The story of 121 Monroe Street doesn’t really begin in 1913, the year it was built, but rather it begins in 1910 when the neighboring home to the North was built. That home, located at 821 Larkin Ave., was built by Arthur Merton Smythe and his wife Flora “Bridie” (Bishop) Smythe. On December 31, 1912, the Smythe’s deeded their back yard to Flora’s mother, Emma Jane (Stringer) Bishop. According to the annual list of new buildings published in the Elgin Daily News on Jan 3, 1914, a building permit was issued to Emma Jane Bishop for construction of a residence located at 121 Monroe St. in the amount of $3,265.
The building constructed was a two-bedroom Craftsman style bungalow featuring Tuscan style porch columns and was clad using four-inch cedar siding. To this day, the original columns and siding remain. In fact, virtually all of the exterior elements of the home are original including its double hung windows (much with original glass) as well as the original storm windows and screens. Interiorly the home features beamed ceilings in both the living and dining rooms as well as built in benches below leaded glass windows flanking each side of the restored fireplace.
For most if its history, 121 Monroe was an investment property and was rented out. Fortunately, it has always remained a single family home. The good and bad news about its care and maintenance is that nothing much had ever been done to it. This is good in that all of the original elements remain. The bad part is that, other than paint, nothing much had been done to the home to preserve it.
In August of 1988 the home was purchased by Len Govednik II who immediately began an extensive restoration effort the intent being to bring the home back to its 1913 appearance. The initial effort was to strip all of the paint from the cedar siding and repainting to match original colors. With the exception of a few pieces, the original siding was in perfect condition and it remains to this day. The soffits and porch ceiling were restored next. The original material was bead board and was originally stained and varnished. This was covered by several layers of paint and the soffits were deteriorated considerably. The soffits and porch ceiling were completely torn out and replaced with matching bead board that was finished as it was originally in a stained and varnished finish. A continuous soffit vent was added to improve ventilation and ensure longevity.
The only major alteration to the exterior of the house was the removal of an outside back porch and an adjoining vestibule that was once off the kitchen. The porch was seriously deteriorated and a decision was made to remove it and enclose that corner of the house so as to allow additional interior space for a major kitchen remodel. Care was taken in every way to match the existing siding and construction methods. During the kitchen remodeling two sets of windows were replaced one being in the kitchen itself and the other being the set of three windows on the rear dormer. The back dormer windows were replaced to allow for the conversion of the rear half of the attic into a finished loft area. In both cases new windows that very much resembled the original windows were installed minimizing the appearance of alterations.
The story of 121 Monroe is not complete without also knowing the history of its builder, Emma Jane (Stringer) Bishop. Emma was born on March 19, 1848 to John A Stringer and his wife Mary Ann Sterricker. John and his wife were among the earliest pioneer farmers to settle in Elgin. John brought his family here in 1845 locating on a farm of 340 acres in Section 30 in Elgin Township (Past and Present of Kane County, 1874).
Just barely twenty-one years old Emma married Thomas Bishop. Thomas was born September 12, 1820 in Devonshire England and came to Elgin by way of Canada in July, 1850. Thomas settled on a farm of 225 acres in Section 22 of Elgin Township (east side of McLean Blvd starting at Lake St.). There he erected a handsome home which was one of the landmarks of the neighborhood. Thomas sold his produce locally as well as hauling it to the Chicago market. During the early years he also became an extensive stock trader, selling large numbers of cattle to the distillery companies and to the beef canning companies. His farm was in fact one of the best improved in the county. His attention was not given entirely to agricultural pursuits. He was one of the organizers and stockholders of the Home National Bank, in which he served as a member of the directorate and was at one time a stockholder in the Elgin Canning Company. He also took a leading part in local affairs. He provided service to the public school system during his many years as school director, and for about fourteen years he served as road commissioner, while for eight years he filled the office of supervisor (The Biographical Record of Kane County, 1898). Thomas Bishop died on October 5, 1891 leaving Emma to run the farm along with her four children. The eldest son, Clarence, eventually took over the farm and ran it until 1900. Emma remained on the farm until March 15, 1896 when she purchased a home in town located at 168 North Commonwealth (Elgin Historic House Walk 2004). Emma remained there until her children were grown and in 1913 built the home at 121 Monroe St. Emma passed away in her home on September 1, 1929.
Were it not for some incredibly talented craftsman, this house would still be in progress. I take pride in sharing with you the people that made the dream come true. I highly recommend them for what you may dream. Emma would be proud too!