The Ellwood House Museum reflects the central role of Isaac Ellwood in the development of the barbed wire industry in America. The magnificent estate testifies to his aptitude for business and the breadth of his vision. It also reflects the tastes of multiple generations of the Ellwood family who guided the evolution of the grounds and structures.



Ellwood House Museum
509 North First Street
DeKalb, IL 60115

The Visitor Center is located behind the 1879 mansion. The parking lot can be reached by traveling west on Augusta Avenue to Linden Place.


Contact us

hours of operation

Our tour season runs from March 1 through the first weekend of December. The Visitor Center is open year round. A full tour schedule and Visitor Center hours can be found below.


We offer guided tours of both the Ellwood Mansion and neighboring Ellwood-Nehring House. All guided tours last approximately 60 minutes and start inside the Visitor Center, where tickets may be purchased. Our regular tour season begins on March 1 and ends on November 14. Holiday tours of the decorated mansion run November 15 through the first weekend of December. Please see LEARN for more information about educational programming and school tours.

The Visitor Center contains four exhibit galleries, which are free and open to the public. From March through November, the Visitor Center is open from 12:30 PM to 4:30 PM daily except Mondays. From December through February, the Visitor Center is open Tuesdays through Fridays, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Please see RENTALS for information on booking your event at one of our available venues.


GUIDED mansion TOUR schedule (MARCH 1 - NOVEMBER 14)

A guided tour through 3 floors and the basement of the 1879 mansion. Mansion tours take approximately 60 minutes. 

Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Saturday: 1:00 PM & 3:00 PM
Sunday: 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, & 3:00 PM

HIGHLIGHTS TOUR schedule (march 1 - NOVEMBER 14)

A guided tour of the first floor levels of both the mansion and the neighboring Ellwood-Nehring House. Highlights tours take approximately 60 minutes. 

Friday & Saturday: 2:00 PM

GUIDED TOUR admission prices

Adults: $8
Students & Seniors: $7
AAA Members: $7
Youth ages 6-17: $3
Children under 6: Free
Ellwood House Members: Free (see information on memberships)

large group tours

Tours for groups of ten or more may be scheduled in advance. Due to the larger group size, tours take approximately 90 minutes. Please call 815-756-4609 or email dgable@ellwoodhouse.org for reservations.

Photography & Video Policy 

Exterior photography on the grounds is allowed. No permits or fees are required, but large groups are encouraged to call in advance. Interior photography is prohibited everywhere except the Visitor Center.

visitor center exhibit galleries (march - November)

Tuesday - Sunday: 12:30 PM to 4:30 PM

visitor center exhibit galleries (December - February)

Tuesday - Friday: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Holiday decorated mansion tours (November 15 - 30)

A guided tour through 3 floors and basement level of the elegantly decorated 1879 mansion. Guided tours take approximately 60 minutes.

Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Thursday: 1:00 PM & 3:00 PM
Friday - Sunday: 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, & 3:00 PM

2018 holiday event weekend

Friday, November 30: 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Saturday, December 1: 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, December 2: 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

Holiday tour & event admission prices

Adults: $10
Youth ages 6-17: $5
Children Under 6: Free
Ellwood House Members: Free

the museum will be closed the following holidays in 2018

Sunday, April 1 for Easter
Sunday, May 13 for Mother's Day
Wednesday, July 4 for Independence Day
Thursday, November 22 for Thanksgiving
Tuesday, December 25 for Christmas Day

Gardens & Grounds

Situated on a ten-acre estate, the Ellwood House Museum and Park features grassy lawns, a wooded area, formal gardens,
two native garden areas, and the Berg Garden.

The gardens reflect two generations of the Ellwood family and incorporate changing ideas about architecture and the landscape. Influenced by both Harriet Ellwood and her passion for Victorian collecting of exotic plant types and May Ellwood’s pursuit of an
Arts and Crafts garden, the grounds are a perfect place to explore.

The gardens and grounds are open dawn to dusk and can be explored seven days a week without a tour guide.


The Ellwood House Museum offers a variety of educational programs throughout the year.

Brown Bag Lunch/Local Lore

2018 Lecture Series

partially funded by the mary e. stevens concert and lecture fund

Brown Bag Lunch/Local Lore is a series of lecture programs related to history, collections care, and historic preservation. Once a month, a knowledgeable speaker will present an hour-long program at a site in DeKalb County. All programs are free of charge and open to the public.

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Ellwood Explorers

generously funded by the cy miller foundation

Ellwood Explorers is a series of family programs offered each summer between the months of May and August.
The 2018 program schedule will be posted in the spring.

School Tours

At the root of our tours and programs is an emphasis on the story of the Ellwood House, the history of the Ellwood family, their barbed wire business, and the exploration of our collective history.


School field trips are free of charge.

Group Size

The maximum group size we can accommodate is 45 students. If you would like to bring more than 45 students, please book them in two groups in back to back sessions, or in two groups on two separate days.


We appreciate chaperones, but we ask that you limit parent chaperones to 2 adults per visit. This number, of course, does not include teachers and staff.


We prefer to host field trips in the morning and can begin as early as 9:00 AM. School tours cannot be scheduled for 1:00 PM or 3:00 PM. School tours are available Tuesday through Friday.
The museum is closed on Mondays.

Food & Drink

Bagged lunches can be brought with you and eaten on the grounds. The Visitor Center meeting room may be available as a backup in case of inclement weather. Please contact our office about using the meeting room.

Special Programming

We offer tours specifically designed for grades 2nd through 5th. Please see below for details.

History Detectives

Become a detective! Be assigned a lead investigator who will walk you through the Ellwood Mansion and guide you on your
fact-finding mission.

2nd and 3rd Grade Program

Students have the opportunity to examine historic photographs and objects within the mansion to discover what families did for fun one hundred years ago. Tour the Ellwood House to see significant pieces of family history passed down through multiple generations.

The purpose of this program

To introduce students to Isaac Ellwood and the barbed wire industry in DeKalb, explaining why the mansion exists today, and why Isaac Ellwood was important. Introducing students to historic photographs and artifacts in order to seek out answers to historical questions. Touring the mansion to gain a greater understanding of historic pastimes, hobbies, and entertainment through the examination of the historic house and artifacts. Students will recognize how the pastimes of the past relate to their lives today.

Program Logistics

The program is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Please allow for 2 hours to be spent at the museum. 45 students max per group visit. Please call our office 815-756-4609 or email Scott Tews at tews@ellwoodhouse.org for more information or to book this program.

Hard Work

Learn to properly set the dining room table, write a menu, change a diaper and more. You better learn your jobs quickly & efficiently, as there is no room for error when you are a servant.


Students see and feel what life was like for those individuals who worked for the Ellwood family. Try out jobs done by Ellwood House staff. Learn to properly set the dining room table, write a menu, change a diaper and more. Tour the Ellwood House's interesting work areas in the basement and view the staff living quarters on multiple levels of the mansion.


To familiarize students with differences in lifestyle between the Ellwood family and their working class servants/staff. Students will gain an appreciation for the complexity and physicality of working at Ellwood House. Students will also learn about the immigration experience and how education, language, and practical skills determine the types of jobs available to the Ellwood House staff.


The program is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Please allow for 2 hours to be spent at the museum. 45 students max per group visit. Please call our office 815-756-4609 or email Scott Tews at tews@ellwoodhouse.org for more information or to book this program.


The Ellwood House Museum presents a variety of special events throughout the year.

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Ellwood Summer Festival
Sunday, August 5, 2018


Wine on the Terrace
Saturday, September 22, 2018


Holiday Traditions
November 15 - December 2, 2018


The Ellwood House Museum offers three unique rental spaces on ten acres of gardens and grounds.

Ellwood-Nehring House

A site of unmatched elegance, the Ellwood-Nehring House is the perfect venue for a small reception, rehearsal dinner, or wedding ceremony and is a beautiful backdrop for photographs.

Rental Information

  • 1899 Tudor Revival style mansion with beautiful architectural detail and woodwork throughout
  • Maximum capacity: Up to 80 for reception-style seating, up to 54 banquet-style, up to 50 theater-style
  • Accessible via stairs or ramp
  • Two restrooms, one of which is ADA compliant
  • Fully equipped kitchen
  • Rental includes first floor only (second floor unavailable)

Rental times

Available March - June & September - November

Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Thursday: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Friday & Saturday*  9:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Sunday: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM

*Fri. & Sat. rentals must accommodate building tours at 2:00 PM

Interior photography

Photography sessions can be scheduled Tuesday-Sunday by appointment.


Space Rental: $350.00/hour
Interior Photography Sessions: $150.00/hour (one hour minimum)

Rental fees are charged for the time needed for set up and take down of food service and decorations by renter/caterer. Discounts available for use of multiple facilities on the same date.


  • On-site staff person
  • Set up of tables and chairs
  • Trash removal

Table linens and decorations are not provided.


If no alcohol is served, any caterer can be used for rentals of the Ellwood-Nehring House. Alcohol service requires approved caterers. The Ellwood-Nehring House can be fan cooled but is not air conditioned.


For more information about our available rental facilities, contact Donna Gable, Director of Visitor Services by e-mailing dgable@ellwoodhouse.org.

Garden Weddings

Since 1967, the Ellwood House site has been a memorable setting for outdoor wedding ceremonies.

Rental Information  

  • Space available for parties of up to 80
  • Weather alternative space available for garden rentals
  • Views of the Mansion and 4 distinct gardens on 10 acres

Rental Times

Available May 15 - October 15.

Outdoor/wedding garden events may be scheduled before 12:00 PM or after 5:00 PM. Outdoor/wedding garden events may not be scheduled between 12:00 PM & 5:00 PM.


Garden Wedding Ceremony: $500.00

Discounts available for use of multiple facilities on the same date.


  • Use of garden for ceremony and for rehearsal the day before
  • Use of the Hearthside Room in the Visitor Center as back up in case of inclement weather (chairs provided in Hearthside Room)
  • Use of Visitor Center restrooms
  • Use of grounds and building exteriors for photography
  • Staff person in the Visitor Center

Renters must make their own provisions for a wedding officiant. Chairs are not provided for outdoor rentals. 


No alcohol is allowed on the grounds. Outdoor rentals are limited to ceremonies only. Outdoor receptions are not allowed on the grounds.


For more information about our available rental facilities, contact Donna Gable, Director of Visitor Services by e-mailing dgable@ellwoodhouse.org.

Hearthside Room

Located in the Visitor Center, the Hearthside Room is a charming spot for an intimate reception, rehearsal dinner, shower,
or wedding ceremony.

Rental Information

  • Building modeled after the original 1911 multi-car garage, with a fireplace mantle originally located in the Ellwood House
  • Two pairs of French doors open to a small patio with a view of the woods, mansion, and the Little House
  • Bad weather back up site for garden weddings
  • Maximum capacity: 80 (reception, banquet, or theater style)
  • Building and restrooms meet ADA standards
  • Fully equipped kitchen
  • Located on the first floor of our two-story Visitor Center, open to the public

Rental Times

Available March 1 - November 15.

Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Sunday: 8:00 AM - 11:00 PM


  • On-site staff person
  • Setup of tables and chairs
  • Trash removal

Table linens and decorations are not provided.


Rates differ by time of day required for a reservation.

Tuesday - Friday, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM: $50.00/hour
Tuesday - Friday, 5:00 PM - 11:00 PM: $75.00/hour
Saturday & Sunday 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM: $75.00/hour
Saturday & Sunday 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM: $50.00/hour
Saturday & Sunday 5:00 PM - 11:00 PM: $75.00/hour

Rental fees are charged for the time needed for set up and take down of food service and decorations by renter/caterer. Discounts available for use of multiple facilities on the same date.


Alcohol cannot be served. Any caterer can be used.


For more information about our available rental facilities, contact Donna Gable, Director of Visitor Services by e-mailing dgable@ellwoodhouse.org.




Ellwood House Museum members enjoy a full year of exclusive benefits and experiences including special events, programs, discounts, 
and more, all while providing crucial support for the museum's programming and exhibits. Members have the satisfaction of knowing they help support the many free programs and exhibits of the Ellwood House Museum and the preservation and ongoing restoration of the historic Ellwood and Ellwood-Nehring Houses.

Membership benefits & levels

All members receive the following benefits:

Free tour admission to the Ellwood House and Ellwood-Nehring House for one year

Invitations to special members' only events, such as the annual Holiday Members' Night

A subscription to the museum's quarterly newsletter, the "Ellwood House Herald"

A 10% discount on all items in the Museum Shop

($25/one year, $48/two years)

Includes the benefits listed above for one person for one year.

($35/one year, $65/two years)

Includes the benefits listed above for one household for one year.

($50/one year, $95/two years)

Includes Family Membership benefits + 10% off rental rates in the Hearthside Room.

($100/one year, $190/two years)

Includes Contributing Membership benefits + two free guest passes for our standard tour or the annual Holiday Open House.

($250/one year)

Includes Contributing Membership benefits + four free guest passes for our standard tour or the annual Holiday Open House.

($500/one year)

Includes Sponsor Membership benefits + one custom tour arranged at your convenience for your family or friends.


Includes Patron Membership benefits + one free use of the Hearthside Room for your private party.


For more information about memberships, contact Scott Tews, Assistant Director by e-mailing tews@ellwoodhouse.org or calling 815-756-4609.


The Ellwood House Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which relies on the combined generosity of visitors and supporters to engage visitors with authentic example of ingenuity and architecture by sharing the Ellwood mansion, gardens, and museum campus.

The complex of buildings is both the property of the DeKalb Park District and the Ellwood House Association, Inc. (which runs the entire complex as a museum). The DeKalb Park District provides for building maintenance, repairs, utilities, and tree care, mowing, and snow removal of Ellwood Park. The remainder of funds needed for restoration, collections, research, and to operate the museum must be raised from a variety of sources.

We work with individuals, corporations, foundations, and government agencies to support every facet of the Museum. Individuals may join as a Member, contribute to a special campaign, or make a general donation to the Museum's greatest needs. The Ellwood Society engages individuals who have included the Ellwood House Museum in their estate plans or have established planned gifts to the Museum. Corporations may support the Ellwood House in a variety of ways, such as sponsoring an event or exhibit.


For more information, contact Brian Reis, Executive Director by emailing breis@ellwoodhouse.org  or calling 815-756-4609.


The Ellwood House Museum relies on a strong team of board members, staff, interns, and dedicated volunteers. If you would like to join our team, please see below for current opportunities.

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteers are an essential part of our team. With your skills, knowledge, and passion we are able to share the history of the museum campus with thousands of visitors each year.

 Photo courtesy of   Shaw Media 

Photo courtesy of Shaw Media 

Tour Guides

Guides conduct one-hour tours of the Ellwood Mansion and Ellwood-Nehring House for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Tour guide training is offered twice a year, in April and in July.

Visitor Center

Volunteers in the Visitor Center greet visitors to the museum and act as cashiers at the reception desk and museum shop. Visitor Center training is ongoing and can be scheduled March through November.

Field Trips

The museum offers two tour programs designed specifically for grades 2-5. Field trip volunteers assist staff with delivering these tours for school groups. Training is ongoing and can be scheduled March through November. 


Events & Programs

Volunteers assist museum staff in presenting a variety of events and programs throughout the year including concerts, lectures, the Ellwood Summer Festival and the annual holiday event. Training is ongoing and can be scheduled March through November.

For more information, contact Scott Tews, by emailing tews@ellwoodhouse.org or calling 815-756-4609


Selenia Rolfe Towle Teague Education Intern
The goal of the education internship is to assist in the creation and execution of the museum's educational programming. The education intern will work closely with museum staff to deliver guided tours as well as youth and adult programming,

Application Deadline: April 15

Internship runs from May through August
Includes a $500.00 stipend

Tour Guide & Museum Operations Intern
The goal of the tour guide and museum operations internship is to assist during the museum's tour season by delivering one-hour guided tours of the Ellwood Mansion and Ellwood-Nehring House, as well as supporting museum operations in the Visitor Center.

Application Deadline: April 15

Internship runs from May through August
Includes a $500.00 stipend


Jerry & Annette Johns Collections Intern
The goal of the collections internship is to gain hands-on experience in the care, cataloging, and storage of museum artifacts. Working with museum staff, the collections intern will participate in the care of the museum's historic structures and collection of over 6,000 objects.

Application Deadline: July 15

Internship runs from August through early December
Includes a $500.00 stipend


The Ellwood House Museum is a historic mansion situated on ten acres of parkland in the heart of DeKalb, Illinois. The museum campus consists of seven historic structures (including the 1879 Ellwood Mansion and 1899 Ellwood-Nehring House), four gardens, and 6,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Patience Ellwood Towle Visitor Center, a converted and expanded 1912 multi-car garage. Originally built for barbed wire entrepreneur Isaac Ellwood, the Mansion was home to three generations of the Ellwood family from 1879 to 1965.

In 1965, the Ellwood Mansion was given to the DeKalb Park District by Mrs. May Ellwood and her three children. In 2011, Mrs. Shirley Nehring donated the Ellwood-Nehring House to the non-profit Ellwood House Association. Today the Association operates the entire site as a museum.


The mission of the Ellwood House Association is to engage visitors with authentic examples of ingenuity and architecture by sharing the Ellwood mansion, gardens, and museum campus.

Core Values


Responsibly achieve our goals through historical accuracy and financial sustainability.


Preserve and conserve the historic structures, collections, and landscape entrusted to our care.


Serve a diverse audience through engaging educational programs, tours, and exhibits. 


Provide an outstanding visitor experience which fosters a richer appreciation for and exploration of local history and the Ellwood museum campus.


Our vision is for a dynamic museum campus, deep-rooted in our community, providing connections between the past and today, inspiring creativity, and sharing a sense of wonder.

Staff & Board of Directors


Donna Gable
Director of Visitor Services

Audrey Hale
Curator of Education and Interpretation

Brian Reis
Executive Director

Scott Tews
Assistant Director

Resident INTERNS

Destiny Bons
Historic Site Caretaker

Allison Sutton
Collections Assistant

Board of Directors

Kelli Bender

David Castro, Vice President

Timothy Conklin, Treasurer

Thecla Cooler

Mat Emken, DeKalb Park District

Steve Faivre, Director Emeritus

Jerry Johns

Lizbeth Roman

Rod Schairer

Carolyn Swafford, Secretary

Amanda Wielgus

Rachel Xidis, President


Keenly aware of the needs of farmers for a cheap durable fencing material through his hardware business, Ellwood began to tinker with ways to improve fencing. In 1874 he abandoned his own idea and purchased a one-half interest in DeKalb farmer Joseph Glidden’s barbed wire patent for $265. The two soon formed a partnership and established the world’s first barbed wire factory. By 1879, fifty million pounds of barbed wire were being produced annually and Ellwood was well on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest men in Illinois. This wealth enabled him to build a palatial home for his family on a large property at the edge of DeKalb.

Isaac Leonard Ellwood was born in Salt Springville, New York on August 3, 1833. His parents were people of modest means. Already ambitious as a young man, he drove a mule team on the Erie Canal. In 1851 he made his way west to seek his fortune in the gold fields of California. He clerked in a hardware store in Sacramento and saved his earnings hoping to establish his own business. In 1855, Ellwood made his way to DeKalb County, Illinois, where several of his brothers had already settled. Here he found work on the large farm of William Miller near Kingston. Isaac married Miller’s daughter Harriet in 1859 and soon established a hardware store on Main Street in DeKalb.

the barbed wire story

To preserve their monopoly, Washburn & Moen and Isaac Ellwood & Company purchased the rights to many prior and subsequent patents related to barbed wire. Years of litigation followed between the holders of the Glidden patent and other patentholders, including Jacob Haish, over priority in the invention of the first practical barbed wire. In 1892, the United States Supreme Court awarded precedence to Joseph Glidden because of his original claim that the twisting of the two strands of wire holds the barbs in place. The Court declared: "In the law of patents, it is the last step that wins."

Before barbed wire could achieve widespread use throughout the West, it had to be accepted by ranchers and farmers. Sensing that Texas would be the largest single market for the new invention, Ellwood sent the team of Henry Sanborn and J.P. Warner to Houston in 1875 to promote and sell barbed wire. They found Texas seething with controversy between the free grassers, who wanted to maintain the open range, and the nesters, who advocated fields protected by fences. Even those who were in favor of fencing scoffed at the idea that a light-weight barbed wire fence could restrain the wild Texas Longhorn cattle. There was also concern that the sharp barbs would inflict wounds on cattle. If the cuts became infected, the cattle could become diseased and die.

Because of these controversies, Sanborn and Warner failed to sell much barbed wire. This situation changed when a 21-year-old sales-man named John W. Gates was hired by Ellwood. Arriving in Texas, Gates obtained permission to build a barbed wire corral in San Antonio's Military Plaza. He announced that he intended to demonstrate that this fence could contain even the most wild Texas longhorns and offered to take all bets on the outcome. Gates' bravado soon aroused the interest of many cattlemen. When the fenced enclosure was complete, he had wild Longhorn bulls driven into the corral. The animals, aroused by the taunts of the onlookers, were provoked repeatedly to charge the barbed wire. The fences held and Gates soon began to sell barbed wire to the cattlemen by the railcar load.

In the 1870s, three men from DeKalb, Illinois began tinkering with an idea for cheap, durable fencing. They were: Joseph F. Glidden, a farmer; Jacob Haish, a lumber dealer; and Isaac L. Ellwood, a hardware merchant. With a simple twist of metal, the lives of these three men and the future of the American West were changed forever.

Joseph Glidden made his first barbed wire in the kitchen of his farmhouse, using a coffee mill to twist the barbs into shape. Working in his barn he then utilized a grindstone to twist two strands of wire together after placing the handmade barbs on one strand of the wire. After making several hundred feet of wire in this manner, he fenced his wife's vegetable garden to keep stray animals out.

Glidden applied for a patent in October 1873; however, it was not granted until November 24, 1874. Meanwhile, Ellwood quickly recognized the superiority of Glidden's concept over his own, and in July 1874 he purchased a one-half interest in Glidden’s yet-to-be issued patent for $265. DeKalb folklore relates that it was Mrs. Ellwood who saw the promise of Glidden’s wire.

Glidden and Ellwood soon formed a partnership called the Barb Fence Company and began the manufacture of barbed wire in DeKalb. In the first year of 1874 only 10,000 lbs. of barbed wire were produced, largely by hand. The following year the company built its first factory with a steam engine and machines to mechanize the barbing of the wire. Output rose dramatically and in 1875 more than 600,000 lbs. were manufactured.

In 1876 Glidden sold the remaining interest in his patent to Washburn & Moen Co., the largest U.S. wire manufacturer, for $60,000 plus royalty rights. Backed by ample capital, the barbed wire business soon began to assume gigantic proportions. According to The DeKalb County Manufacturer, 2,840,000 lbs. of barbed wire were produced in 1876, 12,863,000 lbs. in 1877, 26,655,000 lbs. in 1878, and 50,337,000 lbs. in 1879.