Situated in many small communities in Southern Illinois are undiscovered areas of historical importance, nestled in amongst the modern buildings and homes, locations yet to be discovered by locals and travelers alike.
Once dubbed Millionaire’s Row, Washington Street in Cairo is one such spot full of historically significant homes, which leaves tourists and visitors in awe of the stunning Italianate and Victorian displays of architecture. The largest and most impressive structure on this avenue is Riverlore Mansion.
A stunning example of Second Empire architecture, with a mansard roof, ornate dormer windows, and a tower of sorts atop the third floor, Riverlore was built by William Parker Halliday in 1865. The mansion, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, boasts 11 rooms, three floors, a basement that spans the entirety of the home, and majestic magnolia, ginkgo and cedar trees on the property, which takes up an entire block.
Halliday, an enormously successful member of the Cairo community and the man responsible for much of the city’s development in the 19th century, was a hotel owner, banker, businessman in the industries of mining, railroads and lumber yards, as well as a steamboat captain. On the flat rooftop of the mansion, the chimneys were built to resemble a steamboat’s towers and an ornate iron railing encloses the entire area. It is said that the entrepreneur enjoyed crouching through the sliding door of the glass rooftop pilot house to remember his days aboard a steamboat, traveling the vast riverways on which he lived and worked.
“Cairo was built on a sandbar. They dredged and filled in low areas so there was nothing here. There was not a tree around and there were no factories. He built the highest home in Cairo and could see both rivers and the confluence,” said Matthew Endrizzi, who now owns Riverlore Mansion with his wife, Amanda. The couple, who reside in rural Union County, purchased the property from the City of Cairo and have been working tirelessly over the past year to rehabilitate the historic home with plans to open a bed and breakfast and lavish wedding venue.
The Rendleman family purchased the home after Halliday’s passing in 1899, and in 1999 the City of Cairo purchased Riverlore with plans to open a bed and breakfast of its own. As the fourth owners of the sprawling property, the Endrizzis are excited to be a part of history while also creating a boon for the economy of Cairo.
“The architecture and the history. I just fell in love with it. It was going to go to waste. Someone had to do something,” Amanda said.
While the inside of Riverlore Mansion is in excellent condition for a home built over 150 years ago, the outside of the structure was nearing permanent damage. The Endrizzis were ready for a challenge with the renovation, and have made fantastic improvements to the facade with plans to make minor improvements inside Riverlore to transform the home into a more suitable lodging place.
The pair, with the help of their construction manager, Jason Wyatt, and his team, have strived to keep as much of the original construction intact, only replacing wood and bricks when absolutely necessary. Pedestals from the front porch were sent to a company in Fargo, North Dakota, matched in style, and reproduced as the original pieces were beyond saving. The wooden porch railings, floorboards, and pedestals had not been painted in over 10 years, so Wyatt’s crew has worked to replace rotten pieces in an effort to save the overall structure.
“Jason (Wyatt) rehabbed basically all the wood and made it match perfectly. He took pieces that were bad and fixed those instead of replacing everything,” Amanda said.
Luckily, the bricks that make up the majority of the structure have stood the test of time more so than some of the wooden elements. A major undertaking in a home of this age, the minor repairs and a fresh coat of white paint will be all that are needed.
“The bricks are in really good shape. The house is so well-built that very minimal tuck pointing will be needed,” Matthew said.
Installed by Riverlore’s second owners, the Rendlemans, are the iron fences and brick walkways surrounding the property. The iron fences and gates, held in place by white brick pillars at the corners and entryways, are still standing strong and only need a good cleaning and fresh coat of paint. An arch above the main iron gate displays the Riverlore moniker, while the iron fencing is ornate and detailed in its design. The red brick sidewalk surrounding Riverlore Mansion, as well as the walkway around the yard, the rear patio and the outdoor stairway, are laid in a remarkable herringbone pattern and remain in near-perfect condition, each marked with the production year of 1908. During renovations of the landscaping, Matthew said the team plan on lifting the bricks surrounding the home, renewing the sod, and placing the bricks back in their original positions.
Inside Riverlore Mansion, the true delights reveal themselves upon touring the well-appointed common areas and luxurious bedrooms. The only major renovation inside Riverlore has been the kitchen, which is getting a complete update of the cabinetry, appliances, flooring and decor. The crown moldings, ceiling medallions, mirrors, fireplaces, doorknobs and tile are mostly original to the home and are exquisitely unique.
The home is built sturdily, with 18-inch-thick cement interior and perimeter walls, creating a well-insulated home in the winter and a cool retreat in the summer. Ten-foot windows adorn most of the first floor, which has a stately sitting room, parlor, kitchen, dining room and a sun room that was added at a later date. With such spacious and opulent accommodations, it is no wonder that Riverlore Mansion was the premier spot for entertaining in the latter part of the 19th century and later, during the Rendleman family’s ownership.
“Everything I’ve read, this was the house to go to in the 1800s,” Matthew said.
The detail in the decor and fixtures is not to be overlooked as those pieces show the craftsmanship involved in the construction of Riverlore Mansion. Majestic eagles are carved into the top sections of the pillars in the doorways. The ceiling medallion and light fixture in what was originally the dining room came from Europe and are of exquisitely elegant design. The stained glass door off the library was a prize winner at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The ceiling medallion in the library is an intricate carving of pineapples and various other fruits.
The bottom of the cherry balustrade, which winds in an oval spiral to the very top of the house, is a carved lighthouse original to the home and keeps with the steamboat theme originally devised by Halliday. Wall niches dot the winding wall of the stairway, creating perfect spots for seasonal flower arrangements and delicate pieces of sculpture.
On the second floor are three bedrooms, which all boast cedar-lined closets, plentiful natural light and fourposter beds. A large bathroom on this level, which has a hidden stairway previously used for in-home staff to access the kitchen and basement, will be remodeled and turned into two separate private bathrooms for guests of the bed and breakfast. The primary suite also resides on the second floor and is the epitome of luxury with a spacious dressing room, a sunken bathtub and marble tiled floors off the spacious sleeping quarters.
The third floor of Riverlore was originally the entertainment area, with an entire room housing an 18-seat theater complete with raised stage, vaulted ceiling, and smaller windows for optimal acoustics and lighting during the theater productions of the early 20th century residents of Riverlore. This room will be transformed into a large suite, but will keep with the theater theme.
While the basement of such a home may not seem like the most interesting area, the vast space under the first floor tells several stories of Riverlore’s past.
The rear of the basement has a florid white iron double door, adorned with grape leaves and vines that upon opening boasts an impressive wine cellar large enough to store several hundred bottles of wine. The kitchenette and storage area in the basement indicate the space may have been the epicenter of hospitality efforts during lavish events of the Hallidays and Rendlemans. A peculiar pass through has a window accessing two adjoining rooms of the basement, presumably used to hand over items from one room of the basement to the other.
The most interesting discovery in the basement is the unknown storage area under the stairwell leading down from the kitchen. While repairing the plumbing in Riverlore, Wyatt discovered tools and implements used in the original construction of the home that had been undisturbed since 1865.
“We found templates for the leaves of the crown molding, six of the flat stalks for the molding, and all the knives that were used to make the crown molding. They hadn’t been touched. There was an inch of dust on them,” Wyatt said.
Besides the practical value of this discovery, in aiding with future repairs, the historical significance of the find is quite magical. To think that upon completion of this grand residence, the tradesman placed the tools neatly under the stairwell and the door was not opened again until nearly 155 years later.
“When they finished the last piece of trim in the living room, they put them up there. It’s a time capsule,” Matthew said.
With the goal of preserving this historically significant piece of architecture, while also working to put Cairo back on the map as a tourist destination, the Endrizzis are the ideal owners to bring Riverlore back to its original beauty. Hopefully a new generation of visitors can experience the splendor of the grand mansion that the prominent William Halliday so loved.
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