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Illinois landscape home to farm-life sculptures of Taft
Illinois Correspondent

ELMWOOD, Ill. — Many stop in Elmwood to see the artwork of Larado Taft. His sculptures dot the Illinois landscape in unexpected places like Urbana, Oregon, Whitehall and Elmwood - to name a few.

Elmwood is not only the site of his statue called The Pioneers, which sits in the town’s Central Park, but it is also the site of the Larado Taft Museum and the Morrison and Mary Wiley Library. Each contains displays of Taft memorabilia. Elmwood is where Taft was born and buried.

While the Larado Taft Museum shares information about Taft, it is also the site of the Elmwood Historical Society and Carriage House where there is a bit of an agricultural story, as well. The Larado Taft Museum and Historical Society is housed in a Queen Anne Style home. The first floor is much like a Victorian home during the 1800s. The second floor includes a Pioneer Room with artifacts from the early settlers. It is in this room that visitors learn about the Phelps.

Olivia and William Phelps were the founders of Elmwood in 1840. The room contains information about the Phelps and some of their possessions - including Olivia’s diaries, poetry and prayers. There is also a displayed document signed by Abraham Lincoln appointing Phelps’ son, William E. Phelps, Consul to St. Petersburg, Russia. Also displayed is the Great Seal of the United States, which he used in office.

Alice Roffey, a member of the Elmwood Historical Society has a personal connection to the Phelps. She lived in their home in the 1950s.

“We farmed,” Roffey said. “I married Lyle Roffey in 1934. He and his parents lived on that farm. We were there until 1957. My husband died in 1980. Because I lived there, I think that is why all this means so much to me.”

While the museum with the carriage house out back that has a selection of tools is the first part of the Phelps barn story; the second is the barn itself, which is located a mile south of Elmwood at the crossroads of Wiley and Graham Chapel.

It is there that the three-story barn was built by the Phelps not long after they built their home in 1840. The barn is an example of American Square Rule Carpentry: A 40-foot-by-40-foot, hand-hewn structure and Gambrel-style roof.

“The main floor beams, or summers, are continuous at 40 feet in length, weighing over 1 ton each, and measure a consistent 12-feet-by-12-feet,” according to the museum. “The upper and lower rafter plates as well as all connecting beams are also continuous.

“All four rafter plates are hewn 40-feet long, 8-feet-by-8-feet. These factors suggest that the structure was built from standing timber felled within close proximity of the barn.”

The Elmwood Community Foundation purchased the barn in 2002 and two and a half acres with the understanding that the barn would be restored for future enjoyment. The barn has been purchased, and Roffey shared some information about the restoration process.

“We tore down the barn to the rafters,” she said. “Then put it back together and painted it. I’m real proud of that.”

For more on the museum, call Roffey at 309-742-8239 or Fran Stafford at 309-742-8602. The museum is open Wednesdays from noon-4 p.m.

This farm news was published in the Oct. 11, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.