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Local History | Alto Pass architectural gem

Local History | Alto Pass architectural gem

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Situated on a hilltop in Alto Pass is the Havisham House owned by Nick and Jerri Schaefer of Anna.

An exquisite example of 1892 French-Victorian architecture, the brick home was painstakingly restored by the Schaefers after they purchased the property from Tra Bel Schae Properties in 2016. 

Now an exceedingly popular all-inclusive wedding venue and vacation rental, Havisham House is an architectural gem in Southern Illinois. With its original carriage house behind the home and its sprawling, manicured lawn, the Havisham House holds innumerable treasures inside its walls.

The home was in a state of extreme disrepair, after lying uninhabited for many years, the effects of time and inclement weather apparent to passersby. Jerri Schaefer, whose favorite novel is "Great Expectations," gave Havisham House its moniker just before renovations began. 

“When we found the house, I thought how [Miss Havisham’s] house had gone to ruins. It reminded me of how her mansion went to nothing. So when we bought this house, I said we had ‘great expectations’ for giving this house life,” shared Schaefer.

Schaefer said she and her husband were adamant about preserving every original element of the home that they could and their stance is evident in the beautiful original wood flooring, baseboards, moldings and windows that were restored and repaired. 

The kitchen and master bathroom were updated with modern appliances and fixtures and the space under the stairway was turned into a powder room.  Those improvements do not take away from the charm of the historic home, but only add contemporary comforts.

Stepping into Havisham House is magical, to walk through each room and hear footfalls on the charming original hardwood floors and stairways or run a hand along the ornately carved moldings.

The space is airy, with high ceilings, and has plentiful natural light.  While the hilltop location creates a cool breeze throughout the home in warmer months, the Schaefers added central air conditioning for the comfort of guests, especially wedding parties.   

The elegant antique furniture incorporated throughout Havisham House was provided from the Schaefer’s own collection, with the buffet, dining room table and hutch belonging to Nick’s grandmother originally.

Some aspects of the home were added by the Jeremiah family, who owned the home in the second half of the 20th century. Jeremiah enclosed the back porch with two expansive walls of windows and added two stained glass windows on the second floor, as a gift to his wife who adored dogwood trees. 

The enclosed porch is now a favorite room for many guests, with sunshine filling the space for an enchanting and relaxing place to enjoy coffee and breakfast.  

Havisham House was originally intended to operate only as an overnight vacation rental, conveniently located along the Shawnee Hills wine trail and central to a number of hiking trails popular with locals and tourists alike. 

Both the main house and the carriage house sleep up to six people each.  When guests began requesting weddings on the site, and after some trial and error using tents, the Schaefers decided a permanent structure on the property would offer a better option to couples. 

In 2020, the Schaefers completed construction of a wedding pavilion on the property, nestled just below the hill and behind a row of trees. The venue can hold up to 200 guests and the wedding packages offered allow for the wedding party and family members to enjoy a full weekend of events in one location. The Schaefers provide chairs, tables and linens for the pavilion, also. 

The pavilion has a large, arched front entryway and the front wall is made up of floor-to-ceiling, open windows. The unique construction of the pavilion also allows the walls on both sides of the structure to slide open for increased natural light and refreshing air flow. The tall ceilings, with exposed wooden beams, and the stone rear wall of the pavilion make the perfect blank canvas for brides and grooms to decorate the space to their liking. 

Jerri talks excitedly about how brides in the past have adorned the pavilion with twinkle lights, different floral arrangements and the unique choices of catering options such as appetizer stations and handmade dessert spreads. A bubbly and warm person, she genuinely loves providing a space for couples to have the weddings of their dreams, providing assistance however it is needed. 

“It’s so fun seeing their creativity. We are as hands on or as hands off as they want us to be.  We don’t want to hover.  But if they need us, we’re right here,” shared Schaefer. 

A variety of packages are offered at Havisham House, including lodging.

“With the big weddings especially, there is a lot of stress on the bride. I didn’t want the bride and groom have to get up early the next morning after their wedding and check out and hurry to gather the things.  They’re exhausted,” said Schaefer. 

The main house is usually used by the bridal party, with the groom and his crew staying in the carriage house. The Havisham House is the perfect setting for photos of the bride preparing for the ceremony, walking down the stairway in her gown and veil. Both inside the home and outside it, wedding photographers continually capture amazing shots, with the home and grounds creating an enchanting backdrop.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the occasion of the first wedding in the pavilion until June 2020, the venue is booked with close to 20 weddings for the remainder of 2021. So many couples, who chose to delay their nuptials due to the pandemic, are now ready to celebrate their union in the historic, charming and luxurious Havisham House. 

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