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Putting it to bed: Delavan’s Allyn Mansion closing its doors

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Kayla Bunge
December 29, 2007
— The historic Allyn Mansion’s final guests depart Jan. 5, marking the end of the building’s commercial life and the beginning of its owners’ lives away from inn keeping.

“We’re old and tired,” owner Joe Johnson said.


Johnson, 67, and his partner, Ron Markwell, 71, have owned the Allyn Mansion, 511 E. Walworth St., Delavan, since November 1984. They opened the home as a bed and breakfast in 1986.


“We have a lot of things to do on our list, and if we’re going to do them before wheelchair time we have to get started,” Johnson said.


Among other things, the pair plans to travel, including spending several months each year in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where Johnson owns a condominium.


Johnson and Markwell have been “phasing down” the bed and breakfast from being open year-round to being open on weekends only.


The pair decided early this year that after their final guests left in the first few days of 2008, they would close the mansion’s doors.


Restoration


before retirement


Johnson and Markwell bought the mansion with the intention of restoring it—something they would do upon their retirement from teaching in northeastern Illinois.


Their “retirement project” quickly turned into more than a hobby.


Johnson and Markwell thought they would take eight to 10 years to restore the 1885 mansion to architect E. Townsend Mix’s original plans. They were wrong.


“Within 30 days after we bought it, we knew we couldn’t treat it as a hobby,” Johnson said. “It was too expensive.”


The pair worked to restore some bare essentials, and within 18 months, they opened the Allyn Mansion as a bed and breakfast with just three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen.


Complete restoration of the home took 18 years, and in 1992, the mansion received the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Great American Home Awards grand prize for its “meticulous and thorough restoration.”


Mansion on the market


Johnson said although it’s a “wonderful experience,” running a bed and breakfast is consuming, as he and Markwell live and work within the same four walls.


“We deserve a little rest,” he said.


The Allyn Mansion has been on and off the market for a few years, “but it was always a half-hearted attempt,” Johnson said.


Although now more serious about selling the home, Johnson and Markwell are waiting for the right buyer.


“We have our little (for sale by owner) sign out, and we’re waiting for someone to drive through and say, ‘I’m not gonna leave town without that house,” Johnson said.


The owners are asking $1.6 million for the furnished home. That’s a bargain, according to Johnson, who said it cost him and Markwell about $3 million to renovate the building and about $1 million to furnish it.


Landmark won’t be lost


An iconic figure in downtown Delavan’s landscape, the Allyn Mansion isn’t going anywhere, despite its closure to the public.


“It was always the biggest and best house in town, and it always will be,” Johnson said.


He said the town will lose a little something when the mansion closes, but as downtown Delavan’s future brightens, the mansion will be a part of it.


As for Johnson and Markwell, they’re losing a little something, too, but it’s a loss for which they’ve been preparing for years.


“It’s time to move on,” Johnson said. “We’ve moved on from lots of things ... You move on from one thing to another thing, and you look forward to the excitement of the next thing.”



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