Architecture -
Heritage and History

314 West Decatur

©2008 Brinkoetter & Associates

The John Ullrich Home

This lovely jewel of Decatur architecture was built and owned by John Ullrich, one of Central Illinois' most prestigious gentlemen of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1833 and, at the age of 17, came to the United States in 1850 with only $5 in his pocket. He used his keen skills to advance himself, and found his way to Decatur in 1855 to open a wholesale grocery and packing house. He ran this business for twenty years.(1)

Mr. Ullrich married Elizabeth Litterer and they raised three children. According to pioneer brickmaker, Frederick Mattes, a brick factory once sat on the site where the house now stands. Rev. Mr. Crissey was the owner and manufacturer.(2) Mr. Ullrich contracted with Messrs. Mills & Harry to construct the house for the sum of $7000, which would require 190,000 bricks.(3) Master mason Davy Hughes and his large crew was responsible for laying the bricks.(4)

Excavation for the cellar commenced in the spring of 1875 and they expected the house to be completed by Oct. 1, 1875.(5) In May, it was reported that the brickwork was nearly finished and that the carpenters had all their timber shaped.(6) In August, a reporter for the Decatur Daily Republican reported that Mr. Ullrich's mansion was nearing completion.(7) The October 1 date came and went, and on Oct. 30, it was reported that the finishing touches were being put on the house.(8) Besides a full basement, the first floor boasted two living rooms, a hall, a library, kitchen and dining room. The second story had six large bedrooms, a hallway and full bath. The third story was a floored attic used for storage.(9)

* Above photo of Mr. Ullrich appeared in The Decatur Review in 1919 at the time of his death.

The John Ullrich family took possession of their new home in late November 1875 with the congratulations of everyone in the city. It was reported that the house had every modern convenience known at that time and had an external appearance that was both attractive and pleasant.(10) In the years that passed, the house hosted many social events, including the weddings of both daughters.(11) Mrs. Ullrich was politically active in that she promoted equal suffrage and the home was a meeting site.(12)

Mr. Ullrich's wise and thrifty business acumen made it possible for him to invest in Decatur's future. The only public office he ever aspired to have was a seat on the Board of Education and he never missed an opportunity to advance the cause of quality education in Macon County.(13) His years of dedication and service were rewarded when the school board announced that a school would be named for him.(14)

Mr. Ullrich owned property in the downtown area of Decatur, as well as 7000 acres in several central Illinois counties.(15) He was generous to a fault and was eager to invest in any venture that helped Decatur. It was said of him that there was not a church built in Decatur in which he did not have a financial hand.(16) He preferred that his assistance be quiet and anonymous, but it's only natural that from time to time his kindness and generosity would be revealed.

At the time of his death in 1919, Mr. Ullrich left an estate of $2.5 million, and it was surmised that he was one of the wealthiest men in Central Illinois at that time.(17) In 1920, the house was sold to George Williams who owned the Williams Sealing company. He lived there with his family until 1944, when the house was sold to Norbert McNamara. He extensively remodeled the home, making a complete family home on the first floor and dividing the second floor into three one bedroom apartments. He also removed the second story balcony porch.(18)

The house as it appeared in the early 1970's. Photo ©1972 H. Lynn Bohon(19)


1. Decatur Review, 10 Jan 1919, pg. 1, 14 - Obituary for John Ullrich
2. The Daily Review, 27 Jun 1915
3. Daily Republican, 13 Mar 1875
4. Daily Republican, 30 Apr 1875
5. Daily Republican, 7 Apr 1875
6. Daily Republican, 27 May 1875
7. Decatur Daily Republican, 7 Aug 1875
8. Decatur Daily Republican, 30 Oct 1875
9. The Zonta Club of Decatur, Illinois, Places and People in Old Decatur, 1975, pg. 80-81
10. Decatur Daily Republican, 4 Jan 1876
11. Wedding of Lena Ullrich to Spencer Ewing and Wedding of Luetta Ullrich to Henry Bumstead
12. The Daily Review, 13 Dec 1911, pg. 12, Wednesday Evening
13. Decatur Review, 10 Jan 1919, pg. 1, 14 - Obituary for John Ullrich
14. ibid pg. 1, 14
15. ibid pg. 1, 14
16. ibid pg. 1, 14
17. The Decatur Review, 20 Jan 1919, pg. 10
18. The Zonta Club of Decatur, Illinois, Places and People in Old Decatur, 1975, pg. 80-81
19. ibid, pg. 80-81

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