Restoration of the Ellwood Mansion


The Ellwood House Association is pleased to announce a challenge grant in conjunction with the Jeffris Family Foundation of Janesville, WI. Committed to authentic, high-quality restoration, the Jeffris Family Foundation was established in 1979 to support the preservation of significant historic structures of national importance in smaller towns and communities in the Midwest. The Ellwood House Association is fortunate to have an opportunity to preserve and restore the 1879 mansion with the kind support of this venerable foundation.

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In 2017, the Jeffris Family Foundation funded 50% of a Historic Structure Report (a detailed investigation of the building by specialists). Now, with report in hand, we have identified a number of the many significant projects to preserve the mansion and its historic contents for future generations of visitors. The Jeffris Family Foundation will provide 33% of our campaign goal. But, it’s all or nothing, and we need to hit our target within three years in order to get their match. Our goal of raising $975,000 would mean that we need to raise $650,000 from the community by June 2021, and the Jeffris Family Foundation will grant us the remaining $325,000. This type of opportunity rarely comes along!

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The Ellwood House Association and the DeKalb Park District have a 50-year history of operating the site together. In that time, both organizations have written and been awarded funds for authentic restoration and rehabilitation of specific areas of the site. Now, we are building on the work accomplished in the past and capitalizing on the opportunity provided by the Jeffris Family Foundation to kick off Project 1879 for the mansion.

This restoration project is part of the Ellwood House Association five-year strategic plan. As part of the strategic plan process, one of our members urged us to, “Restore rooms showing deterioration.” Another person in support of restoration commented, “Too often our throw-away society does not preserve the past. It is easier to destroy old landmarks and relics rather than maintain and restore them.” That is not the case with the Ellwood Mansion, and we are here to make certain that progress will continue with a meaningful restoration that will transform key areas of the building.


The opulent mansion, representing the fortune Isaac Ellwood made in the manufacturing and sale of barbed wire, is in need of restoration, preservation, and updated mechanicals, including air conditioning both for collections care and visitor comfort. Immediate attention, as set forth in the Historic Structure Report, will be focused on four key project areas in a phase I restoration. The report identified over four million dollars for potential work and repairs for a full restoration, but we have worked with the architects to identify this first phase of restoration as a meaningful starting point.

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The Ellwood House Association is perfectly positioned with the assistance of the Jeffris Family Foundation to move forward with these enhancements to the museum. You, our members, donors, and community members have spoken and voiced—through strategic planning surveys and interviews—what is important to you. The need to preserve the mansion for visitors to enjoy now and long into the future is paramount. We call on you to help make these changes happen. Please take a moment to think about how you will support Project 1879 and help to preserve this treasure.

For more information, please contact Brian Reis at 815.756.4609.

PDF of the Project 1879 Case Statement