No one building can tell the history of an entire town, but in the case of Necedah, the Weston-Babcock House comes close. The careers of the building’s namesakes read like a chronicle of the entire community, lurching from boom to bust to rebirth. Thomas Weston founded the logging and milling company that drove Necedah’s early development in the late 1840s and 1850s, and when the town was formally organized in 1853, he was elected its first chairman. But by the 1880s, when Joseph Babcock acquired Weston’s company, logging had largely depleted the area’s pineries. So Babcock shifted the firm’s focus from processing raw lumber to manufacturing wood products. Upon his election to the U.S. Congress in 1892, Joseph handed management of the business to his son Charles. By 1899, logging activity had moved so far from Necedah that Charles, like other area mill owners, had to dissolve his company, but he subsequently founded the Necedah Bank, among other new enterprises, helping to sustain the town as a commercial and financial center for area farmers.
This house shows the imprint of Weston’s and Charles Babcock’s lives and vividly reflects changing tastes in architecture. When Weston built the house in the late 1860s, Italianate was in vogue, but by the time Charles Babcock bought it in the 1910s, the style was out of favor. To express his wealth and stature, Babcock updated the building in the newly fashionable Beaux-Arts classical idiom. The house’s form, bays, and openings were preserved, but the showiest Italianate elements—a belvedere and balustraded porches—were removed and replaced with classical details. Bracketed roof overhangs gave way to a restrained entablature, and the gables at the center of each facade were converted into pediments. On the east side of the house, a second-story inset porch was walled in, leaving only fanlights framed by classical pilasters. The most dramatic change, however, came on the ground floor, where ornate verandas gave way to sober porches with grouped Doric columns. Formerly the house was entered through a massive rectangular arched porch, but this was replaced with an elegant semicircular portico.