Haight Village Historic District, Rockford, Illinois

Haight Village

Historic District

Haight Village National Register Historic District — Rockford, IL

404 South First Street — Derwent House

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Edmund and Ann Derwent completed the construction on this beautiful home in 1865. Edmund Derwent owned a flour milling company on the Rock River. Derwent's brother was the owner of a lumber mill, also on the river. With the valuable resource of his brother's business, Edmund Derwent was able to build his house using locally milled lumber. The construction of the house was built essentially as two identical houses, one just inside the other, with a small space between the "two houses" for insulation. The house was built in this fashion for the insulation value of the brick but the economy of the home's construction may have been overlooked as the house was built with over 20 windows. Many of those original windowpanes remain today.

Outliving her husband, Ann Derwent was forced to subdivide the house into two apartments in the early 1900s to make ends meet. The upstairs part of the house was rented out with the installation of a door in the living room and dining room to separate the entrance of the two apartments. The house was able to stay in the Derwent family for many more years, eventually being split up into a rooming house with four rental rooms. During this era, the stairwell was painted black and purple.

Eventually, in 1980, Clare and Mary Wells bought the house with the intent of rehabilitating it and using it for their primary residence. They began by stripping all the woodwork which Clare finished after a few years. Unfortunately, Clare passed away before he and Mary were able to move in. After Clare's passing, Mary no longer had the heart to continue finishing their house without him. Throughout the 1980s, the house sat vacant and served as little more than a large storage unit.

Mary, as Ann before her, fell on hard times at the loss of her husband and was forced to begin selling off pieces of the house to help pay the mortgage. The original pillars for the porch can now be seen in the foyer of Lino's Italian Restaurant on E. State St. in Rockford.

In November of 1990, Ernie and Grace Petit purchased the house from Mary while they were still in the process of working on the rehabilitation of their home in Galena, IL. Continuing the work on their Galena home, the Petits moved into their new home and decided to tackle it from the inside out. After shoveling plaster for a week, the Petit's discovered the fireplace covered with cardboard. This just happened to be the next part of the house Mary intended to sell until the Petit's convinced her to sell the house.

When they purchased the house for $38,000, the furnace was not working, the porch no longer existed and the house did not have running water, electricity, or a working sewer system. Not to be deterred, the Petit's moved into the dining room of the house with a double bed on wheels, microwave, a refrigerator, and a coffee pot. They continued to move their bed from room to room and completed the renovation of the inside of the house in a little over three years. As they completed each room, Grace put her decorating skills to work, choosing the traditional Pennsylvania style you see in the home today.

After completing the inside of the house, Ernie began to restore the porch, using the Erlander Home as a design template. He sketched and cut each support bracket to replicate an original porch of the era. Petit also spent an entire winter whittling the fence in the basement to be an exact replica of the fence at the Washbourne home in Galena. After investing more than $40,000, the Petit home was valued at over $100,000.

In November of 2000, Doug and Joan Van Kessel bought the home from the Petit's, moving four houses west from their home at 401 S. Second St.

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