by Kevin Wilbeck, 2008
How wonderful life in the
country can be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about having a little
house or cabin in the country, for the occasional escape from the hectic life we all seem to have these days. Six
years ago, we were no different. But now, we wake up in our “getaway” every day. Our journey
to find our farmhouse retreat was a long one. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret – the
is full of these little farmhouse gems.
A Good Life
It didn’t start just because my wife and I both had ancestors that lived on Iowa farms. We had been
for 11 years and had no connection with that way of life anymore. We had purchased a well worn, but mostly
original, 1928 Chicago-style bungalow in a quiet, diverse neighborhood near the train line and local shops.
We spent seven years restoring it as a modern interpretation of its original form. The house was
something we were very proud of and it was filled with our souls.
We both had good jobs that paid well. I
lived to mountain bike and race my car on weekends. Chris lived to frequent coffee houses and visit spas.
As part of our plan, we were attempting to start a family a little later than most, but hey - that was the plan.
We had a good life. So what happened?
Three Years of Looking
Maybe it was because we had the house finished and needed a new challenge.
We wanted another classic old house - this time in the country. However, those properties in
our price range were in sad shape.
For more than three years, we spent every available weekend looking for our new project.
Our search boundary was a 90-mile circle that included northwest Indiana, northern Illinois, and southeast Wisconsin. As we searched, we
moved further and further away from Chicago.
But then, we found “the one” in north central Illinois. It was 18 acres on a blacktop road, bordered on one side
by a small brook. It had a very large post and beam barn with a stone foundation. And,
the house had great bones – three stories, a large kitchen, wood floors, pocket doors, built-in china cabinets, and
an elegant staircase. Another plus was that it was just barely within our viable commuting limit.
However, there were three challenges.
The first is that the bones were in need of some serious restoration. The second was that the most
recent listing we could find was a little above our price range. And the third was that the “previous listing”
was so previous that the owner had just taken the property off the market.
Despite these challenges, we drove by the property
many times. We couldn’t give up the idea of owning it. We explored the area.
We discussed the property’s potential, convinced ourselves that buying it was the right thing to do, and finally
enlisted the help of a nearby real estate office to track down the owner. It turned out the owner was tired
of continually showing the house to people who didn’t have the stomach for its condition and was done going through
the motions even one more time. It was a bitter disappointment. After that, we didn’t
house hunt much. But, we still harbored the notion that maybe, just maybe, we could own that house someday.
A few months later, my wife drove by
out of curiosity and found cars in the driveway and horses in a newly fenced paddock. What?
The story we heard was that a neighbor had convinced the owner to sell it to one of his children. The
hope of ever owning it went “poof” and we just stopped looking.
Family History Revisited
Over those three years, we became enamored with discussions of a quiet, simpler life in the county.
We became more interested in our family’s history, fawned over my grandparent’s old abandoned farmhouse
and talked to our families about our dreams. We even registered the domain name, “farmhouselife.com.”
Along the way, my father-in-law bought
us an old 1950 Farmall C tractor for “when we move to our farm place someday.” I never saw this
tractor, not even a picture, until the day it was delivered to our newly acquired farmstead. Joe certainly
had the faith that our incessant dreaming was going to come true and he was always good for a story or two about growing up
on his family’s farm near Jamaica, Iowa.
in the midst of our search, my dad decided it was time to introduce our family, spouses, and children to a tour of the farm
places in Nebraska where he and my mom were raised. It was a visual tour where the farm places still existed and virtual
where they did not. The stories that detailed the unique experiences at each place were simply mesmerizing.
A Weird Turn
So how did we end up back in Iowa? Even though our searches at the far
edges of Chicago had taken us within an hour’s drive of Iowa, we didn’t even think about going back “home.”
We drove back for holidays and never once thought about moving back. I remember my dad, a school
superintendent, lamenting about the migration of Iowa’s great young talents out of the state and the need to lure them back.
I agreed, but it didn’t register as a possible solution to our country life dream.
But then, a simple birthday party changed our lives.
My wife had organized
a birthday weekend for her mom, Barb, at the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa. This hotel in the little town of Perry was a wonderful surprise. The hotel
has an amazing story, complete with a world-class restoration. The hotel and remodeled Carnegie Library
across the street are a Central Iowa must-see.
While at the Pattee, my wife convinced her dad to take a look at a property northwest of Perry. He
had been looking to get out of a farm partnership and wanted to buy a hobby farm for himself. I remember
thinking it would be nice to get an early start back to Chicago, but everyone else was going, so why not?
What my father-in-law saw was a nice
9 acre property with good outbuildings and a large barn and, oh, there was a house on the property, too. What
my wife and I saw was a big, open porch with a well-cared for craftsman style house attached to it. Remember
when, as the Grinch was realizing the true meaning of Christmas, his heart expanded so much that it broke the mechanical apparatus
that outlined its size? Yeah, it felt a little like that.
I don’t think the rest of the family was very impressed with the house,
but Chris and I looked beyond the 1970’s paint, drapes, and carpeting. “Look at this!”
(original oak trim); “Wow!” (French doors with wavy glass); “Look at this!” (two fireplaces); “Amazing!”
(original oak floors under the carpet); “Look, look!” (an untouched colonnade divider and a built-in china cabinet).
So here was everything
we wanted, a classic house in decent shape, on a big property with outbuildings, all for a reasonable price. But,
it was a 6 hour drive to and from Chicago. Definitely beyond our “viable commuting limit.”
The Drive Back to Chicago
drive back to Chicago was like one of those long trips with a great book-on-tape playing. You know the one where you look
up and say, “We’re here already?” In six hours, we had gone from “That was a beautiful
home,” to “Let’s buy the house from dad and come back for quiet weekends,” to “We need to find
a way to buy the whole property and move back to Iowa.” The first domino had been pushed over and things started
to fall in place.
Acquiring the Dream
In the next few months, we successfully fought off another bidder, quit our jobs, got pregnant, sold
our house in Chicago, and moved back to Iowa. Whew!
Shortly after moving in, our neighbor asked what brought us to the area – a new job or
family? I loved his reaction when I simply said, “the house.”
So now your question is, “You
went through all of this to pursue a farmhouse lifestyle?” My answer to you is “Yes, indeed.
May we share our dream with you?”
Special Note (November 2013): We moved and closed the camp. We enjoyed sharing
our Farmhouse Life experience with you.