Blind Pig owner buys historic Solon mansion from PACA

Blind Pig owner buys historic Solon mansion from PACA

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CHAMPAIGN — The historic Solon mansion in Champaign finally has a new owner.

Chris Knight, owner of the Blind Pig pub and brewery, said he closed on his purchase of the house last week from the Preservation and Conservation Association, which has owned it since 2005.

Built in 1867, the stately brick home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Knight said he will likely make it his residence once it is renovated.

"I'm thrilled about it," he said. "The house has always been one of my favorite places."

The two-story mansion at 503 S. State St. — with its signature cupola, tall arched windows and wraparound front porch — is one of the last remaining residential examples in Champaign of the Italianate style and has remained relatively unchanged over the decades.

It was built by developer William Barrett, who sold it in 1869 to Abel Harwood. Frances and Abby Solon purchased it in 1907, and their descendants donated the house in 2005 to PACA.

Thanks to PACA's efforts the mansion is also designated a Champaign local landmark and has its own Wikipedia page, Knight said.

Knight considered buying it in 2010, when PACA put it on the market with a minimum bid of $325,000 after investing in major repairs, including a new roof.

But there were no takers, and PACA subsequently got two state grants totaling $500,000 for other renovations to stabilize the house further.

PACA listed the restored house again last spring, and more than 600 people showed up to PACA's open house, Knight said. He approached the group in May, but it took months to finalize the sale.

"Without PACA's help, it would be a pile of rubble now," Knight said.

The group rebuilt the front and back porches, added a new sunken courtyard and sump pits, restored the soffits and brackets and added electrical service. It had previously tuckpointed all of the masonry walls and stone foundation, added a waterproof membrane to the foundation, a sanitary sewer, water service and footing tile, and graded the site.

"The interior is the next challenge," Knight said. "Basically, other than a cosmetic remodel undertaken around 1912, little has been done to it since it was built. Walking into it nowadays is rather like walking into the past. There is almost no plumbing, and very little electrical service. Room layout, and decoration, is approximately as it was 150 years ago."

"You have to watch where you walk because you might end up on the lower level," he said.

Once it's renovated, Knight said he may sell his home in Urbana, a modern style designed by noted architect Jack Baker. Knight spent four years renovating that property and received a PACA award for his efforts.

"It's right at the other end of the architectural spectrum," he said.

But he's always been intrigued by the Solon mansion.

"I've been aware of it since I was thrown off the property by Mr. Solon in 1986," he said. "I had heard it was a museum, and open to the public, and so I went poking around there. ... I just walked right up and pushed my nose up against the glass, only to find someone staring back at me. He appeared on the stoop with a shotgun.

"I was halfway down the drive at that point, saying, 'Sorry, sorry, sorry!' He was not amused."

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braincycle wrote on March 02, 2018 at 6:03 am

Looks like this guy enjoying his new place, well best of luck for him.

EmancipatedRadical wrote on March 05, 2018 at 3:03 pm

There is something very humbling about working on an old home and restoring it to its former glory. I am working on restoring my own home and I wish Chris all the luck! Part of the greatness in restorations is working each day, knowing that one day, you will have an original masterpiece that was started 150 years prior and brought back to life by your own hands!