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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small two‑story clapboarded wooden house, with a two‑gable roof pitched at about 30°. The front door is overhung by the barest hint of a porch, supported by two square wooden pillars and reached by four steps. It is the Mumford House in Urbana, Illinois.]

Herbert W. Mumford House, Urbana, Built 1870.

 p119  On the University of Illinois Campus

A landmark familiar to thousands what have been graduated from the University of Illinois is the small, old-fashioned private dwelling, shaded by several maples and lindens, which stands on the south campus of the Urbana seat of learning. Occupying an isolated position on the broad, open green of the campus, this house of plain domestic architecture is in sharp contrast to the Georgian façades of distant university buildings. It is a little dwelling that has the distinction of being the oldest edifice on the Urbana campus.

Both faculty and students regard it as something of a shrine and identify it as the "Mumford House." This name was given it because of the long residence here of the late Herbert W. Mumford, dean of the university's college of agriculture and nationally known farm marketing expert whose program for livestock market quotations has been adopted  p120 throughout the Midwest. Dean Mumford and his family occupied this dwelling for more than thirty years.

Before that time it was the home of several earlier deans of the college of agriculture. Its first occupant was a man who might be considered one of the "fathers" of the University of Illinois. He was Thomas J. Burrill, who joined the university when it was founded in 1868 and who, as acting regent from 1891 to 1894, secured large appropriations from Governor John P. Altgeld and the state legislature which put the institution on a sound footing and widened its scope of activities.

The little gray house on the campus was built in 1870, and when Professor Burrill and his family moved into it the dwelling was known as "The Farm House." The university catalogue for 1871‑72 describes it thus: "The Farm House, recently built on the horticultural grounds, is designed to afford a fair model for a farmer's house. It is tasteful in appearance, economical in cost, and compact and convenient."

Professor Burrill lived in the Farm House only a few years. It was afterward occupied by Professor George E. Morrow, who helped to found the university's agricultural experiment station and who became dean of the college of agriculture. Another dean of the same college who lived in the little house was Professor Eugene Davenport.

After Dean Davenport's retirement in 1902, the dwelling became the home of Professor Mumford and his family. At that time Professor Mumford was head of the university's animal husbandry department.

In the many years Dean Mumford lived in the little gray house, his circle of friends and associates widened and here he and Mrs. Mumford entertained many distinguished scholars, scientists, and leaders in agricultural and educational fields. Dean Mumford died in 1938.

If the little house on the campus was long known as a residence of agricultural experts, it is no less well known today as a dwelling place of nationally famous artists. For here, each year, resides the university's visiting professor of art — some noted artist sent to the campus by the Carnegie Foundation. A new artist is sent each year. While in residence, the visiting artists maintains "open house" in Mumford House for art students and the art school faculty.

The first artist to occupy the house was Dale Nichols, who came in 1939. While living here he did an effective water color of Mumford House, showing it in a midwinter setting.

Of frame construction and with a gable roof, Mumford House is as sound today as when it was built. All rooms are light and comfortable and the parlor, now a studio, is heated by a spacious fireplace. The stairway in the center of the house has a fine walnut balustrade.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07