Welcome to the Pettengill-Morron House

The Pettengill-Morron House is located at 1212 West Moss Avenue in the West Bluff Historic District of Peoria, Illinois. The 1868 mansion constructed in the Second Empire architectural style was built for prominent businessman Moses Pettengill (1802-1883) a native of Salisbury, New Hampshire. A Colonial Revival porch and porte cochere were added in about 1900 giving the house a grand Victorian appearance.

 
 

Moses Pettengill grew up on a farm and was educated at the Salisbury Academy. He then entered the teaching profession. With $400 dollars in savings and without any previous business experience he became a businessman opening a general store, first at Rochester then Brockport, New York along the Erie Canal. In May 1833 he married his second cousin Lucy Pettengill, a teacher. Later in the year he left Brockport to explore the opening West, destined for Peoria, Illinois, then a mere frontier village on the prairie. In June 1834 he returned with Lucy to settle at Peoria.

At Peoria he opened the first hardware and stove store, the basis for his successful lifetime career as merchant, builder and manufacturer. Moses and Lucy, Congregationalists, helped to found a church where they had a powerful influence and were steadfast supporters. As social reformers, they were temperance people, opposed to secret societies and slavery. Abolitionists Moses and Lucy were leaders in the anti-slavery movement in Peoria. He was a conductor and their home at Liberty and Jefferson Streets a station of the Underground Railroad. In that home, Abraham Lincoln visited to discuss political affairs with Moses. Known for their philanthropy they gave generously to the poor, schools, soldiers during the Civil War and freedmen causes. Moses support of educational enterprises led to the establishment of an Infant School in Brockport. In Peoria he established the Pettengill Seminary.

Moses and Lucy first lived in a modest log cabin. From 1836 to 1862 they lived in the house at Jefferson and Liberty streets. In May 1862 Moses purchased land on Moss Street in the Peoria countryside, far from the business district, on a bluff overlooking the city. A cottage stood on the land where they lived until the completion of their wood frame house in February 1863. Lucy’s days in the pleasant new surroundings were brief. She died at home February 29, 1864. Their children Hannah Grant and Moses True preceded her in death. Moses married second in May 1865 widow Hannah Bent Tyner and adopted her son Blanchard.

On December 13, 1865 a fire destroyed the house. They lived in the cottage on the property while planning to rebuild. On March 13, 1867 Moses, Hannah and Blanchard met with contractor and builder Sylvanus Gager Whitford (1828-1913), selected for the project, who showed them two pictures of houses. The first bricks were laid in August 1867 by brick masons Cyrus H. Peirce and several workers. The bricks were purchased from John Butler, a brick manufacturer.* They moved into their new red brick home built with gas and water pipes, and coal furnace, on Saturday December 5, 1868.

*”Blanchard Pettengill Journal” The Pettengill Collection 2015.39.65, The Peoria Historical Society.

Moses died at home November 9, 1883. Hannah died at home September 18, 1884. Their son Blanchard had married in 1880 Augusta Cushing White and with daughters Annie and Mary were living with them. They remained in the house until late June, early August 1891 when they left for Worcester, Massachusetts. After their departure the following persons occupied the house:

1892-1901 Samuel Mortimer Clarke, a Peoria dry goods merchant, and wife Jane Jack.

1901-1903 William Jack, Peoria attorney, and wife Annie Grier.

1903-1941 Dr. Charles D. Thomas, Peoria physician and surgeon, and wife Cecelia Kendricken.

1941-1943 vacant

1944-1945 Isabelle “Ysabel” Louise Wiss and husband Herman Adolph Overstolz, a salesman, of Kirkwood, Missouri.

1945-1953 John Boyd Stone, a Peoria banker, and his second wife Dorothy Higgins.

1953-1966 The house was then occupied by Jean McLean Morron of Peoria. She had lived all her life in a house built by her grandfather John Reynolds who had settled at Peoria in 1836. When the house was slated for demolition to make way for highway Illinois route 74 through Peoria, Jean, then 74 years old, began her quest for a new home. She pursued the Pettengill house. Her knowledge of its former occupants had an historic appeal and Jean had family ties to the Clark, Jack and Pettengill families. During a chance encounter in Paris, France with then owners John and Dorothy Stone, she told them of her desire to buy their house. It was not for sale at the time, but the Stone’s sold the house to Jean in 1953 who lived there until her death in Boston, Massachusetts January 14, 1966, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

After the death of its last occupant Jean McLean Morron (1879-1966) the trustees of her estate gave the house and contents, dating from the mid-18th to mid-20th century, to the Peoria Historical Society. Operated today as a historic house museum, the collection also includes objects of former occupants including the Pettengill family.

The Peoria Red Cross was founded in the house in 1916. In 1973 the first performance of the Peoria Civic Opera was held in the garden. The house was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 1976. The home is also listed as a contributing member to the West Bluff Historic District, which was added to the National Register.

Shannon Halford