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Historical House: Riverlore mansion in Cairo is on the market

Historical House: Riverlore mansion in Cairo is on the market

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The city of Cairo has made a decision to sell Riverlore, the stately white brick mansion that has been at 2723 Washington Ave. since 1865.

The city purchased the home in 1999 from its fourth owner, Ann Wolter, for $250,000. The estate, at that time, was appraised at $675,000.

Plans were tentatively made to create a bed and breakfast of the four-level, eleven-room manse.

But, it didn't happen.

In the ensuing years, lunches and tours brought in crowds eager to peek into the luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms, the third-floor theatre, as well as the downstairs rooms that had served as the backdrop for the 19th century social life in the city's heyday.

Although popular, those lunches and tours were not adequate enough to keep the "white jewel" going, at least in the manner in which she was accustomed.

And now, the Victorian beauty is for sale, at the same price the city paid 16 years ago — $250,000. That includes the furnishings, antiques and reproductions.

Thanks to two grants, the reproductions were bought in 2000 by the city. One was from the Tourism Attraction Grant of Illinois through the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. The other was from the Southernmost Illinois Development Empowerment Zone.

City treasurer Preston Ewing said that Mayor Tyrone Coleman and the city council convinced themselves that their only alternative was to sell Riverlore because of the present economy.

Recent upgrades include rebuilding the steps that lead to the front entrance.

"That is at the top of our list," Ewing said. "The outside has been neglected due to the lack of funds.

"We will bring the mansion, visually, to where it should be, and will monitor the funds as the improvements progress."

He said the interior is in good shape.


The formal parlor at Riverlore is pictured with all its original furnishings.

A rich history

The home was built for William Parker Halliday, a Cairo businessman and riverboat captain, and his family. He was one of the five Halliday brothers who had extensive investments in the city.

Atop the third floor of the mansion is a "pilot house" on the flat roof, where Halliday could view the two rivers that he loved so much, and that figured highly in his wealth.

After 36 years in the home, the Hallidays sold the estate to Dr. J.J. Rendleman, whose daughter Adelaide, an actress on the New York stage and in French films, inherited Riverlore. She, with her husband, Frederick Grieve, a music publisher, returned to Cairo to reside in the home and become a part of her hometown's society scene.

The Grieves later sold Riverlore to Ann and William Wolter, the last owners prior to the city's purchase.

In 1901, when the Rendlemans moved in, they had installed the latest in heating, water and electrical systems. They also developed extensive landscaping, much of which survives today. The original picket fence was replaced with the elegant iron and brick structure that now surrounds the elegant grounds. Herringbone-patterned brick side walks were installed on three sides of the 3/4-acre property. A giant Gingko tree still stands, one that was planted by the Rendlemans after they visited New York City and saw those planted by the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, at Grant's Tomb.


The formal parlor at Riverlore is pictured with all its original furnishings.

Inside the home

The wraparound front porch, which helps in cooling and heating the mansion, was also the site of many social events back in the day.

Elegant double front doors, 10-feet high, lead into the front foyer, from which ascends a winding staircase, that ends at the third floor.

Beveled, leaded glass panels decorate most of the doors and windows, a reflection of yesteryear's luxurious lifestyles.

In the spacious dining room hangs a gilt-framed mirror from a steamboat, said to be identical to one that was hanging in the Halliday Hotel in downtown Cairo, only one of the family's many businesses.

Rendleman added the stained glass and the three bay windows in the parlor, as well as the stained glass of the library.

Another feature provided by the Rendlemans was the door of leaded, prismatic glass that leads from the library to the sun room. The door was a prize winner at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

The four bedrooms on the second floor includes two master suites, as well as a sitting room, each with a fireplace. A dressing room, cedar-lined closet and sunken bath tub are also unusual luxuries on that floor.

On the third floor is a theater, with seating for 18, a projection screen, curtains, wings and a backdrop. This is where the Rendleman sisters performed for Cairo socialites. There is also a large reception area, office and library there.

In 1957, the state was rumored to be making plans to purchase the mansion, in order to create a Mississippi River Museum. The plan fell through.

The Riverlore Society was organized after the city's purchase of the Victorian Italianate white brick mansion. These volunteers, including the Cairo Library Board, turned out simple, but gourmet, luncheons as fundraisers using local recipes. In 2000, they created a cookbook, "Out of the Kitchen of Riverlore," as another successful fundraiser.


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