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Local

Reversing nature’s way

Volunteers give new life to Franklin Creek house

FRANKLIN GROVE – Sometimes nature can be a little too aggressive.

Preserving nature is a mission of the Franklin Creek Conservation Association, but when it acquired a dilapidated two-story house 2 years ago within the Franklin Creek State Natural Area, plenty of green weeds and moss – both inside and outside – had to go.

What green is left to the park’s “1480 Building” on Old Mill Road is the paint job on the structure, built in 1973.

Restoring the house has been an ongoing project for the association, and a volunteer team meets Saturday mornings to gut, restore and rebuild to transform the property into a community learning center, creative kitchen for the association and rental for park interns.

Jim Lillyman, 66, of Dixon has led the restoration effort with a volunteer crew of a handful of people who show up each week to help wherever they can. All of last year was spent cleaning the 4.5-acre property, ridding it of trash scattered throughout the woods, and rotten material including a front deck.

That gave way to the rebuilding stage.

“We had to replace the whole face of the building, completely, from ground zero,” Lillyman said. “The decks were installed with the cantilever toward the building, so all of the snow and water ran into the building. It wasn’t built right to withstand that, and it rotted the whole face of the building.”

The house is next to the Franklin Creek Cabin, which is of similar architecture. Both structures were built as retirement homes for a pair of local men, and as both changed owners over the years, one became well-kept and the other not so much.

Restoration work began on the second floor, which is near completion. It has a new back patio, a raised loft and a tall ceiling with a window at the top. Also at the top is a large, 6-foot ceiling fan to cool the rooms.

Katie McBride, 27, of Machesney Park, is the association’s education program coordinator and a former intern. She moved into the loft area once the second floor was complete, and 2 weeks ago moved onto the rest of the floor. 

Most of the walls have the original 1970s wood decor paneling, and McBride recently got rid of the last chunks of orange and green carpet that lingered around. 

She enjoys the scenery and works at the park office when there’s work on the building, so there’s no inconveniences.

“It’s real nice. It’s quiet,” she said. “You can walk outside at night and hear the barred owls; it’s super cool.”

The ground floor looked like a basement Saturday with exposed studs, air ducts, a concrete slab floor and copper drain piping. A recently donated furnace keeps it cool in the hot summer. 

Saturday’s focus was completing the building’s front face and covering the insulation. 

“This building has good bones but just hasn’t been maintained,” Lillyman said. “The electricity was pretty decent, the well system was OK, and the septic was still good. Those are important.”

Among those Lillyman recruited to help was a high school classmate, Mike Cleary, 65, of Dixon. He recently came back to the area after 47 years away and has enjoyed his time lending a hand. 

“Work goes a lot quicker when there’s a lot more hands around,” he said. “What’s neat about this is watching this turn from a bad piece of property into a real neat place.”

Lillyman plans to take a break from work next month, and hopes to have the project complete by the end of the year.

“When you’re out in the woods like this, Mother Nature just consumes,” Lillyman said. “It’s aggressive against it.

“We tried to make lemonade out of lemons and gone with this plan. It’s coming along fine.”

To help

The Franklin Creek Conservation Association is renovating the 1480 Building at Franklin Creek State Park and is in need of suspended ceiling and interior siding materials, a commercial stove and stainless steel prep tables for a creative kitchen planned upon completion. 

Work days run from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Email engage@franklincreekconservation.org or call the association at 815-456-2718 to volunteer or for more information.

Go to franklincreekconservation.org/1480-progress to make monetary donations.

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