414 West Main Street
Collinsville, IL 62234
History of the Blum House
The Blum House located at 414 West Main Street in Collinsville is a home closely connected with one of the town’s most well known industries. Two of the three generations of the Blum family who operated the internationally know Blum Bell Factory lived in the house.
The property which is located immediately to the west of the Collinsville Memorial Library Center is the site of a stately two-story frame house built circa 1906. The home with its distinct wrap-around porch is graced by huge pine trees on its front and side yards. These trees, according to Mrs. Helen Blum who lived in the house until 1997 were planted in the late 1930s replacing a group of maple trees.
The house was built by J. Henry Blum and in that first decade of the 20th century was considered to be at the West edge of town. The town at that time was expanding along East Main Street. Mr. Blum had married Martha Combs in 1892 and they had three children. The couple acquired the property in August 1905 from the Combs family. There was a house on the property at the time, but it was moved to the west where it has since been torn down and converted to a parking lot.
James Combs, father of Martha Combs Blum, had acquired the property on May 23, 1876. He bought the lot from Frances J. Harlow of Franklin County, Tennessee, according to Madison County records. Upon Mr. Combs death ownership had passed to his widow Emeline Combs and their sons, daughters and spouses.
J. Henry Blum was born near Collinsville May 8, 1863, son of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Gottlieb Blum. “As a young man, Mr. Blum assisted his father who was engaged in the hardware and tinsmith business,” according to the Collinsville Herald, July 19, 1935. In 1879 when J. Henry Blum was 16 years old, Christian G. Blum started the Blum Bell Factory. The son joined his father in this new business which he was later to acquire and remain actively involved with until his death in 1935 at age 72. The pre-funeral visitation was conducted in the family home.
The house has had a few changed since its origin. Mrs. Helen Blum says the sunroom on the east side of the home was added in the late 1920s, a popular addition to homes at the time when tuberculosis was greatly feared and a sunny room was viewed as a step of prevention. The porch around the front and side of the house is as it was built with the exception of the railing around the which was added later, as remembered by Mrs. Blum.
Following J. Henry Blum’s death in 1935 his widow Martha continued to live in the home. It was a short time later when their son, also J. Henry Blum, married Helen Downey and the young couple decided to make the house their home as well. Mr. Blum received ownership of the home on September 20, 1954 when his mother deeded the property to him for ‘one dollar and natural love and affections.’ Martha Combs Blum died in 1959.
Mr. Blum was the third generation to operate the Blum Bell Factory. However, production came to an end in 1955 and the business closed. The factory at 232 Goethe Street that at one time produced as many as 100 dozen bells per day no longer exists. The bells are now collectors items.
J. Henry and Helen Blum lived their entire married life in the home at 414 West Main. They had one daughter, Virginia (Gaines) who currently lives in New Mexico. In addition to his bell factory responsibilities, Mr. Blum also served nearly 40 years as a director of Union Savings & Loan Association. He was a director emeritus at the time of his death on July 16, 1976 at the age of 74. His widow, Helen Downey Blum lived in the home until her death on January 19, 1997 at the age of 82.
Upon entering the home from the Main Street entrance, a visitor step into the large entrance area. To the right is the living room and to that left against the east wall is a wooden staircase to the second floor. A stained glass window is midway up the stairs. As one walks beyond the entryway there is a formal dining room and to its east the sunroom addition. Kitchen facilities are to the rear of the first floor. A less formal living room is on the west side of the home with an outside doorway to the curing porch.
Portion of this account written by Kenneth A. Buel
1997 to the present
In 1997 after the death of Helen Downey Blum in January, the Collinsville Building and Loan purchased the house at 414 West Main Street from Helen’s daughter Virginia Blum Gaines for $94,000 with the intention of donating it to the Collinsville Memorial Public Library. The Collinsville Memorial Library Center accepted the generous gift in June of 1997.
Through a Congressional Grant secured by Representative Jay Hoffman major renovation including windows and siding are approved for the Blum House in 2004
In December 2006 a debilitating ice storm did irreparable damage to many of the large pine
trees on the grounds of the Blum House necessitating the removal of most of them.
The Blum Bell Factory
Chances are if you have ever rung a stock-bell or ‘cow-bell’ it was manufactured in of Collinsville, Illinois. The only stock-bell company in America was operated here from 1879-1955 by the Blum family. It was one of only 3 stock-bell factories in the world.
Christian Gottlieb Blum, the founder was born in Germany in 1828. Just after the Civil War he moved from Ohio to Collinsville with his wife where he helped establish the first Lutheran Church.
Mr. Blum was a tinsmith by trade who owned a hardware store. For some years he was a ‘tin-roofer’ and developed a tool which seamed the strips of tin together. He was also a tinkerer and eventually perfected a stock-bell which soon became very popular with farmers because of its’ clear far-reaching tone.
After patenting his bell, he began to manufacture them in a small factor at 232 Goethe Street which employed 12-15 men. They could make as many as 100 dozen bells per day.
The bells were sold in virtually every country in the world. All of the bells were handmade and the original factory, molds, patterns and process were used until production stopped in 1955. The factory no longer exists.
J. Henry Blum, the grandson of Christian Blum, was the last family member operate the company.
During the last years of production many bells were sold to foreign countries as musical instruments.
The bells were numbered by size from 7 - 0. Today there are many collectors of the Blum ‘Holstein’ bells which can be found in every state.
Taken from an interview with Helen Downey Blum
You can read more about the Blum House and the history of the Blum Bell factory as written by Virginia (Blum) Gaines, daughter of J. Henry Blum and Helen Downey Blum on the Collinsville Library website at http://www.collinsvillelibrary.org/index.php/cowbellshome.html.