets to the home tour and bonus house access. New members can join on site Saturday.

“You’re really just part of a community and get to engage with other folks who have very similar interests to yourself,” Rabideau said.

The bonus house is off-Broadway, and the Old House Society is keeping the location a secret until Saturday. But board member Beth Vincent said the home is a must see.

“The bonus house is directly connected to the founding of this neighborhood,” Vincent said.

“The homeowners have done a beautiful job keeping it up to date,” said Trainer.

A difference between museums and tourist attractions like the David Davis Mansion or Ewing Cultural Center is that people live in these homes. The Old House Society has no purity test. You don’t get points off for trading a non-functional potbellied stove for a gas range—many homes on the tour showcase a thoughtful mix of historic preservation and practical modern amenities.

“I think you will see through our tours that the houses that you walk through represent he personalities of the people that live there,” said Rabideau.

While there is a kinship between homeowners who take on old homes, you needn’t own an old home to appreciate them. Vice president Deanna Stockweather used to live in an old home, but no longer does.

“We had kids growing up in the house; it wasn’t big enough for all of us so we moved to a newer home,” she said. “I love old homes still and I don’t want to see these old homes go downhill.”

What the Old House Society most wants people to know is that the Tour of Homes is for everyone.

“It doesn’t matter where you live,” Vincent said. “Anyone who owns an old house knows that they’ve gotten into a money pit—not an affluent situation. That’s what every old house owner says about the flaws in their house: ‘It gives it character.’”

The 2023 Old House Society Tour, “On Broadway,” takes place tomorrow from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tickets are $25. Details about how to get tickets are at oldhousesociety.org.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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