709 E. Taylor

Barber-Sinclair House

709 E. Taylor Street

circa 1852

     Eliel Barber moved to Bloomington, Illinois from upstate New York and brought the lumber here by rail. He constructed the house at 709 E. Taylor Street after purchasing the land that is bordered by Taylor, Clayton, Jackson and Clinton.

     According to  Bloomington – Normal Lost, published in 2000 by the Old House Society of McLean County, “The exterior walls were constructed with vertical planks, used as structural members; the gaps between the planks were sealed with strips of wood called ‘battens’. The planks were held in place by 6-inch spikes driven at opposite angles to each other. On the interior, horizontal tongue and groove boards served as the walls. These construction techniques were not uncommon in Barber’s native New York, but it was very rare in Illinois.” The home is 1 ½ stories with some floors of original pine hardwood.

Eliel Barber Cottage 1867 (center)


     Barber also built the first half of the Vrooman (pronounced Vroh-man) Mansion as a gift to his wife, Malinda Lewis Barber. However, he lost interest in the project when she died before it was completed. Barber and his wife are buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Section F in Bloomington, Illinois.

Tombstone of Malinda & Eliel Barber

Evergreen Cemetery, Bloomington, IL

     Harold Sinclair lived in this home when he wrote The Horse Soldiers, a Civil War era novel that was later made into a movie starring John Wayne and William Holden. The premier of the movie took place at the Castle Theater in Bloomington on June 12, 1959. It was directed by John Ford. Local residents tell us that the cast met at the home before attending the premier. Mr. Sinclair died in 1966 and is buried at Park Hill Cemetery in Bloomington. In recent years, the house has sometimes been referred to as “The Sinclair House”.       

     A photo of  Mr. Sinclair with William Holden and John Wayne is included in the 1982 Illustrated History of McLean County edited by Martin Wyckoff and Greg Koos with commentary by Don Munson. The house is also featured in Bloomington-Normal Lost, a collection of older homes in the area, published in 2000 by the Old House Society with historical text by Martin Wyckoff and photography by Ken Kashian and Marty Seigel. Many interesting items about the Mr. Sinclair are archived at the McLean County Museum of History on the downtown square of Bloomington, Illinois.

Harold Sinclair’s Book/Movie

     In 1994, the Barber Cottage was recognized by the Bloomington city council with a “Beautification Award”. It was designated as a “Gift to the Street” by the Old House Society in 1999. Regular historically accurate maintenance has been provided in recent years by contractor Brad Williams, Bloomington “Preservationist of the Year” for 2018. 

Winter at 709 E. Taylor Street

     The current residents of the Barber-Sinclair House have resided in the home since 1993 and are involved in Civil War events with the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band (33rdband.org), a re-creation of a brass band of 1861 that  included students and professors from Illinois Normal School, now called Illinois State University.