500 South Creek Road

500 South Creek Road. / Charles S. Vallone for The Journal Times

Charles S. Vallone

Modern history is the focus of this year's Tour of Historic Places, offered by Preservation Racine on Sunday. In its 36th year, the self-driven tour will feature seven properties - ranging from a farmhouse built in 1845 to a unique, 1964 ranch-style home by local architect Hans Geyer - the majority of which will highlight the distinct, 20th century architecture of this community.

Along the way, tour-goers can find some extra attractions, too, according to Preservation Racine, a nonprofit organization established in 1973 to identify and actively encourage the preservation of historic and culturally significant buildings, sites and districts in Racine. At the Thomas and Katherine Bones house, for example, a rare Camperdown elm tree grows in the yard. One of no more than 10 such trees in Wisconsin, according to research done by Preservation Racine, it originated from a seedling at Camperdown House, near Dundee, Scotland, where the original Camperdown elm was grafted by the Earl of Camperdown's gardener.

"You can actually see the graft in the middle of the trunk," said Vivian Merlo, of Preservation Racine.

At the First United Methodist Church, there will be an exhibit of rarely seen memorabilia from Johnson's Wax's early years. Collected over many years by Jim Mercier, the items represent the product development of one of Racine's oldest and most well-known businesses, SC Johnson.

Interesting historical information about SC Johnson is also included in the tour book, as is a history of The Bull Barn, which long-time Racine residents may also remember as the "Witch Barn" or the Northshore Railroad Barn. An exhibit of photos, showing the barn's changing role in the community - as well as photos of the Wilnette Springs water company - will be on display at the Wilnette Spring Drive tour location.

Tour sites can be visited in any order, and tickets can be purchased at all sites on Sunday, as well as in advance at area businesses (see accompanying information for details). This year's tour stops are:

Thomas and Katherine Bones House (1845)

3609 Waterbury Lane

Built on land originally deeded by President Van Buren in 1840, this brick farmhouse has served many purposes through the years. First the homestead of the Bones and their three children, it later housed farm foremen and German prisoners of war lived in there during World War II.

Its current owners, Dr. AnnMari and Nicholas Baldukas, completely renovated the home since purchasing it in 1982, honoring its history while modernizing it with the latest technology in plumbing, heating and electricity, as well as all-new cabinetry and woodwork, built on-site.

William H. and June Sidley House (1959)

2300 Washington Ave.

Home to the design firm of RenquistDesign, Inc. since 1982, this Tudor Revival house was originally built by William Horlick Sidley and his wife, June, inspired by a similar home they had seen during their travels in Europe.

William Sidley died, unexpectedly, before getting the chance to live there, and in 1964 Sam and Gene Johnson purchased the property to house a private school, which eventually grew into today's The Prairie School in Wind Point. In between the school and RenquistDesign, Inc., the residence was home to Lowell and Josephine McNeill.

Louis H. and Marie Hamilton House (1949)

4001 Haven Ave.

This one-story, Usonian-style structure was designed as a retirement home for Louis Hamilton (founder of Hamilton Beach) by Edgar Tafel, a star apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. Located on a corner in the Manree Park section of Racine, it was designed so that its more private spaces face the rear yard, minimizing exposure to the streets.

Cyprus wood is featured both inside and out, and the flat roofs anchor the low structure to what had been a natural prairie environment. The current and fourth owner, Joshua Drew, has replanted the garden following the original delineations.

John Randal and Josephine McDonald House (1953)

1001 Russet St.

One of two John Randal McDonald-designed homes on this year's tour, this one was built by the architect for his own family. He and his wife, the former Josephine Elholm, and their children lived in it until they moved to the Virgin Islands in 1964.

The three-level home showcases McDonald's experimentation with shapes, and features a sunken living room, reflecting pool and carport. "I designed it as a challenge, to prove that a home like this can be built in a settled neighborhood, and still be adapted to a modern, American Life," he once said of the home. It is currently owned by Eugene Szymczak.

Hans M. and Estelle Geyer House (1964)

245 Wilnette Spring Drive

Built on the site of the former Spring House of the Wilnette Springs bottled water company, this unique ranch-style house was built and first occupied by architect Hans Geyer and his family. It features Geyer's signature use of natural, honest finishes - including stone, brick and wood - as well as large windows on three sides, and a rear, elevated patio looking out over woods and ravine.

Originally from Peshtigo, Geyer moved to Racine in 1947 and worked for a Milwaukee architecture firm for several years before opening his own business here. His work includes residential and commercial structures including the Racine County Offices, Wind Point School, and Dremel Manufacturing. The Geyer house is currently owned by Jane Cascio.

Richard J. and Ada Christensen House (1952)

500 South Creek Road

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This one-of-a-kind house was built by architect John Randal McDonald for Richard Christensen, president and general manager of Wisconsin Pattern Works. The current owners have worked with Racine architect, Ken Dahlin, to respectfully update it. The upper level includes a living area and its original raised hearth, massive stone chimney and two cantilevered balconies.

The adjacent "sanctum" is now a home office with custom built-ins and an original fireplace. And the lower level, which is partially set into the site's slope, includes a glass-enclosed living area with fireplace, two bedrooms and a bath. The original indoor/outdoor reflecting pool, has been replaced with a dry river of stones that evokes McDonald's original vision for the site.

First United Methodist Church (1914)

745 Main St.

As it celebrates its 175th year in Racine, the congregation of First United Methodist invites tour-goers to visit its historic building and enjoy some hospitality while there. The church - which is the third United Methodist structure to have been built on that site - will serve as the official hospitality site for the Historic Places tour, where visitors can get refreshments (root beer floats and cookies) and use the restrooms.

Docents will also be on site to give information about the church, which is built in the Gothic Revival style, out of vitrified red brick with stone trimmings, terra cotta and cast stone. Its architects were Guilbert & Funsten of Racine, and the mason work was done by A. Jacobson. A remarkable 389,825 bricks were salvaged from the previous 1883 building and used in building the current structure.

Correction: Incorrect information was originally listed in this story regarding the Bones house and the name of the design firm at 2300 Washington Ave., due to incorrect information submitted to The Journal Times. The errors have been corrected.

If You Go

WHAT: Preservation Racine’s Tour of Historic Places

WHEN: Noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25

WHERE: Seven tour sites in and around Racine

COST: Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 on tour day. They are available in advance at: Borzynski’s Farm and Floral Market, First Weber Group, Larsen’s Bakery, Milaeger’s, Millers Flowers, O&H Danish Bakery, Personal Touch Flowers by Julie and Uncorkt. On Sunday, tickets will be sold at a booth at 2300 Washington Ave., as well as in limited supply at all tour sites. 

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