Get an Illinois Log Cabin—and Much, Much More—for $475,000

The 1838 log cabin in rural McHenry County has survived demolition threats and two owners’ wildly eclectic tastes. Now, after nine years on the market and major price cuts, will it find a buyer?

The unlikely combo of a 1838 log cabin and a palatial 1989 addition, on Bull Valley's desirable Fleming Road.   Photo: Ian Spula

One of the Chicago region’s oldest homes—and its eclectic 4,000-square-foot addition—just re-listed for $475,000 in the pristine country of Bull Valley. The William C. Rider log cabin, encompassing about 800 of the 4,779 square feet listed for sale, was built circa 1838 and has been owned by one dedicated steward after another. That’s good—the McHenry County Historical Society has no code on the books to protect the cabin from alteration or outright destruction.

“I’m perfectly free to torch it tomorrow,” says seller Jamie Charles, a financial trader. “But the community wouldn’t be happy with me, and neither would I.”

But with no rules to stop them, the previous owners grafted a wildly thematic monster addition onto the back of the cabin in 1989. It dwarfs the original home but uses the cabin’s heavy wood to guide the reclaimed rustic vibe in the newer space. Materials were collected from across the country, with a focus on brick, stone, hardwood, and architectural relics from Chicago and New Orleans. The latter locale forms the soul of the addition, with its vaulted great room wrapped in balcony, its series of alcoves, pastel colors, custom patterned iron gates, and shutters planted into a long wall.

The second floor has wood reclaimed from a 1880s ballroom in neighboring Woodstock, and, according to Charles, the great room’s enormous (and very valuable) chandelier is a repurposing of a street lamp from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Since acquiring the home shortly after its build-out, Charles has sanded, painted, and otherwise perfected the interiors. His dealings with the historic cabin portion have included replacing rotten joists and lowering the floor by six inches “so I wouldn’t crack my head constantly.” The cabin’s upper level is entirely original, with telltale non-conforming oak planks. Most of the wood on the main level is 150 years old, which counts as old enough.

The addition brought creature comforts unimaginable in an antique two-room home. The most obvious is the chef’s kitchen and pantry—that alone exceeds the cabin’s square footage. Naturally, the new space is wired for cable and internet and its five bedrooms are large, bright, and high-ceilinged. The cabin section includes a wraparound porch and the addition throws in a sunroom, each looking out at three acres of overgrowth.

Charles has cut pricing at regular intervals since first testing the market in 2005 with a $748,000 asking price. The property hasn’t been continuously listed for all these years, and Charles’ relocation to Austin four years ago and the presence of a tenant and caretaker relieved the urgency.

The latest re-pricing has the home slipping below $100 per square foot for the first time. “The market in much of McHenry County is still down 35% or 40% from 2005,” says RE/MAX listing agent Cookie Lamb. “Homes at $200,000 and below are recovering faster. We’re just responding to reality.”

Although Charles gets back to the property four or five times a year, maintenance of the wooded acreage has fallen by the wayside. My hunch is that this overgrowth will matter little to any interested buyers from Chicago, just grasping the meaning of ‘acreage’.

You don’t have to drive far to find the familiar sprawl at the fringes of Woodstock and Crystal Lake. But thanks to the Village of Bull Valley’s stringent development restrictions, this is still a very scenic and rural place to live.

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