It’s easy to pass by reminders of our local architectural history even when they are clearly marked. That can happen with the Pettengill Morron House at 1212 West Moss Avenue. The house seen today is actually the second one constructed on the site in 1868 after a fire destroyed an earlier house built just three years prior. Moses and Lucy Pettengill, original builders of the residence, were early settlers to Peoria with Moses being in the hardware business. As important though, the Pettengills were strong abolitionists with their views being well known as early as 1837 with Moses calling for an anti-slavery convention in 1837. Their house at the corner of Liberty and Jefferson Street became a hub of abolitionist activity including links to the Underground Railroad.
When Moses and Lucy decided to build their home on Moss Avenue on what was then the outskirts of the city, they hired architect Charles Ulricson. Ulricson’s work was, and remains, well known in such local landmarks as the Easton Mansion, Old Main on Knox College Campus and several of the buildings at Jubilee College.
Recent study of Ulricson’s work shows that he may have hidden design elements associated with the Masons on various projects. The house was designed in the then-popular Victorian Second Empire style. Choosing a prominent lot on Moss Avenue for their soon-to-be equally prominent home, the structure was raised up half a story. This allowed not only to catch cool breezes from the river valley but afforded a view of the city below from a then less treed bluff.
Showcasing this style are a Mansard roof (allowing an upper story to be somewhat “hidden” from view), decoration including around the windows (including spiraling pilasters between panes) and detailed porches and exterior trim. Though the original porches were replaced by a Colonial Revival porch and porte-cochere about 1900, the originally designed porches are seen in recently found photographs in the Peoria Historical Society collection.
Entering the 11-room mansion, the hall with a heavily carved staircase bisects the more formal areas with what originally was two parlors on one side and the dining room and library on the other. Four family bedrooms and several servant bedrooms take position on the second floor. Several smaller rooms were converted into bathrooms at some point. Though the third floor was designed for a ballroom, the Pettengills did not finish this space. They did not believe in the “moral value” of dancing.
Over the years, the residence has been called home by several families: the Clarks, the Stones (who held a daughter’s wedding to Jack Lemmon in the house) and Jean Morron. Jean had grown up in another residence designed by Ulricson that was demolished to make way for Interstate 74. She brought several reminders of that house with her to the Pettengill home. Miss Morron left the house, including the furnishing, to the Peoria Historical Society that has operated it as a house museum since 1966. Tours of the house offer not only a more detailed picture of the architecture of the house but also of the families that lived there.