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.

Please note that the museum will be closed on Sunday, May 14 for Mother's Day.



509 North First Street
DeKalb, IL 60115
Entrance to the Ellwood House Visitor Center and parking area can be reached by traveling west on Augusta Avenue to Linden Place.
Contact us


Our regular tour season runs March 1 through November 30. Our special holiday event is offered the first weekend of December.
Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Sunday: 12:30 PM - 4:30 PM
See VISIT for guided tour schedule.
See RENTALS for information on booking your event
at one of our available venues.


We offer guided tours of both the Ellwood Mansion and the Ellwood-Nehring House. All guided tours last approximately one hour and start inside the Visitor Center, where tickets may be purchased. Our regular tour season begins on March 1 and ends on November 30. See LEARN for more information about educational programming and school visits.

The Visitor Center contains four exhibit galleries, which are free and open to the public daily 12:30 PM – 4:30 PM from March 1 through November 30 (closed Mondays and major holidays). See RENTALS for information on booking your event at one of our available venues.



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)


A guided tour through 3 floors and the basement of the 1879 mansion. Guided 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


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

Friday: 2:00 PM
Saturday: 2:00 PM

large group tours

Tours for groups of ten or more may be scheduled in advance. Please call 815-756-4609 or email trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org for reservations.

visitor center exhibit galleries

The Visitor Center contains four exhibit galleries, which are free and open to the public daily from 12:30 PM to 4:30 PM (closed Mondays and major holidays).

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

Holiday Open House (December 1 - 3)

Friday, December 1: 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Saturday, December 2: 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, December 3: 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

Holiday tour & open house admission

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

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 investigated seven days a week without a tour guide.

Photography & Video Policy 

Exterior photography on the grounds is allowed. Interior photography is prohibited everywhere except the Visitor Center.


Entrance to the Ellwood House Museum Visitor Center and parking lot can be reached by traveling west on Augusta Avenue to Linden Place.

See the home page for an area map, or find directions at google



The Ellwood House Museum offers educational programs for learners of all ages. 

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.

Ellwood Explorers takes place whether it's rain or shine! All outdoor programs will be moved into the Visitor Center in case of bad weather. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Programs are free of charge. For more information please call the museum at 815-756-4609 or email Tricia Runzel,
Curator of Education and Interpretation at trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org.

Lunch at the Little House
Saturday, May 27 at 11:00 AM

Spend the afternoon at everyone's favorite playhouse, the 1891 Little House. Learn about nineteenth century games and try out reproduction toys. Bring a lunch and enjoy it under a shady tree on the grounds of scenic Ellwood Park. All ages are welcome.

Hidden Technology
Thursday, June 8 at 11:00 AM

Hidden in the servant areas of the mansion are many pieces of technology. In this program, children will learn about these elements of servant life. After exploring, children will use their imagination to dream up and craft new technologies for the Ellwood servants to use. All ages are welcome.

Countries of Curiosity
Wednesday, June 21 at 11:00 AM

Pack your steamer trunk! Travel the world with the Ellwoods and learn about the fun souvenirs Harriet Ellwood collected for her Curiosity Shop. Then, travel to a country Harriet never saw and create a souvenir of your own. All ages are welcome.

Summer Selections
Thursday, July 6 at 11:00 AM
Presented with the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, NIU

Gather in the living room of the Ellwood-Nehring House to hear the reading of bestselling children's book The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. After the story, create related arts and crafts and enjoy a snack. Ages 2 and up with parent and/or guardian.

BLOCK Fest® 
Friday, July 21 at 10:30 AM
Presented with the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement

Explore the many possibilities of block building in this fun event for children ages 8 months to 8 years. This hands-on program promotes early math and science skills. Perhaps we'll even find a budding architect!

Ellwood Explorers at the 48th Annual Ice Cream Social
Sunday, August 6 at 1:00 PM

Learn to hand-churn your own ice cream! During this year's Ice Cream Social, children are invited to make their own ice cream sundae just like the Ellwoods and their staff did 100 years ago. All ages are welcome.



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

Ellwood House offers tours specifically desgined for grades 2nd through 5th. To schedule a program for another age group, please call Tricia Runzel at 815-756-4609 or email trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org.

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 Tricia Runzel at trunzel@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 Tricia Runzel at trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org for more information or to book this program.

Creatures & Creations

Find many hidden animals within the architecture and ornate detailing of the Ellwood House, then come to the Visitor Center
for an art project based on what you saw!

have you heard there are animals in the ellwood House?

Take a tour and find lions, dragons, sea creatures, and other creatures carved into wood, painted on canvas, and hidden where you least expect them. After your hunt, head to the Visitor Center to create your own take-home art project!


$5 per person (family program developed for ages 6 and up)


This one-hour program may be booked as a private tour for groups of six or more.


For more information or to schedule this tour, call Tricia Runzel at 815-756-4609 or email to trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org.

Local Lore
2017 adult lecture series

Presented by the Ellwood house museum in partnership with DeKalb Area Historic Sites and Museums

Local Lore is a series of adult lecture programs. Once a month, a knowledgeable speaker will present an hour-long program about history relevant to DeKalb County. All programs are free of charge and take place in the Ellwood House Museum Visitor Center, unless otherwise stated. Participants are welcome to bring a sack lunch to each program. For more information, call (815) 756-4609 or email trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org.

Partially funded by the mary e. stevens concert & lecture fund

Open House
Wednesday, March 15 at noon

Join the DeKalb Area Historic Sites for a preview of this year's Local Lore. Representatives from each of the historic sites will be in attendance. Refreshments and hors d'oeurves will be provided.


The Women Behind the Big Three:
Harriet Ellwood, Luncinda Glidden, and Sophia Haish
Friday, March 24 at noon
Speakers: Rob Glover, Jessi Haish LaRue, and Tricia Runzel

In honor of Women's History Month, learn about the wives of DeKalb's Big Three. Join staff members from the Ellwood House Museum and Glidden Homestead, along with a Haish descendant, for a special look at the women married to DeKalb's most famous residents.


Historic Egyptian Theatre Tour
Thursday, April 13 at noon
Speaker: Alex Nerad

Join Egyptian Theatre Executive Director, Alex Nerad, for a behind-the-scenes look at the architecture and history of one of DeKalb's most iconic buildings. Tour meets at the Egyptian Theatre.


Digging In: Archaeology at the Glidden Homestead
Thursday, May 18 at noon
Speaker: Rob Glover

A simple invention in an old barn put DeKalb on the map. Today, Glidden Homestead is digging into that barn's deeper history to give a full picture of Joseph Glidden's historic invention. Join the Homestead's executive director, Rob Glover, for the 2017 update on this exciting archaeology project. 


DeKalb's Finn Town
Tuesday, June 6 at noon
Speaker: Dr. Diane Rodgers

At the turn of the 20th century, DeKalb was such a hot-spot for Finnish immigrants that they had their own "town" in today's Pleasant Street neighborhood. In this talk, NIU professor Diane Rodgers will explore the neighborhood's unique history and share her own efforts to preserve Majakka Hall.

The Winged Ear Logo: Origin and Evolution of a Global Classic
Thursday, July 13 at noon
Speaker: Donna Langford

DEKALB corn's winged ear logo is recognized worldwide and has its roots in our hometown. Donna Langford of DAAHA will explore how this unique logo came to be and how it has evolved over the last 80 years.


County Seat through the Eyes of the Joiner History Room
Saturday, August 26 at noon
Speaker: Sue Breese

Have you ever wondered why Sycamore is the county seat? Sue Breese of the Joiner History Room will delve into the 20th century battle between DeKalb and Sycamore and the historically contentious decision to build the courthouse in Sycamore.


Our House is Your House! 160 Years at 205 Pine Street
Wednesday, September 20 at noon
Speakers: Gurler Heritage Association board members

Learn the history of the Gurler family in DeKalb, the unique role of the Gurler Heritage Association within our community, and how you can be a part of the Gurler House's pioneer legacy.


History of the DeKalb Fire Department
Friday, October 20 at noon
Speaker: Lt. Luke Howieson

The DeKalb Fire Department has been saving lives for over 100 years. In honor of Fire Prevention Month, join firefighter Luke Howieson for a presentation on the history of our local Fire Department and a glimpse into the unique treasures preserved by the DeKalb Firefighters Historical Foundation.


Sycamore's Garnsey Homes
Thursday, November 16 at noon
Speaker: Steve Bigolin

Did you know the Ellwood Mansion's architect also designed two homes in Sycamore? Join local historian Steve Bigolin for an in-depth look at the architecture and residents of 420 Somonauk Street and the Boynton House on North Main Street.


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

Memorial Day Program

Monday, May 29, 2017

Music at the Mansion

June 14, July 26, and August 16, 2017

This summer, the Ellwood House Museum is partnering with Kishwaukee Fest and FunME events to present a new live outdoor music series. "Music at the Mansion" will feature three concerts, one each month in June, July, and August. All concerts start at 7:00 PM on the mansion terrace. Concerts are open to the public and free to attend. Lite refreshments will be available for purchase by Boy Scout Troop 33.

Blues at the Mansion
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
7:00 pm
Johnny and the Boomers

Jazz at the Mansion
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
7:00 pm
Mary J Harris Trio

Big Band at the Mansion
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Jazz in Progress Big Band

48th Annual Ice Cream Social

Sunday, August 6, 2017
10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Enjoy a day of fun with art, music, and good food on the grounds of the Ellwood House Museum. The day will feature 20 artist booths, first floor tours of the Ellwood Mansion and Ellwood-Nehring House, live music, educational programming, delicious ice cream, and more.

Wine on the Terrace

Saturday, September 16, 2017
4:00 pm - 7:00 pm

The Ellwood House terraces and gardens provide an elegant setting for an evening of wines, excellent appetizers, and music. This major fundraiser has become an eagerly anticipated community event.

Holiday Traditions

November 15 - December 3, 2017

Kick off your holidays with a tour of the elegantly decorated mansion between November 15 and November 30, or join us for our Holiday Open House weekend December 1 – 3.

Holiday Open House (December 1 - 3)

Friday, December 1: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM*
Saturday, December 2: 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM*
Sunday, December 3: 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM*

*Last tickets sold 30 mins. before closing


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

MEMBERs' NIGHT (November 30)

Thursday, November 30: 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM

All members are invited to a special preview of the decorated mansion. See JOIN & GIVE for more information about becoming a member.


Every November, the Ellwood House Museum partners with area businesses, community sponsors, and volunteers to decorate the mansion room-by-room on all four floors. From November 15-30, our guided holiday tours give visitors the opportunity to see the mansion in a new light. 

At the end of our regular tour season, we open the doors for a three-day Holiday Open House weekend. Visitors may purchase tickets in advance in our Visitor Center or on our website starting September 1. Pre-purchased tickets may be presented at the front door of the mansion.

Volunteers will be stationed in each room, presenting the history of the Ellwood House and sharing information about the two generations of Ellwood family members who called Ellwood House home.

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. All guided tours start at the Visitor Center.

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


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.

Give DeKalb County

Thursday, May 4, 2017

On Thursday, May 4, the Ellwood House Association will be participating in Give DeKalb County, a 24-hour fundraising event designed to support local nonprofits. Since 2014, you've helped us raise a total of more than $40,000 through three giving days! These annual giving events provide a great chance for you to get involved with your favorite organizations. Plus, a bonus pool of funds raised from Community Partners ensures that every donation makes a greater impact.

On May 4, donations can be made online at givedekalbcounty.org or in-person at the DeKalb County Community Foundation. So please mark your calendars and stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for more details about this exciting day of philanthropy!


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

Ellwood House Museum needs your help! Volunteers are an essential part of our team. With your skills, knowledge, and passion we are able to share the exciting history of DeKalb with our visitors. 

Photo courtesy of Shaw Media 

Photo courtesy of Shaw Media 

Tour Guides

The Ellwood House Museum tour guides conduct one-hour long tours of the Ellwood Mansion and Ellwood-Nehring House for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. This unique opportunity gives volunteers a chance to interact with the public, share DeKalb's rich history, and become an integral part of the museum. Tour guide training is offered twice a year, in March and in July.

Summer training will be offered July 5, July 7, July 12, July 14, and July 19. All sessions begin at 4:00 PM at the Ellwood Museum Visitor Center. Volunteers are required to attend a minimum of three training sessions, but are encouraged to attend all five. Training is free of charge. Registration is required. No previous experience in museums or public speaking is necessary.
Registration for the summer session will open in June.

For more information, please contact Tricia Runzel at (815) 756-4609 or at trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org

Other Volunteer Opportunities

The Ellwood House Museum offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. If giving tours is not for you, please consider volunteering in one of the other capacities listed below. The following opportunities can begin at any time during the museum's tour season.

Field Trips

Assist with education programs

Visitor Center

Greet visitors, act as cashier



Help take care of the unique treasures kept at the museum

Special Events

Provide support during our special events, including Holiday Open House and Ice Cream Social


If you are interested, complete the volunteer application below and we’ll get back to you to set up a time to meet.

Name *
Duties You're Interested In *

For more information, contact Tricia Runzel, Curator of Education and Interpretation, at trunzel@ellwoodhouse.org or call 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, youth and adult programming, and more. 

Application Deadline: April 15

The Selenia Rolfe Towle Teague Internship runs from May to August. Internship includes a $500.00 stipend. Housing may be available.

Tour Guide/Museum Operations Intern
The goal of the tour guide/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

The Tour Guide/Museum Operations Internship runs from May to Sept.
Internship 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

The Jerry & Annette Johns Internship runs from August to December. Internship 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

Brian Reis
Executive Director

Tricia Runzel
Curator of Education and Interpretation

Scott Tews
Assistant Director


Peter Bolotnik
Historic Site Caretaker

Board of Directors

Kelli Bender

David Castro

Timothy Conklin, Treasurer

Thecla Cooler

John Diedrich

Mat Emken, DeKalb Park District

Steve Faivre, Director Emeritus

Jerry Johns, President

Lizbeth Roman

Carolyn Swafford, Secretary

Amanda Wielgus

Rachel Xidis, Vice 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.

Barbed wire may be small, but its impact on the American West is undeniable. 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.