Theresa looked forward to attending the Colfax Annual Ice Cream Social with her grandmother each year. It was an opportunity for her to participate in this sweet treasured tradition, and it was held at the 1886 Victorian home known as the Perkins House. Theresa Fitzerald-Dale loved history and things of old since she was a child. She poured through her grandmother’s large collection of history books imagining what life would have been like for those who lived during previous generations. On this warm June afternoon, Theresa and her grandmother strolled through the grounds of the grand home. Looking up at the house’s tall windows, gables, scrolling woodwork, and beautiful balconies the two women, although one old and one young, both shared an appreciation of the grandness of the architecture not found in modern construction. As they walked along, Theresa noticed that the once beautiful flower gardens were now uncared for, neglected, and overgrown with weeds and diseased trees. Theresa shared with her grandmother how disappointing and sad it was to see the garden in such a poor condition. What her grandmother said next would change Theresa’s life and the future of the Perkins House.

Perkins House today
Perkins House today

Her grandmother said, “Well, Theresa, if you do not like something, you have two choices. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Which do you choose?” Theresa knew she had to be part of the solution. She volunteered to work in the Perkins House flower gardens and began restoration of the homestead flower beds by rolling up her sleeves and pulling one weed at a time. She became inspired to research the type of plants that would have been planted originally in the 1880’s as well. Eventually, with the help of some local master gardeners, they planted vintage rose bushes, daylilies, delphiniums, foxgloves, lilies of the valley, and many more. Their work in restoring the flowers turned into restoring the fruit trees on the property as well. Records found that the original owner, Mr. Perkins, as well as a successful businessman and civic leader, was a self-taught horticulturalist who grew black walnut, apple, cherry, and plum trees, spearmint, peppermint, chives, and hops, as well as raspberry, gooseberry, and currant bushes on the house’s property. Theresa even discovered that the Wolf River apple was Mr. Perkin’s favorite apple.

After working as a volunteer on the property’s flowers, bushes, and trees for six months, the commerce office asked Theresa if she would like to go inside the main house, as well as the log cabin on the property that the Perkins family lived in from 1870 – 1886 before building their grand Victorian home, and begin taking care of them, as well. Theresa was honored and happy to begin working in such a beautiful home and charming cottage that she had admired for so long. Once inside, she became fascinated with family’s antique library and boxes containing Perkins family letters. The yellowed letters chronicled their family history from the time they left Illinois in 1852 to their move and entrepreneurial opportunities that awaited them in the underdeveloped west.

Perkins homestead log cabin built 1870
Perkins log cabin homestead 1870
Photo taken by K. A. Erickson in August 2010

Since this time, Theresa, with the help of the historical society and the entire community, has brought the Perkins property to life. The house’s beautifully restored living room/ formal parlor, library/music room, kitchen, foyer/grand stairwell, bedrooms/nursery, and the cabin have become gracious hosts to many creative events and activities: costumed tours, meetings, book clubs, gardening workshops, school children experiences, parties, living histories, hook and needle clubs, teas, weddings, photography sessions, fashion shows, holiday events, period food lessons, a recently added after dark ghost hunter tour, and, of course, the annual ice cream social.

The Perkins House, which was once scheduled for demolition, was saved, restored, and is lovingly cared for. It is a treasure from the past that appeals to us who appreciate the ornate beauty, elegant simplicity, and genteel etiquette of the Victorian Era. Gratitude to those, like Theresa Fitzerald-Dale, who dedicate their efforts to preserving and restoring the past so that we may enjoy it, and be inspired by it, now and in the future.

Imagine living in the Perkins home as one of the family. What would you wear? Recollections offers a wide variety of history-inspired fashions, especially from the Victorian era. Here’s an example of what you’ll find when you shop with us.