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By MIKE KRAMER Pekin Daily Times
PEKIN, Ill. (AP) — Built in 1862, a historic home in Pekin currently serves as both the Crossroads Programs Inc. counseling center and as The Mansion on Walnut events center.
Life coach Bonnie Harken bought the property in 2012 and rented it for a year to the previous owner, Henderson Funeral Home, before opening Crossroads in 2013. Because she and her Crossroads partner, licensed clinical social worker Kellie Branch-Dircks, only offered counseling services a few days a week, Harken decided to also rent the property for weddings, showers, birthday parties, family dinners, teas and other events. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been happy to have the events center to fall back on, the Pekin Daily Times reports.
“COVID has hit the counseling field very hard, so we haven’t had anything here in counseling since (the pandemic) started,” she said.
One of The Mansion’s more memorable special events was an “Outlander”-themed wedding where a harpist played musical selections from the television series, said Harken. The 6,000 square-foot house can be configured to seat 75 people and, weather permitting, the 2.1-acre property can accommodate many more guests.
“We had one (wedding reception) where they had all kinds of games in the yard,” Harken added. “If it’s nice weather, people tend to move around outside a lot.”
Harken noted that, when she bought the property, she was subject to city zoning codes and building inspections. Neither she nor the city officials she had contacted were certain as to whether zoning regulations allowed the use of the home for special events. Earlier this month, the Pekin City Council passed an ordinance amending the code of the city of Pekin regarding the use of historic homes in residential districts for special events and gatherings, and approved a special use authorization for Harken to use the house for those purposes.
“This is a beautiful piece of property that has been there for a long time,” said Pekin Mayor Mark Luft. “It has become even more beautiful as Bonnie has put her heart and soul into it.”
Luft noted that one of Peoria’s historic homes, Soderstrom Castle on Grandview Drive, serves a similar purpose to The Mansion.
Harken believes that visitors will be as struck by the home’s beauty and tranquility as she was when she purchased it.
“That’s what everybody seems to feel when they come in,” she said. “In most places that people rent to have an event, they get one room. Here, they get the whole house. This is a very elegant building, but it’s also very utilitarian in many ways.”