It’s the feel that convinced both Jim and Susan Jantzen to purchase their house in Hillsboro and commit to the time and work that will be needed to restore its former dignity and distinction.
“It’s something you walk into and you know it,” Jim said. “It’s the way the space is used, the windows and how the light works, the higher ceiling here. All these elements come together. We thought it was thoughtfully designed.”
The original oak flooring, the woodwork and cove ceilings add warmth and charm to the house, built in 1919.
On April 15 the Jantzens closed on the 11⁄2-story bungalow with stucco exterior, located at 205 S. Adams St. The “Ebel House,” as it is locally known, has an expansive living room and dining area, three bedrooms—two on the main floor, one upstairs—and a full basement.
“We like beautiful, gracious places,” Jim said. “We found this one had that.”
But, Susan added, the house would need much care.
“We know this is an old house,” she said. “It has a recent roof. It has some window replacements, but we know that likely we’ll run into major maintenance, and we have. But that’s part of invitation or lure of tending to an older home.”
Before the Janzens could move in by May 31, they prioritized essential repairs.
“It’s not easy to work with an old home,” Susan said. “It’s not really financially feasible. And it takes a lot of time and know-how. And Jim has that.”
One project involved renovating the flooring.
“It became clear that the hardwood floors in the bedrooms, halls and the front room are what we wanted,” Susan said. “So that’s where we put our energy.”
Both Jim and Susan spent the following evenings and Saturdays working on the house.
“I went to a four-day week on my job and spent Monday here,” said Jim, a self-employed builder. “And our oldest son, Peter, who was on a four-day week at his work, came up.”
Peter, 27, who lives in Newton, and younger brother Robert have worked with Jim on multiple projects.
“It just was a delightful time to work on something together,” Susan said.
Peter’s fiancee also helped some with the painting and wallpaper, Jim said.
“They’d bring sandwiches and goodies—(they) encouraged us,” Susan added.
On the main floor Jim said he laid maple in one bedroom and used the oak from that room to repair the floors in other rooms. He then hired Martin Hardwood Floors LLC in Halstead to refinish the flooring on the first level.
The Jantzens moved to Hillsboro in May 2011 when Susan became pastor at First Mennonite Church. Initially they rented a house.
“As renters, our landlord was delightful and responsive,” Jim said. “It was a spacious, comfortable, newer home.”
But their intention was to eventually buy a home in town.
“One goal was to find a home that Jim wouldn’t have to do much work on because he does it during the week,” Susan said. “He has other interests. He likes reading and poetry and painting. We love just relaxing.”
They kept looking at options.
“To be quite honest, I have my mother’s piano and grandmother’s organ,” Susan said, “and we had to find a living room that is big enough.”
She was the first to consider the house for sale on South Adams. The front porch, especially, appealed to her.
Jim said it took a several visits before he was convinced of its potential.
“Few families have lived here over the long-term,” he said. “It’s not a house that’s been turned over 10 times. It looks like it’s probably three times, I don’t know. To me that also speaks something about the place.”
So they decided to commit.
“It just felt like a good match for Jim, in particular, to give that care to it, and to enjoy it with the church,” Susan said. “It’s not easy to work with an old home.”
The Janzens bought the house from the family of Walter and Elda Ebel. Elda lived in the house for many years after Walter died in 1987. She celebrated her 90th birthday there with a reception in 2007. She later moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., where she died in 2011.
“We know that Elda loved birds and trees,” Susan said. “We can tell that, so it’s just a joy to join these other people who have appreciated the home.”
According to Peggy Goertzen, director of Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, the Ebels purchased the bungalow in 1956 from Joe Pester, a local Case farm implement dealer.
The Ebels spent their springs and summers in Wyoming where they owned a ranch, Goertzen said. During the winters they lived in Hillsboro, where they rented “until they bought this particular house.”
Goertzen recently talked with Debbie Ebel Eccli, Walter and Elda’s daughter, who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Eccli told Goertzen her parents put a lot of work and effort into remodeling the South Adams house. They removed a wall so two rooms became one big room, and there had been a pocket door between the two original rooms. They also remodeled the kitchen and bathroom and finished the basement.
Goertzen said Eccli remembered her father often sharing that as a young boy, he rode his bicycle by the South Adams house when it was being built and the basement dug.
The stucco house was unique for Hillsboro, Goetzen said, as it was not a common veneer for bungalows in this area at that time.
“One of our values is to keep old things going and to rebuild things so they are functional and durable—beautiful,” Jim said.
The Janzens previously renovated an older house they bought shortly after they were married, he said, which they made partially passive solar.
About the South Adams house, Susan said, “We want to preserve and enhance its energy efficiency.”
The basement, where Susan has her home office, offers a welcome respite from summer’s heat.
“That’s where I do my writing,” she said. “It’s very quiet and insular, and I’m not distracted.”
The large windows in the basement are an added bonus.
“I can see the sky,” she said.
So the Janzens’ story of reviving 205 S. Adams is to be continued.
“You know that at this point in our lives, it’s almost a house we can receive, even though we’re going to work on it,” Susan said. “It gives us a space for rest and meeting and beauty.
“So that it’s not like we’re tearing into this (home) and changing everything. We’re just letting it be the beauty it was created for in the first place.”