BELLEVILLE, Ill. – The Smith family has kept busy the last four years uncovering the history of their 1887 Belleville home.
Emily Smith, Air Force Major Ash Smith, their two children, and their three cats live there now, but the original owners were the 11-member family, the Romeisers.
The home was built for $7,000. The Smiths bought the home in 2017 and have enjoyed rediscovering its original character.
“It’s definitely been a lifelong dream of ours to live in an old house and restore it,” Emily said. “We ended up finding this one and it was kind of like halfway done. The couple we bought it from had put so much work into it in the years that they were here to make it really safe and livable.”
The Smiths are an Air Force family and moved to Belleville to be close to Scott Air Force base for Maj. Ash Smith’s job.
Emily does most of the design by thrifting and finding things on eBay, while Maj. Ash Smith said he is mostly the muscle of the operation.
“If she needs something lifted from point A to point B or picked up in a truck, that’s usually what I do,” he said.
The Romeiser family consisted of the parents, Peter and Elise, and their children were Theodore Hilgard Romeiser who was born in 1877, Emma Romeiser Pannes who was born in 1880, Petronella Romeiser who was born in 1883, Edwin Hilgard Romeiser who was born in 1884, Corona Romeiser who was born in 1887, Roland Romeiser who was born in 1889, Julia Romeiser who was born in 1892, and Alvin Romeiser who was born in 1893. Peter also had a niece named Leonora Romeiser who was born in 1897. She was his brother’s daughter. She lived with the family for an extended amount of time. Click here to learn more about the Romeiser children.
As Emily and Maj. Ash Smith has gone through the house doing restoration, they have found items that not only tell them about the time period and home but teach them things about the family.
Peter owned The Romeiser Company. It opened in 1878 as a men’s clothier and it grew from there.
“You could basically buy anything at The Romeiser Company, anything from carriages to women’s clothing to games or household items. It expanded over the years. So it opened as a small shop and then eventually took up like an entire city block,” Emily said.
The store was located where Kaskaskia Engineering and Copper Fire now sit in the 200 block of East Main Street. Peter was one of the first businessmen to have set prices for items in his shop. It eventually closed in the 1950s.
The Romeiser Company was also the first store in the city to have an electric elevator. It was an Otis elevator that the Smiths believe was purchased at the 1904 World’s Fair. Otis had two displays at the fair. The Romeiser Company also sponsored Belleville, Illinois Day at the fair on September 16, 1904. The elevator is inside of Kaskaskia Engineering today.
Just by opening up crawl spaces, the Smiths have traveled back to the 1800s. Most of the things they’ve found have been in the walls on the third floor. The Smiths believe the third floor was where the daughters’ bedroom was, and it was also used as an entertaining space.
The Smiths found a leather baby shoe made by Buster Brown, a tool sharpener, an Edison light bulb, ivory dominos, a Nehi soda glass bottle with the cork still intact, a children’s game, a skeleton key, and more.
The family is still working on pocket doors that were covered, the original woodwork going up the main stairway and the third floor altogether. The Smiths home school their sons Ben, 12, and Wes, 9. They hope to turn the third floor into a guest bedroom and a school area.
“Even on the third floor where we’ve done a lot of changes, most of that has just been restoring the old,” Major Ash Smith said.
Husband and wife Peter and Elise Romeiser passed away in 1916 within just months of each other. The home was sold in 1919. It has since had multiple owners. It was even parcelled up into apartments for a time during World War II.
Emily was able to track down the last known living descendant of the Romeiser family. Bob Romeiser is the grandson of Alvin, the youngest Romeiser child. Bob is Peter’s great-grandson. Alvin moved his family to Indianapolis in the 1920s and they have been there ever since. Bob has even come to visit the Smiths and left family treasures with them.
The Smiths have restored many of the horsehair plaster walls, the floors, and the porch.