Farnsworth House Survives Flood Unscathed

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
A foot of rain swelled the Fox River, flash-flooding the
Farnsworth House's grounds on Aug. 23.

Credit: Barbara Campagna

Last week, floodwaters reached the front steps of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in the second "hundred-year" flood of Illinois' Fox River since 1996.

Storms flooded rivers in northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio, causing at least two deaths and damaging hundreds of houses—but not the 1951 Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site in Plano, Ill.

"One hour we were eating dinner; the next hour, we [were] surrounded by a lake of four-foot-high water, and we couldn't get out of the town or to the house," Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust, said in an e-mail. "We were probably most scared Friday morning when the water was rising and we couldn't find a boat and thought we'd just have to stand there and watch it be subsumed."

Floodwaters rose four feet, covering four acres of the 58-acre riverfront site, and stopped on Friday afternoon, just 18 inches from the Farnsworth House's door, Campagna says.

"We really lucked out and can look at this as a drill," Campagna says.

Using a borrowed flat-bottom boat, Campagna and colleagues from Landmarks Illinois, which co-operates the house with the National Trust, rowed to the house to raise its furniture on crates, buying it a few more feet if the waters continued to rise.

The water began receding on Saturday and is now gone, says David Bahlman, executive director of Landmarks Illinois, who spent Friday in the rowboat.

This week, workers will begin removing downed trees, cleaning the lower travertine terrace, replacing the pathways, and scrubbing the house's four-foot-tall support columns that essentially saved the structure.

"Primarily, the cleanup is going to be the landscaping around the house," Bahlman says. "We got a break on this one." 

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