December 30, 2008
Another historic Main Street home in foreclosure
Racine's historic preservationists are scowling.
Downtown Racine's Historic District is taking a second blow from this year's mortgage crisis. Yesterday, we told you of the Christmas House's upcoming foreclosure sale. Today we learn of yet another Main Street mansion fallen on hard times, just a block away. They are just two of the 94 foreclosure auction sales scheduled by Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson in the next few weeks.
This time it's the Miller House, a striking 1899 neo-classic home that helps recall the city's robust manufacturing past. Owned by Rickey and Shea Leech for the past six years, it will be auctioned on Feb. 3, at 1:30 p..m. at the Racine Law Enforcement Center, victim of a $672,948 loan default. The judgment of foreclosure was finalized in June. Asked if there is any chance he can avoid loss of his home, which is assessed at $415,000, Rickey Leech said, "Probably not."
There actually are two Miller Houses -- one at 1100 South Main Street and the other next door at 1110 South Main. 1100 on the corner, with its round turrets, was built in 1893 by Joseph Miller, once the mayor of Racine, but better known as the founder in 1857 of J. Miller and Company, a shoe manufacturer here that made boots for Wisconsin soldiers during the Civil War.
The house next door, at 1110 South Main, was built in 1899 by Joseph Miller's son, Henry, the superintendent of his father's shoe factory, for his bride, Cosie, as a wedding gift. The house was completed in time for their marriage in 1900, and they lived there the rest of their lives. Henry died in 1929 and Cosie in 1946. The house was later owned by George and Mayme Wheary of the Wheary Trunk Company.
It is described by Preservation Racine like this: "It is undoubtedly the most sophisticated example of the Classical Revival Style in the city. Two columned porticos are deftly interwoven at the entryway: the lower one bows out from the middle of a pillared porch across the front to support a semicircular balcony above it, while the taller one forms a two-story columned canopy with a classical pediment that hovers over the balcony below it.
"Among the house's many striking features are the floors and the fleurs de lis. Many of the floors are original and have been beautifully restored. As you enter the house, note the original mosaic tile floor in the entryway. Then, just ahead, note the recently refinished quarter-sawn oak stairway sweeping elegantly upward to the second-floor hallway. Finally, in the dining room, note another floor of quarter-sawn oak -- but this one an original S.C. Johnson parquet floor..."
Rickey and Shea Leech, who were renovating the Miller House, at one point owned two historic homes in Racine. They bought the Lochnair Inn on Lake Avenue in 2004, and Shea ran the Bed and Breakfast. But in 2006 Rickey was injured when a tree he was cutting down fell on him, breaking his back and leg. The couple put the Lochnair up for sale in July of 2007, using an innovative five-day auction method, but were apparently unsuccessful. A story in the Journal Times said bidding had reached $900,000... but the Lochnair ended up being sold at a Sheriff's sale on Nov. 5, 2007, for $725,000 to Sandra Young; it is no longer a B&B.
Vivian Merlo, immediate past president of Preservation Racine, says the Miller House "is an important house. It's one of a kind -- but it's going to take a lot of money." A close look at the front shows deteriorating woodwork; Merlo says the house also was struck by lightning.
"There are a few things in this city, a few buildings that the community has to decide are important enough for us to come together and preserve. This is one of those," Merlo said. She would like the city to enact an ordinance giving tax credits to people who buy and renovate historic buildings, "but the mayor has told me personally it's too expensive."