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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 two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Tanner House in Aurora, Illinois.]

F. B. Marchialette

William A. Tanner House, Aurora, Built 1857.

 p171  Historical Museum

An interesting example of the old mansions in Illinois which have been converted into historical museums is the venerable Tanner residence in Aurora, thriving century-old city on the Fox River. Located on the west side of the city, at Oak Avenue and Cedar Street, this old-fashioned mansion now houses the Aurora Historical Society and, as such, is replete with relics, souvenirs, and mementos of Aurora's early days; of the days when the city was a tiny sawmill settlement on the river known as McCarty's Mills.

The choice of this spacious, sturdy pre-Civil War mansion for a historical museum was fortunate, for the man who built it was not only one of the earliest pioneers of Aurora but one of the first settlers of Chicago. As a result, the house contains many articles of furniture from the Tanner household, thus adding to its appeal as a museum.  p172 Some of this furniture was brought to Aurora by the Tanners in sailing vessels on the Great Lakes.

From data compiled by Charles P. Burton, local historian and columnist of the Aurora Beacon-News, we learn that this residence was built in 1857 by William Augustus Tanner, one of the first hardware dealers of Aurora. The firm he founded more than a century ago, the Tanner Hardware Co., is still in existence. As a pioneer hardware dealer of Aurora, Tanner supplied tools to the settlers who built up civilization in the Fox River Valley.

But William Tanner was not new at the hardware business when he set up shop in Aurora. He acquired his first knowledge of it in Chicago, where he originally settled in the early 1830's after coming west from New York State. There he obtained employment in the hardware shop of King, Jones & Co.

However, Tanner did not stay in Chicago very long. In 1835 he struck out across the prairies and settled at McCarty's Mills. Here he remained for the rest of his life and here he played his role in the building of Aurora. His hardware business prospered and then, in 1841, he went back to New York State and married Anna Plum Makepeace. The couple returned to Aurora. By the middle 1850's Tanner was sufficiently well-to‑do to build a mansion comparable to the best in Aurora.

Here the Tanners reared their children and entertained many important people of their day. The mansion is typical of the pre-Civil War period. It is of brick construction, two-and-a‑half stories high, and has an octagonal cupola. There are seventeen rooms in the house and all are spacious and comfortable. This residence remained in the Tanner family until a few years ago when it was given to the Aurora Historical Society. The donors were Mrs. Martha T. Thornton, of Naperville, and Mrs. Mary T. Hopkins, of Kansas City, twin daughters of the Tanners.

As a museum the Tanner mansion, according to Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide,​a contains a "grandfather's clock, Aurora's first piano and other pieces of early furniture brought by boat from Buffalo to Chicago and then hauled overland to Aurora. Home utensils, ornaments, intimate letters and other exhibits are arranged throughout the rooms to portray, in warmly personal terms, living conditions of early days. There is an excellent collection of pioneer portraits, an original Lincoln letter and a group of legal documents and memoirs of local historical significance."

In the Victorian atmosphere of this house the old-time residents of Aurora and the Fox River Valley hold a reunion once a year and recall the early days of their town and valley.

Thayer's Note:

a p159.

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Page updated: 2 Feb 18