Lovers of Frank Lloyd Wright homes will not be disappointed with a visit to Springfield, Ill. The Dana Thomas House is one of his best efforts and has been maintained in really pristine condition. If you are staying at the Inn at 835, you can just walk the couple of block to the house otherwise there is on street parking near the house and it should not be a great problem finding a spot.
Resist the temptation to try to enter one of the doors of the house, there is a visitor center that you need to visit first. After getting your entrance ticket, you watch a seven minute video that will familiarize you with the architect, the former owner and the house. You will learn that between 1987 and 1990, five million dollars in restoration was done on the house. Over a million people have visited the house since 1981. It is the perfect to begin your visit. There is no photography allowed on the tour so be sure to get as many photos that you want on the exterior of the house.
Tours are guided and begin from the carriage house. You may have to wait for your tour to be filled so allow time for that. The Dana Thomas House was originally constructed in 1893 in the Italianate Style. Susan Lawrence Dana hired the firm of Adler, Sullivan and Wright to modernize her home in 1902. It began a two year collaboration that produced one of the finest “Prairie Style” homes that Wright ever produced.
The design of this home is timeless: it looks just as modern today as it did over 100 years ago. You need to be able to climb stairs to take this tour, there are actually a lot of different levels, many more than you would expect by looking at the exterior. In all there are 16 levels to the house.
You are wowed from the first moment that you step inside this home, the entrance is extraordinary. You will learn that Susan was a very modern woman who was socially active and the house allowed her to do a lot of entertaining. The house as was Wrights style is constructed with natural and organic materials and three are interesting fountains and uses of light throughout the 12,000 square foot structure.
As you walk through you will find several rooms that were retained for sentimental reasons from the original Victorian structure. Understanding that Wright was given carte-blanche when it came to the amount of money that he could spend on the construction and you will begin to understand why this house is so amazing. All the little innovations that are included seem so perfect for today that it is hard to imagine they were conceived over 100 years ago.
The history of the house however was not all happy. While retaining ownership, Susan could not afford to live in the house after 24 years and moved into a smaller place not too far away. For 37 years there were corporate offices located in the house. The good news is that they did not destroy the beautiful unique home and it was able to be returned to its former glory and opened to the public. It is amazing that so much of the original pieces have come back home.
Our guide to the house was Rose and she made it very enjoyable. She was able to answer everyone’s questions and obviously is very passionate about her work here. Before or after your tour, take the time to tour through the garden and to really appreciate what a treasure this home is.