Significant Structures | Staircase just 1 eye-catching feature of 'Busey block' house

Significant Structures | Staircase just 1 eye-catching feature of 'Busey block' house

URBANA — Prepare to be awed, and careful how you take the stairs.

Randy Kangas and Suzanne Bissonnette own the house at 804 W. Main St., U, probably the most majestic of several houses on West Main Street, the so-called "Busey block."

It is brick Italianate architecture, constructed circa 1870 as part of a cluster of homes owned by the Busey family.

The house was the home of "Black Matt" and Sarah Busey, a cousin to the family that helped settle Urbana, for whom the bank is named. A farmer, Busey was nicknamed "Black Matt," Randy said, because of his farmer's tan, which distinguished him from other Matthew Buseys who lived in the county.

Before you enter the house, there's a wonderful antique-y fountain on the walk to the door. (Kangas notes that it's actually a modern restoration.) Pachysandra covers the ground because it can survive a small forest of maples.

"We got rid of about 30 trees," he said, "mostly scrub, (invasive) Siberian elms."

High above, a belvedere, or cupola, serves as a sentinel atop the house.

Inside the front door, you turn left for the grand parlour, a room that look as like it goes straight back to the 1870s. Actually, the house had the common misfortune to be broken up to serve as rental housing for several people at a time, and its reconstruction took the work of several homeowners.

But, before you even enter the parlor, you see the main attraction.

It's a striking, almost hypnotizing stairway going up in a twisting helix two different people say reminds them of the art of M.C. Escher.

"If you like stairs, this is your house," she said.

The stairs are abundant, so the family has kept spry going up and down from the bedrooms.

The 2,500 square feet of home has features that are original or have been saved and preserved from other houses of a similar vintage. PACA had some of the materials, and Salvage One in Chicago also had replacements.

"Nothing is square in here," he said.

Several fireplaces are original. The dining room has its original ceiling medallion.

A single 12-by-12-inch oak beam in the basement, showing bark, supports most of the house — un-reinforced brick that's 2.5 feet thick. Walnut beams are in the attic.

The house had no plumbing, of course, so rooms have had to be changed to allow for bathrooms, the couple point out.

For instance, one bathroom took space from the kitchen with its original pine floors. The cabinets are original and look great.

The parlor has its original transom windows above the doors.

"The main windows are six or seven feet tall, light and airy," he said. The woodwork is stunning.

Other features had to go.

"There was a wood stove, way too close to the wall," Suzanne said.

Minnesota natives, they bought the house in 1992.

"We thought we were going to stay here maybe two years," Suzanne said. They both earned advanced degrees and became University of Illinois administrators.

She shows off a secret staircase that leads to the belvedere, from which it's easy to see Carle when the trees are bare.

"You can see the helicopters landing," she said.

They sit on a back porch — added to the house — and enjoy the privacy of their backyard. A dog makes it perfect.

Quite a block

The West Main Street Historic District, in the 800 Block of the street, was designated by the city of Urbana. The earliest surviving structure in the district is 804 W. Main St.

The city's website says:

— 803 W. Main is a particularly fine example of the Shingle Style of architecture most popular in the last few decades of the 19th century.

— 806 W. Main is a Queen Anne residence with its character-defining front porch.

— 807 W. Main is a frame Queen Anne residence with a wrap-around porch.

— 808 W. Main is a visual landmark with a Dutch Colonial Revival gambrel roof form, characteristic front dormers and full-width front porch.

— 810 W. Main is an intact Arts and Crafts bungalow with a sensitively enclosed front porch.

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