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The Storied Past of Cor Unum House

Cor Unum House has its own story. An American Foursquare, it was saved from the wrecking ball through the vision and commitment of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association and the generosity of philanthropist Fletcher Farrar, Jr., who with his spouse Mary Jessup are friends of the Dominican Sisters and catalysts for their presence in Enos Park.

The home was built in 1905 by Henry Thoma, a Springfield retailer of German Catholic extraction who with his wife Annie Laurie Westenberger Thoma, raised a family and lived and died in the house. Mrs. Thoma died in 1932 and Henry in 1935. They were parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the parents of six children, four of whom survived them.

The couple was civically engaged. Mrs. Thoma was president of the Catholic Women’s’ coterie, and a member of the Springfield Woman’s club and the Emanon club, according to her obituary. She graduated from Ursuline Academy. She and Henry married in 1879 at Ss. Peter & Paul Church. He was committed to public education, and was instrumental in the establishment of a training school for teachers on N. 6th Street near McClernand School. He was an active member of Blessed Sacrament Church, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and the Kiwanis Club, according to his obituary.

According to researchers at the Lincoln Public Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection, at least as early as Jun 1942 the house was known as McDaniel Nursing Home for aged people and was advertising “reasonable” private rooms. Applicants were required to provide a reference.

By 1949 the house was advertised in the Illinois State Journal as “The Ambassador Rest Home” run by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Cockrell.

The house seems to have been last operated as a nursing home by Ray Hamilton and was known as the Hamilton Nursing Home from at least 1953-1978. Mr. Hamilton died in 1979 at the age of 80. His obituary indicated he “formerly owned and operated” the home and was a member of Kumler United Methodist Church.

There is no proof of human occupancy after 1978 until the Springfield Dominican Sisters moved into the house on September 11, 2019, though neighbors have told the sisters they used to be entertained by watching racoons toddle in and out of the house in recent years.

The New Owners

When the sisters approached Fletcher for advice about property for a new project, he directed them to Linda Meier, who specializes in Enos Park properties. In the summer of 2017 a handful of sisters, Fletcher, and Linda spent an afternoon looking at several possibilities in the neighborhood, rejecting each one for various reasons. Then Fletcher said he wanted us to look at one more property. He warned that it wouldn’t look like much. The neighborhood association had already begun deconstructing it and salvaging what they could for reuse.

He was right. It didn’t look like much right then—but neither he nor the sisters could let go of the vision of what it could become.

While they were mulling over whether they could take on the expense of a complete rebuild of the old bones of the Thoma house, Bud called one of the sisters on the leadership team and asked if it would be alright for him to ask his architect to draw up some tentative plans.

“That was the beginning,” says Sister Beth. It seems her friend once again succumbed to his imaginative vision and generous nature. He couldn’t let go of the idea. “I think he understood better than I did that we would not have all the capital needed for such an extensive project,” Sister Beth mused.

Fletcher, whose generosity and vision brought to fruition the desire of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association to see the grand old house restored, says he first became aware of the house in the 1970s and recognized it as a gem that should be preserved. “It just needed the right family” he says, and by that he means the Dominicans. He is as ready as the sisters are to see the house full of people gathered for a common purpose: bringing their lives together for the common good—of the neighborhood, of Springfield, and the world.

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