Lindsay Saltbox house circa 1865


The Sullivan-Lindsey prairie saltbox house was moved by the Franklin Grove Area Historical Society on July 17, 1989 to the Chaplin Creek Historical Site.  One of the few original prairie saltbox houses remaining on the Illinois prairies, it was donated to the society by Lois Lindsey Calhoun and her brother, Richard Lindsey, both of Rockford, so it could be preserved.  Located several miles west of Rochelle, the house faced south toward what is now Illinois Highway 38; at the historical site it sits on a slight hill overlooking the site and faces east.

Since the house had been built in three sections, it was moved to the site in three sections.  In the intervening less than three weeks between the moving and the Summer Harvest Festival much had to be done.  The three sections were positioned over the cement foundation which had been poured earlier and were "tied" together, the gables were  attached and work was started on replacing the roof and the fieldstone foundation.  The dedication ceremony was part not only of the festival but of a reunion  of the grandchildren of Nellie Sullivan Lindsey, the last of the family to live in the house.  Family members came from Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Illinois and elsewhere to gather with the family of Floyd Koch, who with his family had farmed the Sullivan-Lindsey land for 50 years.

The term "saltbox house" derives from the characteristic shape of the dwelling which closely resembles the old-time saltbox used by early housewives.  Salt was a very precious commodity because of  both its scarcity and its cost so it was kept under lock and key.  The wooden saltbox had a slanted hinged cover which could be lifted and thrown back when salt was needed.  The box was securely fastened to the wall near their fireplace or stove and was common in kitchens until the advent of the modern cupboards and counters of today's lifestyle.

Nor was the saltbox house the invention of the American colonist or pioneer.  The primitive English saltbox house was commonly one room with a sleeping loft above it and a leanto continuing the roof line in the rear; Americans simply enlarged the concept to two rooms upstairs and two downstairs plus the leanto.

It is believed that the Sullivan-Lindsey saltbox house was built originally as two rooms downstairs and two upstairs with "eyebrow" windows on both the long sides of the bedrooms.  The good-sized kitchen and the two smaller rooms behind it probably were added to the rear of the house as a leanto and it then became a saltbox house.  Also probably at a still later time, the parlor with its "funeral doors" was added next to the kitchen but with access only from the outside and from the original living-room.  One notes that the house must have always been cold since the outside walls were only clapboard, lathe, and horsehair and sand plaster.

John Sullivan was born in Ireland.  In 1854 he is known to have traveled to the Rochelle area on the newly-completed section of the Chicago Air Line Railroad (now part of the Union Pacific Railroad) to look at his land which he had purchased "sight unseen" while still in Massachusetts.  Sullivan's wife, Betsy M. Willey, was born in Pennsylvania and came to Illinois with her family in 1853.  She had been a schoolteacher in her native state and continued to teach in Illinois until in 1865 she married the neighbor man, John Sullivan, in  Oregon.  Immediately the young couple moved into their new home on a farm adjoining that of their parents.  Four children were born to them, including Nellie (Mrs. Eugene) Lindsey who lived in the saltbox house until she moved to Rochelle in her later years.

Eloise Van Hise

June, 2000