Ellwood House Museum Campus Improvements

DeKalb, Illinois

The Ellwood House Museum is a historic site in DeKalb, IL. Originally built for barbed wire baron Isaac Ellwood & his wife Harriet, the site is now owned by the DeKalb Park District and operated by the Ellwood House Association (EHA). In 2012, the EHA was gifted the adjacent Nehring Residence. This home was originally built by Perry Ellwood and his wife May. Sharp Architects Inc. have provided architectural support for multiple maintenance projects over the years. Below is a list of projects Sharp Architects Inc. has completed for the Ellwood House Museum;

Water Tower Restoration – 2013

(1) Originally built in 1879, the Ellwood House Water Tower has undergone several renovations, and in 2013 the time had come to replace the degrading cedar shake roof. Light, wind and water had been filtering into the tower for some time, leaving the interior limestone structure and everything stored within it vulnerable to the elements. By replacing damaged framing, plywood sheathing, and finishing the exterior with architectural asphalt shingles, the Water Tower will remain a landmark of the Ellwood House Museum campus for generations to come.

Ellwood-Nehring House Accessibility Alterations – 2015

(2) In order to allow museum patrons to tour the Ellwood-Nehring House, it was necessary to provide accessible routes and amenities on the ground floor of the residence. Alterations included providing accessibility to the ground floor through a new exterior ramp, providing an accessible restroom, installation of emergency lighting, smoke detectors, and exit signage, all while maintaining the historical aesthetic of the original home. The Ellwood-Nehring House may now be safely used for tours, events, and educational programs.

Additional Parking & Site Work – 2015

(3) While the second floor of the Ellwood-Nehring House is not accessible for campus tours, the Association obtained a special use permit which allows museum interns to live on the second floor of the residence. Additional on-site staff spurred the need for additional parking and associated site work. Exterior site work included increasing parking by 8 spaces, extending sidewalks, and adding a rain garden to retain and safely disperse water from the site.

Ellwood-Nehring Carriage House Remediation – 2015

(4) The 1899 Ellwood-Nehring Carriage House is still used to house the museum’s collection of horse drawn carriages, as well as a catch all for general storage. Water infiltration had caused severe damage to wooden and limestone structural elements in the building. We devised a remediation plan in conjunction with re-roofing and the addition of copper gutters and downspouts to help manage storm-water.

Ellwood House Roof Remediation – 2019

(5) Several of the low slope EDPM and modified bitumen roofs were in need of replacement. Sharp Architects Inc. provided detailed drawings and bidding documents for this publicly bidded project. Decorative metal cresting was removed by the Park District and then replaced with the roofing contractor.

Ellwood House Chair Lift Replacement – 2020

(6) The scope of work included replacement of the existing exterior chair lift which did operate reliably. Additional work was required to bring the the interface between the door sill, and in these an extra space lift into compliance with current building codes.

Ellwood House Terrace Restoration – 2021

(7) Work included clay tile replacement throughout the raised terrace area surounding the historic Ellwood Mansion. A limestone stone tread was also replaced to match existing where it had worn away and was unsafe for visitors.

Ellwood Carriage House Roof Remediation

(8) Behind the main mansion lies the Patience Ellwood Towle Visitor’s Center which serves a history museum and gathering space for tours, community groups and events. In 2021 Sharp Architects was contracted to provide drawings and specifications for a re-roofing project which would be publicly bid. The scope of work included replacement of existing insulation, a new EPDM membrane, new pre-finished metal copings, replacing three skylights with fall protection cages. Also included were two new scuppers with conduit boxes and downspouts which control water which previously ran down the south and west facades.


Client: Ellwood House Association & DeKalb Park District

Completed: 2013-2022