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‘People Who Move Here, Stay Here’

 The Knolls neighborhood in Peoria combines a park-like atmosphere with Old World architecture, hospitality
by Amy Talcott | Photos by Ron Johnson |
2022-10_hdr_0007_08_The _Knolls

“Imagine a country estate – the crisp, fresh air; the hardy trees and shrubs; plenty of ‘elbow room’ – and then if you can, add to the picture in your mind all the modern conveniences and improvements of a city. This, then, is the essence of ‘The Knolls’ – a city home in the country, or a country estate in the city.”

This description from a decades-old promotional brochure touts the amenities and benefits of living in The Knolls, a charming, established neighborhood located in central Peoria.

Nestled on 96 acres of land bordered by Knoxville Avenue, Sheridan Road and War Memorial Drive, The Knolls was officially established and annexed to the city in 1928 by developer Walter G. Causey, whose concept was to create and maintain a park-like atmosphere in the middle of the city. The subdivision now boasts 242 homes, four grassy islands, a maze of tree-lined roads and an abundance of neighborly hospitality.

Brian Medendorp is a 21-year resident of The Knolls and former president of its homeowners’ association, which all residents become members of when they move to the neighborhood.

“The land was platted in 1928 and the first home was built that year,” he explained. “My home was built in 1955, and the rest were built through the early ‘60s.”

Old World charm

Unlike many subdivisions today, each home was created by a different builder with the buyer’s own taste and vision in mind. Driving down the streets sheltered by veteran oak, maple and evergreen trees, you pass styles of houses ranging from Cape Cod and Victorian to English Tudor and French chalet. “It’s a veritable potpourri of home styles,” said Medendorp.

Whoever initially lived in his home, said Medendorp, also built one next door for their mother. “The homeowner installed an intercom so they could communicate with each other,” he said. “It was actually functional until about two years ago when we did some remodeling, but we keep it there on the wall because it’s such a conversation piece. There’s even a button on it that says ‘Grandma’.”

Reminders like this of days gone by still grace many of the homes, from their brick exteriors and arched doorways to built-in bookcases and glass doorknobs.

“You’re either an old home person or you aren’t,” said Medendorp. “The houses were well-built, and we have a lot of younger families who are coming here and updating them while preserving their structural character.”

Everyone’s a neighbor

Suzanne Miller, a local Realtor with JimMaloof/REALTOR in Peoria, has lived with her family on Terrace Lane in The Knolls for 13 years.

Suzanne Miller’s current home, built in 1937

“I first toured this house with some other Realtors – at the time it was a short sale and going to go into foreclosure – but for some reason, I could just see myself and my family here,” she said. “I found out that an Army general, General Miller, had it built for his daughter back in 1937. Being the same last name, I thought it was a sign.

“I called my husband, Andy, and told him to come over and see the house. He walked in, looked up at the staircase and said, ‘Well, shoot. I just pictured the girls walking down the stairs on their way to prom.’ Years later, our oldest daughter did walk down that staircase on her way to prom, and Andy was there at the bottom with tears in his eyes.”

“People who move here tend to stay here,” said Medendorp. “If they outgrow a house, they might build on or move to a bigger house in the neighborhood. Or if they’ve gotten older and can no longer climb stairs, they’ll move into a ranch down the street.

“There’s not a lot of turnover,” he continued, “and if someone does leave, it’s usually because they’re transferring with their job or moving to a retirement facility.”

Margie Wagner lived on Crestwood Drive in The Knolls for 58 years until moving to Bueller Home this year. She served on the Homeowners Association Board of Directors for more than 20 years and was chairwoman of the Beautification Committee for 15 years, charged with the landscaping on the four islands and 14 “points,” where common land and streets intersect.

“It’s just such a neat area. There’s no other place like it and the houses are all so unique,” Wagner said. “But what makes it so special are the people – your neighbors. It’s funny, I can mention a neighbor and you might think it’s someone next door, when in fact they live six blocks away. We’re all neighbors here. It’s just the kind of community it is.”

Wagner was in her 20s when she moved to The Knolls with her husband and two daughters, and ended up raising four children there. “When we moved in 58 years ago, there weren’t a lot of young families,” she said. “That has definitely changed.”

Miller agreed. “Thirteen years ago, our girls were seven and four, and we were one of the few families in The Knolls with kids. Now, the neighborhood is full of them.”

The Knolls neighborhood.

Fun for the whole family

Miller and Medendorp talk about the “patio parties” that the neighbors used to have.

“A few of the homeowners would open up their patios and you’d walk from one to another, enjoying some drinks and conversation. But as more and more families with children moved into the neighborhood, that became a less-than-ideal activity.”

Those patio parties have been replaced by more family-friendly activities, thanks to a strong and involved Knolls Homeowner’s Association. “We have a Fourth of July party and parade, a Halloween parade, and caroling around the holidays, to name a few,” said Miller. “We try to do something every quarter.”

Also a big hit with the kids are the strategically placed “islands” throughout the neighborhood, grassy common areas that seem to beg for a pick-up baseball game, family picnic or a gathering of friends.

“All the islands have names,” said Miller. “Baseball Island, Redbud Island, Rocky Island and No-Name Island – I’ve often thought we should have a contest to name that one!”

On any given day after school, you’ll see kids and adults alike enjoying these mini-parks until the sun sets.

Homeowners in The Knolls are passionate about their neighborhood, from the one-of-a-kind homes they impeccably maintain to the close-knit community they’ve cultivated over decades.

Impressively unique in both residents and residences, The Knolls is an enviable neighborhood for anyone looking to put down roots and experience the type of close-knit community that these days can be hard to find.

Amy Talcott

Amy Talcott

is a senior marketing and communications analyst at RLI Corp. and a freelance writer.
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