The Tiny House Movement is a trend of people living in small homes.
A Peoria industrialist was at the forefront of that movement nearly 90 years ago. At the Wheels O’Time Museum sits Peoria’s Steel House. The tiny house is the creation of inventor Robert G. LeTourneau. His statue stands near the steel house.
LeTourneau wanted to solve a housing crisis in the mid-1930’s and he was all about efficiency.
“He said ‘We need a compact efficient house,’ and this is what he created,” Jim Bateman of Central Illinois Landmark Foundation said. “And it also kept his workers busy. It provided for his workers, not only work but as a place to live.”
LeTourneau called these factory-built houses “Carefree Homes.”
This particular building, 24 by 24 feet, was left at LeTourneau’s factory, deteriorating badly, until 2017 when Komatsu donated it for restoration. The Peoria Historical Society, Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation and Wheels O’ Time brought it back to life.
Now decorated with period furniture and household items, it looks like a 1938 model home. That took a lot of effort.
“This house you could buy for five thousand dollars,” Bateman said. “We put $140,000 in cash into it, plus countless hours of volunteer labor.”
“I’ve always liked the idea of a small house,” Sarah Nesbit, who lives in a Steel House said. “It’s cozy. In some ways it’s like a cabin in the woods.”
Nesbit rents one in Peoria Heights. This home has only one bedroom instead of two, and the kitchen was expanded.
LeTouneau’s Carefree House project came to an end when steel became critical during World War II. But, there are still 20 of these little homes around central Illinois.
“Compact and efficient” never totally goes out of style.