The Langstaff-VanLeer Mausoleum, north of SECTION 7 in the Lexington Cemetery, is larger than the Jess Mausoleum, not nearly as flamboyant as Kemp Mausoleum, but with a story that will explain several places still relevant today. The 1896 tomb structure was built just a few years after the other two private mausoleums were placed in the Lexington cemetery.
The patriarch, John Lewis Langstaff, came to Illinois with his pioneer parents as a boy of 10 in 1851, just as the C & A railroad was transforming central Illinois. John took advantage of his opportunities and by 1861 graduated from Illinois Wesleyan and added business college to his accomplishments. In 1864 John and Isabelle Powell married near Lexington and moved to Chicago for several years. By 1870 the young couple returned to Lexington, and John began his 50-year association with Lexington banking, first with Harness bank, then growing with Peoples’ Bank as teller, cashier, manager, and stockholder. His younger brother, Dr. Henry Langstaff, also became locally known with his 47-year medical practice in Colfax. The Langstaff brothers were admired, steady, hard-working citizens of near-by communities.
The 1880 Lexington census finds the John Langstaff family on Main Street, with daughter Maggie 10, son Asa 8, and daughter Irene 2. They had experienced the loss of infant son Lewis and an infant daughter in the early years of their marriage. Then, sadly, little Irene passed in 1883. Daughter Margaret married in 1894. Son Asa was experiencing ongoing illness, so Mother Isabelle took him west to Arizona for restoration. Apparently, John decided, at that time, to order a family mausoleum. He added the married name of his only remaining daughter to the engraving above the door, making it the Langstaff-VanLeer Mausoleum. In 1896 son Asa passed at age 24 and joined his siblings as the mausoleum’s first inhabitants.
Margaret Langstaff followed her father’s example to turn her educational opportunities into success - an Elocution Professorship at Illinois Wesleyan. There she met fellow student, B.C. VanLeer, a Decatur native, who graduated in 1890 and became bookkeeper for a machine shop in Bloomington. In 1894 Margaret and Bird Colloday VanLeer were married, and by 1900 Bird was a full partner in the machine shop with owner Henry Keiser. In just a few years Keiser-VanLeer outgrew their little wooden building and it was replaced with a six-story warehouse-office building that remains at 505 N. East Street in Bloomington.
In 1906 Bird and Margaret hired popular architect Paul O. Moratz to build a three-story, 22-room Edwardian-style home on a 5-acre high point in Normal, 1301 Fell Avenue, overlooking the growing town. With beautiful surroundings and few other homes in sight at that time, they called their home “Broadview.” Since 2016 their mansion has been on the National Register of Historic Places and is now known as the Immanuel Bible Foundation. When Bird and Margaret realized they would never have children, they made plans for their beautiful home. First, they offered to will it to Moody Bible Institute, but were turned down; so, they decided to form their own foundation to foster the arts and support local churches and organizations with a non-profit, nondenominational resource center. When Bird died suddenly in 1933, Margaret built a 110 foot-tall bell tower near the house in his memory. Musicians came twice each day for 20 years to play the bells. It remains a silent part of Broadview Mansion today.
Isabelle Langstaff had died in 1919, leaving John a widower for the next 16 years. After John’s death in 1935 the Langstaff family home just east of the Lexington City park was made into a place where most readers have likely attended a local event – at the Lexington Funeral Home. John had added the large porch in 1913 and bragged that it was “probably the best porch in all of Lexington!”
Margaret Langstaff VanLeer at last joined her family in the mausoleum in 1949. The Langstaff-VanLeer family left few descendants, but a rich legacy of interesting places that have stood the test of time.
Photo of Margaret from 1940’s
Photo of Broadview Mansion
Photo of Keiser-VanLeer building
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