ASHTON – Small towns are built on friendship, hospitality, and little bits of folklore that residents believe but rarely are verified.
In the case of the Kida home at 511 Richardson Ave., small-town folklore turned to fact through research and a little bit of luck.
Built in 1920, the red brick home owned by Andrew and Kristen Kida is believed to be the only home in Lee County designed by famous Rockford architect Jesse Barloga.
When Andrew, a 44-year-old with a master’s degree in public administration, and Kristen, a teacher in Rochelle, moved to Ashton in 2006, it was the handcrafted breakfast nook with stained-glass windows, the second-story bay window, and the original shutters that they fell in love with, not local rumor of who had designed the home.
“When we were waiting to buy it, I would drive by and look at the window and the crab apple tree in the back, which was blooming beautifully at that time of the year,” Kristen said.
They decided to delve deeper into the history of the home they loved so much. Their starting point: The rumor that it had been designed by Jesse Barloga and his firm, now known as Tyson and Billy Architects, in Rockford. They began what’s become an ongoing search for documents pertaining to Barloga’s work and, more specifically, to their home.
They found them, among other places, at the architecture firm, and at the Lee County Courthouse.
At first, Kristen was nervous that it might not be a Barloga, but “as soon as I saw the designs, I knew. I said, ‘That’s my nook! That’s my fireplace!’”
The most interesting of the documents included the Barloga ledger, with “Stephan, G.B.” as number 115 and the design prints for their own home, which had survived all those years.
The numbering started at 100, and the Kidas quickly realized that of all the structures the architect had designed, theirs was only his 15th project.
The commissioner of the home, Lee County Coroner George Stephan, whose grave was one of several that Andrew cared for while working for the village cemetery, was their greatest surprise.
For the Kidas, the research has been unendingly satisfying.
“The whole uncovering of the history of the building has been a real treasure hunt for us, which has really renewed our love with the home,” Andrew said.
The story does not end there. After it was discovered that the Barlogas had been reburied in an unmarked grave after the mausoleum Jesse designed had fallen into disrepair, the Rockford Historical Society took steps to acquire a headstone. A contest was launched, and Tyson and Billy designed the winning entry, using Barloga’s own signature taken from his designs.
The signature that was used to create the headstone came directly from the plans used to design the Kida home.
The Kidas plan to restore the historical aspects of their home, to recreate Stephan and Barloga’s ultimate vision.
They say it’s one important adventure that all homeowners should undertake.
“It is interesting to find out the history of your house, especially if it is an older house,” Andrew said.
“Go back and find out why it is there and how it was done, and if you are lucky you can trace it back the way we have and find out the history behind the people who were involved in the whole thing and create those connections.”