You Can’t Take Photos Inside The Dana-Thomas House

You just can’t. But you can photograph the outside.

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Whether it’s to protect the home from rogue flash photography, keep it shrouded in mystery, or ensure tours move efficiently, I do not know. But, don’t let that stop you from going on a tour.

It’s technically free, though, the museum suggests a $10 donation for adults. To sign-up for a tour, simply meet at the adjacent carriage house. Signs lead the way.

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A greeter will hand you a ticket for the next scheduled tour and invite you explore the small gift shop or relax in the waiting room until it’s time. After a five-minute video introducing the home, the tour begins.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s life is fascinating, but not without the tragedy and this building’s story is no exception. Although I can’t show you any glimpses inside the home or its unusual features, I can try to capture some of the most interesting parts of the tour with words. I’ll do my best so here goes. . .

1. The Dana-Thomas House is big. It’s get lost and maybe be found big.

2. There really are no doors. Sure, there’s a front door and maybe a door separating the servant’s quarters, but the rest of the rooms are open or separated by curtains.

3. Overcast days are good. In fact, they are the best types of days for viewing the home. The dimness allows the sunlight to peek through the architectural features and illuminate the home. Frank even said so.

4. In 1902 Susan Lawrence Dana gave Wright free rein to remodel her father’s house with no budget. The website describes how this was Wright’s first “blank check commission.” Kids, this is what’s possible when your father owns gold and silver mines and dies and leaves you money.

5. Wright made Susan hang his self-portrait by the front door. Actually I couldn’t tell if our guide was joking or not, but he said that Wright provided people who commissioned him to build their homes with his photo to hang by the entry.

6. Second owner Charles Thomas saved the home from demolition. He bought it when Susan succumbed to dementia and used it as his publishing company’s headquarters. Eventually he sold it to the state of Illinois for one million dollars so that Wright’s home could be preserved. To put this into perspective, just one of Wright’s double pedestal lamps sold for nearly two million dollars at a Christie’s auction in 1992. The bidding only took four seconds.

7. Susan liked to party. She liked to party so much that she had Wright design the house to revolve around parties. You’ll find grand, vaulted ceilings above the dining table, musician’s balconies everywhere, curtained staircases designed for making dramatic entrances, and a whole rec center in the basement.

8. But Susan’s whole life wasn’t a party. Her first two husbands tragically died young and her third was a scoundrel. Both of her children didn’t survive past infancy.

9. Susan was a really big deal. She stopped trains. Usually trains stopped at the train station, but when Susan had a party, she made them to stop at her house so her guests didn’t have to go to the train station. She was also a women’s rights activist and suffragist. In addition to parties, she opened her home to women’s rights lectures from people like Jane Adaams.

10. There’s a hidden cooler chest in the library. Susan had Wright design this cooler to store treats for the children that visited her library and attended story time. Our guide explained how she didn’t just invite wealthy people’s children to use the library, but from the whole community.

11. Children fished from planters. There are two, long planters line the entire length of the conservatory that are lined with zinc. Susan would remove the plants before family friendly parties and fill them with water and goldfish. At the end of parties, she’d allow children to take home a goldfish if they could catch one.

13. The kitchen is actually kind of basic. While it’s plenty functional, it’s missing Wright’s decorative flourishes seen everywhere else. Our guide postulated that it’s because he didn’t want the household staff to feel too fancy. They got a cool bread warmer contraption and giant cooler but very plain window treatments. Those of us who cook like pretty stained glass, too, Frank.

14. Back in the day, working out meant playing billiards. Susan considered two games of billiards per day a workout.  I long for those days.

15. Wright doubted the success of electricity. Walking through the dim mansion, exposed Edison bulbs and rays of sunlight illuminated the way. Wright somehow designed the electrical system of the house to have the ability to easily convert back to gas in case the electric companies failed.

Details:
The Dana-Thomas House is located at 301 E. Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, Illinois. You really can’t miss it. There’s plenty of street parking available right outside of the house. Tours are available Wed-Sun beginning at 9 a.m. with the last tour leaving at 3:45. Plan on staying for 1.5 hours. 

10 Comments

  1. I must go here! We have tried to visit Frank Lloyd Wright houses wherever we can and this one sounds amazing. I love the cooler in the library for the kids and all of the other little touches. I suspect the portrait was from Frank—I think from what I have read he felt pretty highly about himself. Even though you could not provide photos (I always wonder the cause of that as well) I felt as if I was walking right along with you on the tour. Thanks! I loved it!

  2. I missed this during my trip to Springfield several years ago because it was closed during my stay. It’s the one thing I regretted not seeing. Have you visited any of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other homes or buildings? His home and studio is in Oak Park, just outside of Chicago if you ever get the chance to visit.

    • We’ve only visited the hotel in Mason City – which is really cool! If you are ever in that area around dinner, it’s fun to grab a drink in the lounge. We’ll remember to visit Oak Park when we come back to Chicago.

  3. Stay tuned! In early August Visit Springfield (@VisitSpringfield on Facebook) will be giving a live virtual tour of the Dana-Thomas House. We’re working with Georama to give live tours of top Springfield sites August 8 – 14, daily at noon.

    And the Dana-Thomas House is now open 7 days a week, so make sure to stop by this summer if you can! It’s free to tour!

  4. Sounds like a fantastic tour!

  5. No way- Dusty and I will be going to Chicago next month and I told him that I want to do a FLW tour if possible. Then I see this post. I’ve got to try and make this happen.

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