Springfield has a rich history. There are so many beautiful homes that have been standing for decades in the city. In this article, local author and historian Connie Yen takes a look at two stunning historic properties in the heart of Springfield.
The Keet-McElhany house is arguably one of the most famous houses in Springfield. The house was built in 1881 for local banker James Tolfree. In 1883, James E. Keet, and his wife, Katherine Holland, bought the house. James’ father, Josiah Keet, was a partner in Keet-Rountree Dry Goods in downtown Springfield. James worked for many years as the secretary and treasurer of the family business and eventually served as its president. The Keets enlarged the house and added the elaborate Queen Anne-style ornamentation that has made the house a downtown landmark for over 100 years.
By 1886, the Keets had completed the substantial changes made to their new homes. The porch was enlarged and became considerably more elaborate. They added the turret on the west wing, as well as an additional building in back that contained a kitchen and servants quarters. They later added a third floor to the house with a Queen Anne-style roof.
One of the extensive changes made by the Keet family was the addition of a large cellar. The new cellar included a tunnel that extends from the basement of the house to the servants quarters in back. The tunnel’s arched roof is visible above ground.
Though the primary renovations were done in a couple of different phases, there were ongoing changes to the house that are typical of long term home ownership. Since the Keet family was prominent in Springfield social circles, some of those changes were considered newsworthy and were reported in local newspapers, such as the addition of an electric doorbell.
The Keets frequently entertained the most prominent Springfield families in their home and their social activities were consistently detailed in local newspapers. In 1899, the Springfield Republican reported that “Mr. and Mrs. James E. Keet’s guests at Thanksgiving Dinner were; Mr. and Mrs. Lee Holland, Mrs. And Mrs. Ralph Holland, Mrs. E.J. Robberson, Miss Lida Robberson, Miss Emily Otterson, and Mr. Jamie Holland.” The Holland family were prominent in Springfield business and banking circles and were relatives of Katherine Keet.
Though this beautiful home is now surrounded by businesses and parking lots, it was once surrounded by numerous other beautiful houses. Unfortunately, those homes are no longer extant. Somehow, this house alone survived the commercial expansion of the central business district.
Katherine Holland Keet lived in her home until her death in 1920. James and Katherine’s daughter, Katherine E., was already living there with her husband, Claude McElhany. Claude died in 1956 and Katherine E. remained in the family home until her death in 1983.
The house contains over 6,000 square feet, including the basement and tunnel area. It has 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, and numerous fireplaces. Though it is over 100 years old, the Keet-McElhany house has been excellently maintained and still retains many of the original features.
Paul Nicholas and his family settled west of Springfield in 1902. Humboldt Place became the showpiece of their 176-acre farm. Most the former farmland is now developed, but the beautiful Humboldt house still remains, nestled in a park-like setting on the last few acres of the original farm. Nicholas chose the name of his new home based on the name of an Arizona copper mine he had once managed.
In November 1903, the Springfield Republican announced the imminent construction of “a very fine resident” for Paul Nicholas. The builder was A.R. Bowman who projected a cost of $16,000 to complete the house that would be known as Humboldt Place. Work was completed in 1904.
Like the Keet family, Nicholas and his wife, Roselle, were busy in the Springfield social scene. They were members of the Springfield Club and participated in numerous social events at the club with Springfield’s leading citizens, including F.X. Heer, Franks Fellows, H.B. McDaniel, and John T. Woodruff. The couple were also members of the Country Club and attended numerous events at the Colonial Hotel. Paul Nicholas just happened to be on the board of directors of the Colonial Hotel Building Company.
In 1915, Paul and Roselle’s daughter, Murillo, married Springfield banker James Claude McDaniel. The wedding was held in the drawing room of Humboldt Place, a “spacious suburban home…west of the city.” The wedding was attended by about 150 guests and was likely one of the main social events of the season.
Humboldt Place is a two-story brick structure and was built in the neoclassical style with a main central block and two wings. The front gable is supported by six Corinthian columns and is decorated with a round, stained glass window. Humboldt Place displays an uncommon architectural house style for the Springfield area and we are fortunate that is beautiful building is still extant.
Paul Nicholas died in 1936 of pneumonia at age 80. Roselle and Murillo, who had divorced James McDaniel, continued to live in the family home until around 1944, when she sold Humboldt Place and moved to a smaller home on S. Weller. She died of cancer in 1954 at the age of 81.
A special thanks to Connie Yen. Check out her blog, geneahistory.com for more Springfield History!