Austin Mansion: A Beautifully Restored Victorian in Illinois

by hookedonhouses on December 18, 2011

When a reader named Craig wrote me about the Victorian home known as Austin Mansion that he and his wife have restored and are now selling in Effingham, Illinois, I was excited to see the photos and learn more about it.

It was built in 1892 and has a rich history. It was once an international photography college and has been featured on HGTV’s If Walls Could Talk and in This Old House magazine. They have some great old photos of the house from its early days, too. Let’s look!

The mansion has a little over 7,000 square feet and sits on 1.2 acres. There are 16 rooms, including 2 parlors and 8 bedrooms.

Butler’s Pantry:

The kitchen has professional Viking appliances.

The sunny breakfast nook:

The rooms look so pretty, decorated for Christmas.

There are 7 fireplaces.

The master bedroom has a turreted sitting area that I absolutely love:

I really love when we can get a look at old photos of houses like these. Because this functioned as a photography school, there are lots of them. Here’s how the entry looked back in the 1800s–note the leopard rugs on the floor (wouldn’t people trip over the heads?):

Photos of the school appeared on postcards from the time like this one. I wonder if they went to Marybelle’s wedding? Guess we’ll never know…

Here’s a plaque that succinctly describes the history of Garnet Hall:

It was built in 1892 by Calvin Austin, a wealthy industrialist, and newspapers of the day declared it “the finest home in the county.” At the time the property included a large carriage house with stables and staff quarters that you can see in this old drawing from the 1800s that is no longer there:

Calvin Austin didn’t live here long because he sold it in 1900 to the Illinois College of Photography, the first international photography college of its kind. It boasted students from every state in the U.S., every province in Canada, and 52 foreign countries.

The house was renamed Garnet Hall in honor of the founder’s son James Garnet, who died when he was 11. The school closed its doors during the Great Depression.

It was later used as a rehabilitation center for World War I vets but was eventually turned into apartments. It was boarded up in the 1980s when the local fire marshal found that the building didn’t meet safety codes. For a decade it sat empty.

Then, in the 90s, a couple bought it and began renovating it with the help of a local shop class teacher and his students. In ’97 the Garnet Hall Bed and Breakfast opened, but when it closed and the owners moved out, pipes burst one winter and flooded much of the house.

In 2005, Garnet Hall was purchased by Craig and his wife Dominique, who began daunting task of renovating it again. They restored the name of the house to the original Austin Mansion. Renovations were complete by 2009.

They did a beautiful job. Thanks to them, this historic house has a happy ending!

For more photos and information about the house, which is listed at $529,900, visit the Austin Mansion website. Many thanks to Craig for telling me about it!

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About Coldwell Banker Action Realty
Coldwell Banker Action Realty is a full-service real estate firm focusing on Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties in the Tampa Bay area. We stress professionalism, integrity, and excellence in customer service. We would be pleased to assist you with purchasing or selling a property, renting a home, or marketing and managing your investment property.

One Response to Austin Mansion: A Beautifully Restored Victorian in Illinois

  1. Bobbi Wolf says:

    I love this old house. I used to live in Effingham and went past it thousands of times. Thanks to you, I now know what the inside looked like then and now. Thank you so much. I saw it on the show “If Walls Could Talk” but they didn’t di it justice.

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