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‘Always Us’: A couple's love lives on in Savanna, where a man's home is a castle

SAVANNA – When a Savanna couple set out to celebrate their fairy-tale romance, they took it to a whole other level.

They turned their home into a castle.

Ensconced atop a bluff in the riverside town, Havencrest Castle truly is a labor of love, a testament not only to the love shared by the couple who turned a mansion into a masterpiece, but also to their love of a time of opulence and elegance, when American aristocrats donned their finest evening wear to host soirees with help from Emily Post.

For Alan and Adrianne St. George it was home, a romantic refuge from the modern world that became their little slice of haven on Earth.

Today that lavish lifestyle lives on inside sculpted castle walls and beneath ceilings adorned with art, and although Adrianne died in 2006, Alan is working to show that love really is eternal as he continues to work on the castle, and share it with the public.

“I feel it is my job to finish what we started here,” he said.

Havencrest history

The St. Georges started on their path more than 40 years ago, when they began their goal to live like Havencrest’s original owners, Simon and Frances Jane Greenleaf.

“Our mission statement was not only to recreate the house, but the lifestyle of the American aristocracy,” Alan said.

Today, they Greenleafs’ home, Hillside, serves as a visitor center for Havencrest Castle, which is behind locked gates at the end of a driveway, accessed via a one-lane road from the street below.

Simon Greenleaf owned the Savanna Times, and later the Savanna Journal with his son, Francis; the newspapers eventually merged into today’s Times-Journal.

The Greenleafs died in 1944, and Hillcrest passed through several hands before the St. Georges moved to Savanna in 1976 from Oak Park. Alan had launched a costume and mascot-making company, now known as Facemakers, after finding success as a student at the Chicago University of the Arts.

“In 1972, he was hired to promote the horror movie ‘Frogs,’ and wore a frog costume while handing out jumping frogs,” said Nancy Willis, Facemakers’ general manager. “He didn’t like the costume, so his friends helped him make his own.”

That costume became St. George’s hopping stone into costuming. He sold the frog’s head to a costume shop owner in Chicago, and eventually started creating and selling costumes. Today, a movie poster from the film hangs in the company’s office, now in an old grade school on Chicago Avenue, where it moved after being housed at Havencrest for its first 23 years.

Facemakers’ success enabled the St. Georges to expand Hillcrest’s original 22 rooms to 63, with sumptuous decorations reflecting Alan and Adrianne’s interests and appreciation of other cultures.

Before visitors even enter the home, they’ll see some of the features the couple added: A statue of the Roman god Neptune riding a lion sits atop the front steps, while turrets and towers peer out from above the lush foliage that surround the home.

The St. Georges hosted dinner parties and holiday events through the years, hiring a staff to help them. Adrianne owned a large collection of etiquette books, including all of Emily Post’s works.

“She loved doing events in the Victorian and Edwardian style. She’d have a button she’d push to have the servants bring the next course,” Alan said.

The mansion’s staff is down to about half a dozen people today, some third-generation employees of the St. Georges.

The couple also gave back to Carroll County, with Adrianne serving as the founding director of the its Humane Society.

Opulence and variety

Havencrest shows off Alan’s skills as a sculptor and a painter; his art adorned walls and ceilings.

Many rooms in the original part of the castle are decorated in traditional Victorian designs. Other rooms feature Chinese, Persian, Egyptian, and Indian themes, as well as a medieval hall, and a conservatory with Chicago-style architecture. Many of these rooms are open on the tours, the rest are Alan’s private residence.

The front hall has a 135-pound sculpture of a cherub with a light fixture, replicating a design from the Titanic, reflecting Alan’s interest in the doomed ocean liner. Also on display is a trophy presented to Harry Houdini in 1908.

The “peacock room” is covered with peacock feathers, while Alan’s dressing room contains a variety of canes and a gold-covered tooth from an Albertosaurus dinosaur.

Cherubs can be found in many rooms, since they were a favorite of Adrianne’s. Alan, who met Adrianne when he was 13, said she collected them all her life.

Symbols of their love are on prominent display: A large photo of Alan and Adrianne costumed as royalty hangs over one of the staircases, and in the Indian-themed room, paintings portray Alan as a maharajah, or Indian high king, and Adrianne as his queen.

Their personal seal, marked with their motto “Semper Nos” – “Always Us” in Latin – is incorporated into a stained glass window in the medieval hall and elsewhere around the mansion.

Love lives on

When Adrianne died, Alan spent 5 years mourning her loss and sculpting, creating pieces for celebrities such as Siegfried and Roy and Neil Patrick Harris.

Later, Alan turned his attention back to Havencrest, beginning work on the grand ballroom, a project still underway today. Alan said his wife envisioned the room being open to the public for weddings.

“It would’ve been a temple of love,” with weddings in the garden just beyond, Alan said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

For a time, he opened 23 rooms for public tours, and since decided to allow self-guided visits in October.

“We had 3,000 people tour here in October 2018. One day, we had 439 people. They came from the Quad Cities, Chicago, Iowa City, Wisconsin, Utah, Nebraska, and Canada,” he recalled.

The castle will open again next month.

As for what the future holds, Alan is working to make sure love lives on.

“I have created a living trust which names current employees and friends to take over when I am no longer capable, or upon my death, “ he said.

“A public life for Havencrest is part of the plan, and based on the success we’ve seen so far, I have great confidence that will only increase in the years ahead.”

TAKE A TOUR

Havencrest Castle, 140 N. Fifth St., 815-273-3900, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in October. Tickets cost $20 for those older than 18, $15 for children and veterans.

Go to havencrestcastle.com for tickets and more information.

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