The front hallway of Bob Cox's restored home at 419 Marengo. Cox will present a restoration workshop May 19 at the Historical Society of Forest Park.Courtesy Bob Cox

It only took fifteen years and $150,000 but Bob Cox is proud to say the renovation of his historic home at 419 Marengo is complete. Bob will be sharing the wisdom he acquired in a workshop called “Your Old House 101” May 19 at 4:00 p.m. The event is being hosted by the Historical Society of Forest Park at St. Peter’s Church.

Bob estimates that 80 percent of Forest Park’s homes will soon be turning 100.

“Bring photos of your house,” he advises participants in the workshop.

Cox counts his 2,800 square foot Victorian as one of the town’s three oldest houses. It originally belonged to Joseph Carney and sat on the corner of Marengo and Madison. Carney moved it in 1918, presumably to escape the noisy business district.

Carney was one of the town’s first Irish immigrants arriving here from County Wexford in the early 1850’s. He once owned forty acres of prime real estate but sold off his subdivision, piece by piece. In 1959, Carney’s grandson sold the Italianate-style house to Bob’s dad for $23,500.

It served the Cox family well over the years, comfortably accommodating nine family members. The house was adaptable to every situation, including when Bob’s mom used a wheelchair. It even survived a devastating fire in 1987.

After his dad passed away in 1993, Bob moved in to take care of his mom. In 1997, he vowed to renovate the house in memory of his father. Thankfully, his dad had “cocooned” the house’s interior with paneling and wallpaper. Bob discovered there were Celtic stencils underneath. The first major project, though, was to convert it back to a single-family home. Like many houses in town, it had been turned into a two-flat during World War II.

Besides transforming rooms, like the upstairs kitchen, Bob faced a major headache replacing the roof. It had structural damage and became the most expensive part of the project. There was also a complication when a contractor was upgrading the electrical service. The old wires had been run through the gas pipes and the gas was still on! The renovation included replacing lead water pipes with copper.

Bathrooms were modified, a tin ceiling was installed in the kitchen and Bob added a basement bar. Though he used contractors for the big projects, Bob helped with demolition, painting and repairing windows. The final touch was removing the green shingles and repairing and painting the clapboard siding.

Bob admitted the construction was hard on his wife and kids but ultimately added to their comfort. He had two furnaces and two hot water heaters installed and cut down on drafts with caulking and new storm windows. Throughout the project, he remained committed to staying in Forest Park. “The value of living here is greater than the value of selling it.” His final goal is to have the house added to the National Register of Historic Places. If it qualifies, it will be named for the man who purchased it in 1959, The Robert Daniel Cox House.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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