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Lambert: 75 Years of Transition — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Three

The third installment in a series on the historic Joliet Road home and the people who lived in it.

The Inquiry

In response to a request by, Sally, a Plainfield Patch reader, the history of the Chittenden- Owens House and its residents is concluded in this final installment of a three part series. 

The Facts 

The stately residence along Joliet Road was erected in 1883 by George and Elizabeth Chittenden for their son, Will, and his wife, Luella.  However, the newlyweds only spent seven years in the Plainfield home before moving to Denver, Colorado. 

At that time, the home was purchased by Dr. John C. and Mary Owens. Not only did they raise a family in the prominent residence, but they also enlarged and remodeled the home over the course of five decades. 

Shortly before Mary Owens died in 1928, Dr. Owens retired, ending his medical practice of more than 40 years. After Dr. Owens died in 1932, the house remained in the Owens family until 1961.  

At that time, the house was sold and—within a very short time—was owned by Joseph Komar and his business partner, Gordon Kent and his wife, Nancy. Kent & Komar was a Plainfield accounting company with offices on Lockport Street.   

A New Era Begins

As landlords, Mr. Komar and Mr. and Mrs. Kent rented the property to two, young men, Richard Alex Bonya and Robert Owen Sheridan. 

In July 1963, Richard and Bob had established an interior design and antiques store at the corner of Ottawa and Fox River streets. The store name, “RAB-ROS & Associates,” was derived from a combination of the men’s initials. After the business outgrew the Ottawa Street location, the men moved to the former Chittenden-Owens House on Joliet Road. There, they lived and operated their store which—by that time—included the sale of fine art as well. 

During their time in the historic house, rumors began to surface that a spiritual presence was said to occupy the property from time-to-time.

Between 1968 and 1969, the historic property was subdivided and sold. RAB-ROS & Associates closed their doors in 1969, and the two men moved out of town. The historic home was sold to Ken and Margaret Sallenger; however, the historic carriage barn at the rear of the property was sold to Russell “Rusty” Flagg. 

Sallenger’s

The Sallenger family had already established themselves in business prior to purchasing the former Chittenden-Owens House.

In March 1963, Margaret and Ken Sallenger had opened a new women’s apparel store, known as “The Colonial Shop” (present-day dining room). The clothing and accessories store was immediately popular and offered stylish clothing for teenaged girls and women. As the store’s popularity steadily improved and their clientele demanded more selection, the Lockport Street store became increasingly crowded and over-stocked.

Although the Sallenger family had made their home in the historic residence on Joliet Road, they decided to expand their business ventures by utilizing a part of the large building for a second store.  

Opening “Sallenger’s” in April 1969, Margaret and Ken Sallenger offered young women a wide array of fashionable clothing … oftentimes straight from the pages of Seventeen magazine. At “Sallenger’s,” young women could find a wide selection of distinctive gifts, unusual antiques, and specialty candies alongside the trendy fashions.  Reaching out to the high school and college crowd, the Sallenger family hoped to appeal to a growing number of young, single, professional women that—in a short time—would be epitomized by the fictional characters Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.    

During the early 1970s, the Sallenger family sold the historic Chittenden-Owens House and grounds. In 1973, when the Plainfield Plaza along Route 59 was first opened, the Sallenger family combined their two Plainfield stores into one larger location. Continuing as “The Colonial Shop,” the clothing business continued under the Sallenger family until 1978.  At that time, they offered the business to their longtime employee, Doris Hasenyager. Although she was not interested in the operation of a women’s clothing store, her daughter, Sue, purchased the business and operated “The Colonial Shop” into the mid-1990s.

An Early Example of Adaptive Use 

Meanwhile, “Rusty” Flagg took on the challenge of converting the one-time carriage barn into a home for himself. Over a period of many months, the once dusty carriage barn was transformed into an unusual home. The exterior, that maintained its original barn siding, was largely unchanged. The major exterior modification was the large bank of windows on the rear of the building, where windows were neatly fitted between the structural elements of the historic barn. To this day, the converted Chittenden-Owens carriage barn serves as the Flagg home. 

A Home, Again 

After serving as a place of business for more than a decade, the historic Chittenden-Owens House was used as a residence after 1974. For the next two decades, the historic home was divided into two apartments, one occupied by the owner of the property.

In 1998, James and Cathy Kaicher purchased the deteriorating home with the dream of returning it to its former glory. Six years later, when the family was transferred out of state because of Mr. Kaicher’s employment, they sold the partially-renovated home.

In 2004, the home was sold again to a local family who hoped to continue the Kaicher family’s vision for the restoration of the once-grand property. Unfortunately, many elements of the house had begun to deteriorate over the course of forty years. The stucco finish had begun to separate from the historic cladding below, porches had deteriorated, and several areas of the home suffered from years of undetected water infiltration.

Several pictures of the Chittenden-Owens House from the turn-of-the-20th-century surfaced about the time of the last purchase. With good images of the original house, the new owners decided to return the historic home to its original, Chittenden-era appearance. In order to resurrect the historic exterior as it had appeared before the 1914 remodeling by the Owens family, the new owners undertook the enormous task of removing tons of cement stucco from the exterior walls and re-constructing the altered and decaying porches. 

The Chittenden-Owens House was designated a local landmark in 2008. Unfortunately, the economic downturn that began to unfold in 2008 stalled the restoration project that was in progress. 

At one time, the Chittenden-Owens House was the grandest residence in the village and the home of Plainfield’s most affluent citizens. Today, the restoration of the once-grand landmark has been abandoned, and the future of another local landmark is in question. 

Read the first two parts in the Chittenden-Owens House series:

Next Week: Electric Park Revived

Have a question about Plainfield’s history?  Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.

© 2012 Michael A. Lambert.  All Rights Reserved

Joan Senffner July 12, 2012 at 06:07 PM
The house is very unhappy d/t lack of care & humans. It need to be restored to it's grandeur.
Joan Senffner July 13, 2012 at 04:19 AM
But .as history has shown, the town of Plainfield would rather demolish the 'gracious' past than preserve it!!!
Ernie Knight July 13, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Are you talking about the Plainfield that bought Baci's to fix up and sell? Are you talking the Plainfield that refused to allow the teardown of the brick house at 59 and Lockport so that a commercial building could be built? Or perhaps the old train station and school that were moved and preserved? Or the historic homes on Commercial, Fox River and Bartlett? I doubt the owner would turn down a good offer with the intention to restore it.
Miguel Sanchez July 13, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Given the level of disrepair, shouldn't the village condemn it? Either fix it adequately or tear it down all together. Its just an old mess at this point
S H July 13, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Thank you, Michael, for your excellent historical and architectural column about this beautiful house. Great pictures! Since I grew up right down the street from it, I walked/drove past it several times a day. I love the old place. I took drawing lessons from RAB ROS when I was i high school. I love that you have a picture of the carousel horse which once stood at the driveway entrance! I shopped at Sallenger's when they occupied it. Good to know Russ Flagg still has the carriage house. I REALLY enjoy your column and will pre-order your book when you publish (hint hint!)
Michael Lambert July 13, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Miguel, My understanding is that the house is structurally sound and that the utility systems are all up-to-date. However, the exterior renovation--including the restoration of many architectural details--is incomplete. Certainly, a coat of primer and a single color of paint would go a long way to improving the appearance until the renovation can be fully completed. Hardly merits demolition!
Michael Lambert July 13, 2012 at 10:32 PM
For the record, the Village DID approve a demolition permit for the brick and stucco former residence at 59 and Lockport Street...
Michael Lambert July 13, 2012 at 10:34 PM
SH, Glad you enjoyed the articles! Am working towards the book requests...

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