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TOLONO — This imposing house sleeps 25.

William Meharry’s enormous residence was built with locally sourced bricks. It once took up an entire block (now 1 acre) and had a huge ballroom on the third floor.

Meharry had grown wealthy through selling feed and livestock, according to a 1900 history book that describes it as “modern” a full 28 years after its construction. Some sources describe it as Second Empire architecture.

Julia Laystrom-Woodard and Brian Woodard have owned the historic Meharry-Dowell house, built in 1872, for about five years, and have tried to keep its 150 years alive down to the wallpaper.

The Meharry-Dowell House is a majestic residence with the original antique iron fence on two sides — rescued from a World War I scrap effort.

To look at it from outside is to see another era. It still retains much of the character of the period.

“I like being a part of history,” Laystrom-Woodard said.

Inside there are many original features remaining, including floor-to ceiling windows and original woodwork and fireplaces — a fireplace in every room.

Alas, the ballroom is no more, converted by an earlier owner into separate rooms.

“The stairs and first-floor chandeliers sold us on it,” she said.

Each stairway has 18 stairs. They’re the first things you see on entering the manor.

Most impressive, there are original floors on the first and second levels.

The house has 4,500 square feet, five bedrooms and four baths. Some of that is additions or re-partioning, since there was no electricity or even indoor plumbing at the time.

It’s hard to image a mansion using outhouses.

The ceilings on the first and second floors are 101 / 2 feet high.

After the house was built, gas lighting came in, and there are the original newer light fixtures, modified to also use electric.

The house now uses three different heating systems, Laystrom-Woodard said, including geothermal.

On the first floor, the living room and back parlor, once able to be separated for privacy, are redolent of the era.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of light,” she said, to show off the gleaming floors and antique furniture, especially in the dining room. The pieces are family heirlooms.

Some of the woodwork was painted green to match the green marble fireplaces.

The back parlor, meant for ordinary family use, was never as glorious.

The wallpaper in several rooms was replaced, but the new owners had wallpaper added that is contemporary with 1872 styles.

There’s also a library on the first floor filled with books. It was probably not originally a library, Laystrom-Woodard said.The kitchen is entirely modern.

“But you can see where the original stove was from burn marks on the floor,” Laystrom-Woodard said.

Up 18 stairs, part of the Woodard exercise regimen, are four bedrooms on the second floor.

There are also mysterious doors for passageways, possibly through which servants in early years could pass through the house without “inconveniencing” the residents and their many guests.

Up another 18 stairs, the third floor was originally the ballroom, a feature common among the mansions of the wealthy in the 19th century.

“It was meant for elegant soirees,” she said.

And the house still is filled with guests at times.

“We’ve had as many as 25 people stay over,” Laystrom-Woodard said.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).