Character, convenience, and community converge in Bloomington-Normal
By Mary Ann Ford
Vicki and Tim Tilton like urban living and a downtown atmosphere while Kyle and Hulda Black prefer a family-friendly neighborhood.
When Bill Morgan was looking for a house, he needed something to fit within his tight budget - but he also was attracted to the look of a century-plus-old house with potential for restoration.
Each found what they wanted in Bloomington-Normal.
Tim and Vicki Tilton met, married and worked in downtown Bloomington in their younger years and often thought about returning to that lifestyle while raising their family in a traditional neighborhood.
That opportunity happened about 20 years ago when they were looking for space to move their business, Fox & Hounds Day Spa.
They toured a then-vacant, five-story downtown building that once housed a Sears and later a Miller True Value Hardware store.
“This is perfect for what we want to do,” said Tim, envisioning not only moving the business to the site, but also making it their home.
The deal was sealed and work was started. The second floor was renovated for Fox & Hounds Day Spa, and Tim began moving walls and redesigning the first floor to make way for retail rental spaces. The third floor was designated for office rentals.
The fifth floor was reserved for three apartments, including their own.
The Tiltons lived in a fairly raw space for about five years until the rest of the building was finished, then started work on their loft-style apartment.
The large windows on the west and north sides of their apartment give them a view that extends to the wind turbines in farmland outside of town and to the high rises at Illinois State University.
They used timber from one of the staircases to make a fireplace mantle. A rooftop deck provides space for an herb garden.
“There’s a sense of community (downtown),” said Vicki. “We love the eclectic mix of people.”
“A big incentive for getting involved in the building is preservation of what was a building of some character,” said Tim. “The footprint was already here; we’re not taking farmland.”
Six years ago when Kyle and Hulda Black planned to move to Bloomington-Normal for Hulda’s new job at Illinois State University, they had three criteria when looking for a house.
It had to be near Constitution Trail, within Northpoint Elementary School District, and in a safe neighborhood where their kids could run and play.
“Tipton Trails offered that,” said Kyle. “We can walk out our door and be on the trail and never cross a road.”
The subdivision also includes two parks and a pond.
“We went fishing last week,” Kyle said. “I had six boys out fishing. The simple fact we can do that within a short bike ride is really nice.”
There’s a vacant lot beyond their backyard, a place Kyle said is not uncommon for their sons, J.W., 7, and Titus, 6, to join many other neighborhood kids for a “street ball game.”
Another plus for the Blacks is that the subdivision is centrally located. “We have friends all over the world,” Kyle said. “They can’t believe we can get across town in a matter of minutes; it only takes a couple of minutes to get to the store.”
The Blacks plan to stay rooted in their neighborhood and the Twin Cities.
“We love the Bloomington community. It’s a great place to raise kids,” Kyle said. “My wife loves her job and we attend Eastview Christian Church (which is close by). It’s a trifecta.
“I’m not sure we could match it.”
Bill and Ellen Morgan
The old house on School Street in Normal was in bad shape when Bill Morgan considered buying it in 1971.
It had been converted to student rental duplex, housing as many as 11 people at once.
“People had kicked holes in the wall, it had hollow core doors and dropped ceilings,” he said.
But, the $21,500 pricetag was appealing to Morgan, who was a professor at nearby Illinois State University. The fact that it was a duplex meant he could rent the upstairs while he worked to restore the house to its original grandeur.
Research showed the cross-gable, late Victorian house likely was built between 1869 and 1871. William and Marion Pillsbury, parents of famed architect Arthur Pillsbury, purchased the lot in1869 and sold it for considerably more in 1971.
Morgan went to flea markets, antique shops, and garage sales to find cornices and doorknobs and spent years searching for solid doors others had tossed to the street.
One night while lying on the couch reading, he decided to take down the “ugly piece of greenish paneling” separating two rooms on the first floor. He found an original set of French doors.
“It’s very clear he loved this house and made it a masterpiece little by little,” said Ellen Morgan, who married Bill and moved into the house about 4 ½ years ago.
As an added bonus, the house is in an area that became the Old North Normal Historic District in 2003.
“It adds prestige to the address,” said Bill.
The Morgans also appreciate the sense of community in the district and are active in the 80-year-old Normal Avenue Neighborhood Club that has twice-yearly meetings, ice cream socials, and a Christmas party.
“I have no regrets,” said Bill. “Ethically, I’m really pleased to have saved a good old house.”