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Last updated: July 14. 2014 5:24PM - 9071 Views
By Linda N. Weller lweller@civitasmedia.com



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ALTON — The president of an Alton preservationist group is concerned, but hoping someone may buy a 154-year-old brick house at auction next month, which needs extensive renovations.


“It’s been vacant for four years, and it’s been in foreclosure limbo,” said Terry Sharp, president of Alton Area Landmarks Association regarding the once stately, Wise-Olin House at 1128 State St. in Alton.


“It is a great big house, it’s in jeopardy,” Sharp said.


Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., trustee for Fremont Home Loan Trust, is putting the property up for auction at 11 a.m. Aug. 18 at the Madison County Courthouse, 155 N. Main St., Edwardsville.


“The best-case scenario is someone on the 18th (August) makes a bid for a good price and fixes it up,” Sharp said. “My fear is they will get a minimum bid,” which the bank would reject.


“It would remain in bankruptcy” if that happened, he said. Condition, then, of the Victorian Italianate house would continue deteriorating. “If it goes like this much longer without help, it will be in jeopardy. The bank views it as a liability.”


While Sharp has talked from time to time with Alton code inspector George Carter and city Corporation Counselor Jim Schrempf about the property, he said he has not been able to reach bank officials about the house.


“People have asked me about contacts” regarding the house, but it wasn’t listed with a real estate company and previous owner Ronald Montgomery has left the area, so he could not help them, Sharp said.


The three-story brick house, with a newer sunroom addition on the north side, is mostly hidden from view along busy State Street with its overgrown bushes. Sharp said the house is just inside historic Christian Hill Historic District and offers “seasonal views” of the Mississippi River, namely when leaves have fallen from the overgrown trees and shrubs in its back yard.


According to Alton Township Assessor’s Office records, it was constructed in 1860.


Peter and Harriet Wise had the house built. The couple reportedly was religious and known for their generosity to their church. Peter Wise was a miller, of National Mills, which the firm of S. and P. Wise built in 1858.


In 1898, Mary Mott Moulton Olin, wife of Franklin Walter Olin Sr., bought the home from the Peter Wise estate. Industrialist Franklin Olin had an invention room in the basements where he carried out experiments for his inventions. He placed large shutters over the windows to protect his privacy so no one could observe his work.


The Cornell University graduate, who played professional baseball for one year, began his F.W. Olin Corp. in New Jersey, designing and building powder plants. He also “organized companies and created facilities for producing blasting powder for mining operations, ammunition for the newly developed breech-loading shotgun, and a variety of bullets, primers, clay pigeons and accessories to the firearms and munitions business,” an online family history says (http://olinfamilysociety.nozonenet.com/cms/node/302).


He later moved to Alton; the company eventually became the Olin Corp.


Frank Olin died of a heart attack in 1951; Mary Olin died in 1954.


The house’s external, original Italianate features — though in need of repair and repainting — include tall, narrow, twin arched windows, some topped inside with ornate gingerbread; massive front wooden doors with decorative, carved overlays painted black and peeling; and two concrete benches on the front porch next to ornate scrollwork. There is a cast iron balcony on top of the porch, with a second one on the south side of the house.


Scaffolding is visible through one window, another is boarded up after being vandalized or burglarized. Wooden siding at the rear needs repair or replacing but the brickwork appears to be in fairly good condition except for a chimney that partially collapsed.


Some rear windows hang open — that along with the chimney damage — allows rain to enter the structure.


The main level, rear balcony more recently was glassed in and a new glass door installed along the south side. Montgomery had, “Faith House” etched by the door; Sharp said Montgomery intended to open a religious retreat at the home.


The yard also needs work.


A former garden area in the back is overgrown. Brick steps leading from the upper level down a few feet to a lower level need resetting and repairing. Two rows of peony bushes line the walkway above the stairs, reminiscent of decades past when the bushes were popular fixtures in gardens.


Sharp said the large house potentially could be a bed and breakfast, and admits it would be expensive to renovate. AALA nominated the house for consideration as a “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” in Illinois in 2012, sponsored by Landmarks Illinois of Chicago.


The Olin-Wise House, though, did not make the list.


Since the home is vacant, and under a bank’s control, Sharp and a reporter were unable to view the interior this week.


The AALA “endangered list” nomination form, though, describes the house that at that time had large, elaborate plaster ceiling medallions; ornately sculpted plaster moldings; wooden Corinthian columns, crystal chandeliers, original gas light fixtures and etched glass side lights alongside an interior glass door.


The Assessor’s Office records say the house has 3,013 square feet on its main floor, with total living space of 6,045. It sits on a 115- by 220-foot lot.


Those records say Ronald and Romona Montgomery bought the property on Oct. 17, 2002, for $265,000. The assessor’s office lists market value of $89,750.


A legal notice that ran July 7 in The Telegraph says the property will be sold “as is” with no opportunity for inspection. For more information, it says to contact plaintiff’s attorney Codilis and Associates PC of Burr Ridge, Ill. at (630) 794-9876; or the Judicial Sales Corp., of Chicago at (312) 236-7253.


Reach Linda N. Weller at 618-208-6450 or on Twitter @Linda_Weller.


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