lydia-house.jpg

Lydia’s home 
on the Bluff

By KAREN CROWLEY METZINGER, MA '97

High upon the West Bluff overlooking the Illinois River, Tobias and Lydia Moss Bradley built their family home in 1858. Little did they know that in 1980, their stately home would be a gift to the Institute Lydia had established in 1897. Today, the expansive Italianate-style brick home at 802 W. Moss Ave. has been divided into two spacious apartments. Faculty tenants, Dr. Jeanne Muzzillo, and Dr. Stacey Robertson (above) and her family, agree they are honored to live in a house so steeped in rich history.

Muzzillo, an assistant professor of English who has resided there since 2007, enjoys a separate entrance and stunning views from her bright and airy second-floor apartment. Robertson’s family occupies the main level and third floor of the home. Bradley’s director of women’s studies and Oglesby Professor of American Heritage moved to the home with her husband Tom Thurston and her sons Isaac and Evan in 2010. 

Bradley faculty members are tenants in the founder’s 154-year-old Moss Avenue home.

“I am a women’s historian,” said Robertson. “Knowing that Lydia Moss Bradley built this home and lived here makes it seem like a dream. The spaciousness, elegance, and history of the home are simply irresistible.”

A tour of the main level of the home begins with noticing the hardwood floors throughout. Just to the right of the foyer’s small seating area is a roomy master bedroom that boasts large windows with garden views and two bathrooms. To the left, a unique walk-through leads to an ample dining room that opens on the right to a large family room. The original marble fireplaces are positioned like historic bookends on the far ends of the dining room and family room. Focal points in the home, the ornate fireplaces have been carefully replicated in the new Hayden-Clark Alumni Center.

To embellish the family room fireplace, Robertson personalized it with photos. “We printed and framed several rare black-and-white photos of Lydia and her 19th century home for the fireplace mantels,” she noted. “At the same time, we have a large black-and-white print of our wedding photo over the fireplace — reminding us of love, family, and celebrations. I think Lydia would approve.“

Robertson’s sons like to have friends over to discover “secret” places to hide and play, and they find the backyard an oasis for sledding in the winter. During warmer days, the family sits on the back porch and enjoys the backyard that reportedly is home to the largest ginkgo tree in Peoria.

“We also take advantage of the central location by walking along beautiful Moss Avenue, strolling to work at Bradley, and enjoying the charming, historic homes in our neighborhood,” Robertson added. “I love to sit in the sunroom off our kitchen, watching hummingbirds, people walking down the street, rabbits in the front yard. It gives me such a wonderful sense of our community.”

Following in Lydia’s generous tradition of inviting Bradley Polytechnic students to her home, Muzzillo and Robertson open their respective doors annually. Muzzillo invites her English teaching methods class before they begin student teaching. Robertson hosts her graduating women’s studies students and students in her senior history seminar, introducing them to the house and the importance of its history firsthand. 

Not a day goes by that Robertson doesn’t think of Bradley’s founder and the privilege of living in her home. “I take strength from her presence in the house,” she said. “Her walls, floors, and rooms are filled with memories of her strength in times of loss, her independence, her generosity, her compassion, and her quiet leadership. I respect the history of this home.”  

throwback photo

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Lydia's Dishes

 

Mrs. Bradley’s dishes

A 75-piece cranberry glass luncheon set that once graced Lydia Moss Bradley’s table has come home to the Hilltop, thanks to the generosity of LOIS SHANEMEYER HAMILTON ’40, left, and the trustee of her estate, Johnna Tallman. Appraised at more than $15,000, the collection is priceless to the University.

“I can’t imagine sitting down to these dishes at a luncheon; it would be gorgeous,” said Tallman, an antiques dealer. “They were all so beautifully done, and each piece is unique.”

According to Tallman, Hamilton appreciated her passion for cranberry glass and antiques and showed her the century-old collection about 12 years ago. “It’s a rarity,” Tallman said. “What makes cranberry glass unique is the gold in it. The older it is, the more gold there is. This is why the color is so lovely in these dishes. Lois never used them, nor have we. This is why they are in mint condition. I’d be terrified of breaking them.” 

Hamilton had explained that Lydia Moss Bradley gave the large set to her mother, Edna Shanemeyer. Not all the history behind Edna’s friendship with Lydia is known, but Hamilton had said that her mother was very social, very worldly, and that Lydia had admired her.

Select pieces of the cranberry dishes are currently displayed in the Cullom-Davis Library and the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center. The most famous period of cranberry glass production was in 19th century Great Britain during the Victorian era. 

LEE TALLMAN ’74 MLS ’05 believes Hamilton was the shyest person the couple has ever known, but he emphasized that she was a “great lady and a lot of fun with a good sense of humor. We had been her neighbors since 1988, and after the deaths of her husband and brother, she eventually became part of our family.” The Tallman family includes AMY TALLMAN SUMMERS ’92 and JIM TALLMAN ’93.

The couple added that Hamilton was from a well-to-do family who lost everything but their dry cleaning business during the Great Depression. The Peoria High graduate and Bradley Lambda Phi member (now Pi Beta Phi) was involved in the French Club, History Club, and Women’s Athletic Association. She also taught swimming on campus. Hamilton took flying lessons, earned her wings, and served briefly as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) in Sweetwater, Texas, during World War II. She was the head librarian at the Peoria Public Library. At 38, she married Llewellyn Hamilton, relocated to Lake Forest, and worked with him in the plastics company they founded. After selling the successful company, they traveled the world.

Hamilton died in 2010, leaving Bradley $400,000 for scholarships and $150,000 to the Library through her estate.  

- Karen Crowley Metzinger, ’97