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Treasure in disguise

Posted February 05, 2014 in Community Featured, Clear Lake

There’s a secret hiding inside this seemingly modest home on First Avenue South in Clear Lake.

Homeowners Dennis and Lillie Keith willingly share the secret, considering themselves caretakers of a treasure in disguise.

“I feel fortunate to live here,” says Lillie. “This is just my home for awhile to take care of.”

Lillie Keith at the mantel of her home saved from an 1890s mansion.

Lillie Keith at the mantel of her home saved from an 1890s mansion.

By most accounts, homes built in the 1950s were more functional than fashionable. Vast expanses of woodwork, common in homes built in the early 20th century, were often abandoned in favor of a cleaner look known as “mid-century modern.”

Built in 1950, it doesn’t get any more “mid-century” than this, but the secret inside is that this particular home is a shrine to craftsmanship. From the outside, it’s a typically nice home; from the inside, it’s a palace of rich woodwork and leaded and stained glass windows.

“All of this came out of a mansion in Rockford,” explains Lillie, as she delves into the home’s past.

Originally known as the Mitchell Mansion, the home boasted 32 rooms spread over three stories. It was built by Z.T. Mitchell from 1897 to 1898 at a cost of about $16,000. Skilled laborers building the mansion earned $3 a day, while common laborers earned $1 a day.

By 1950 the Mitchell Mansion had fallen in disrepair, but a Clear Lake contractor recognized a beauty in the rough when he saw one. Jim Davis, who had Davis and Keith Contracting, bought the decaying mansion for about $5,000 and created his own one-story “mansion” here in Clear Lake.

Davis saved the best pieces — from a massive oak fireplace and mantel, to mammoth pocket doors, tons of woodwork, even parquet floors — and installed them in the two-bedroom home he was building for his own family.

The detail is everywhere, even seen in a bedroom door that is half maple and half oak, each side matching the woodwork of the room it faces,

Perhaps most glorious is the expanse of windows looking out from the solarium. The Keiths use it as a retreat from today’s busy world.

“This is a quiet room,” Lillie says. “We come back here and read. There’s no TV. There’s no radio.”

Calling this house that hides the relics of a mansion home is nothing less than a delight for the couple.

“I feel blessed to live in this home,” concludes Lillie.

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