Former Southeastern Illinois College Professor of Psychology, Dr. James Armour, was a beloved icon at the college before his death in 2002. Now, not only is his custom-designed and locally built one-of-a-kind estate up for sale, the residence may also be featured in an upcoming episode of HGTV's reality show, "Home Strange Home."
A film crew spent nearly the entire day Wednesday filming the endless amount of unusual, meaningful and highly-detailed features inside Armour's personal home and retreat. The estate rests on roughly 1.8 acres and includes a three-story house, a "pyramid house," a music studio and a small cottage used as a prayer and meditation house.
The castle-like "Cave House," which is the largest building on the property, was intentionally built 10 degrees off plumb and nearly everything in the house is built at an angle, which has a psychological basis that is still unclear, even to those who were close friends with Armour.
L'Erin Ragon, managing broker for United Country Exodus Realty of Carbondale, is working hard to sell the nearly $2 million dollar property, located just outside Cave-In-Rock on the riverfront. The scenic bluffs and awe-inspiring views of the Ohio River can be seen throughout the property.
Ragon said the main house features roughly 4,153 square feet. The home was built with such detailed, symbolic design work, the estate can only truly be experienced by spending hours exploring the various rooms, which each held meaning to Armour.
According to Ragon, the cave house has three bedrooms, three baths, a Jacuzzi tub, a combination living/dining room area, a kitchen, multiple living areas, two towers, a beautiful handmade spiral staircase, a meditation room and an extensive library. The interior of the home features a two-story rock wall built with fluorspar, limestone and geodes that sparkle in the natural light let in through the tall windows on either side of the rock wall. All the materials came from within Hardin County and construction was completed by local contractors and even Armour himself. At the bottom of this wall is a copper fountain that circulates water, creating soothing sounds that can be heard throughout the house.
The filming was open to the public, so several of Armour's friends and former students attended the event, as very few people had ever been given the chance to explore the unbelievably unique retreat during Armour's lifetime, as he was a man who found great comfort in solitude, according to one of Arrnour's dearest friends, Bruce Boone of Harrisburg. Boone met Armour when they were both faculty members at SIC and quickly discovered they had a special bond. Boone said one day at the college, out of nowhere, Armour approached Boone enthusiastically and asked if he could teach him to play the saxophone. As a jazz lover, Armour had such a well-trained ear for music that Boone said he quickly became a proficient musician, even playing with The Penguins for some time. Jim Smith, of the local band The Penguins, was also a friend of Armour's.
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Though Armour was originally from Kansas, Boone said he quickly embraced the beauty of Southern Illinois and adored the Shawnee National Forest.
At SIC, Armour was known for his eccentric behavior, his passion for the pursuit of knowledge and his unorthodox teaching methods. Students and faculty members alike were fascinated by his unique perspectives on life, spirituality and discovering one's true inner self.
"I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Armour when he was my psychology teacher at SIC," said former SIC student Lena Morsch, who visited his estate Wedneday along with her sister, who is also one of Armour's former students. "On the first day of class, he came into the room and announced that he wasn't Dr. Armour, but a robot built to duplicate Dr. Armour. He wanted us to ask him questions about why he was here. The room was mostly silent for several minutes, and then it became amusing to play into his scenario.
"Dr. Armour's teaching methods might have been unorthodox. Not only did he challenge you to open your mind, but also to be creative. He loved Jazz and played it in his class to illustrate that the mind has many layers, like a complicated Jazz piece. He loved animals, particularly cats, so I loved to discuss Jazz and kitties with him."
"What was particularly impressive about Dr. Armour was that there was this passionate man whose heart was perhaps even bigger than his enormous intellect."
Armour was not a religious man, but believed in the healing powers of meditation and the power of the human spirit. His core beliefs were derived from Carl Jung, who popularized the idea of the collective unconscious and promoted the theory of psychoanalysis involving separating the unconscious mind, which he also referred to as "known but unknown," with one's true inner self. Jung called this process individuation and believed it to be very beneficial in a number of disciplines, especially for psychotherapy patients suffering from mental illness.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg was also a student of Dr. Armour's and spoke very highly of his teaching methods. Gregg said discussion and free thought were always encouraged in his classroom and students were never made to feel judged by Armour, who was highly interested in listening to others share their ideas.
Seeing Armour outside chain-smoking cigarettes between classes, along with his quirky teaching methods, quickly made him an essential part of campus life at the college.
"If it was a nice day, he was always found outside in-between classes. He loved to look up at the sky. When I visited the house (Wednesday) I was told the unique roof was designed to resemble clouds. As I toured the house, I realized how enigmatic he was," Morsch recalled. "It seems unreal that he's no longer here because he resonates in his home and his legend. You see so much of him there in ever nook and cranny, from every painstaking detail, to his books, his fedora hanging near the door and his glass cat figurines. Those who met him know that he was one in a billion, but now this home will be part of his legacy and he will continue to challenge those (who are able to visit or even purchase the estate) to open their minds."
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In true Jungian fashion, Armour designed and built his home in painstaking detail in order to express himself and his ideas about the human experience, almost as though his home was an extension of himself. Though Jung rarely wrote specifically about architecture, he once described a building as‚ "structural diagram of the human psyche," which Jung displayed when he built his own dream home in Bollingen. He said it helped him achieve a sense of "psychic wholeness."
"I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my inner most thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Or to put it another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone," Jung wrote in one of his many books.
Though Dr. Armour is no longer here to explain the precise meanings of the many unique details of the property, as a follower of Jung it is clear Armour was attempting to construct a building that conveyed his true self and what he believed about himself and the world around him. It was clear that Armour was primarily attempting to create a fusion of belief systems in order to create a retreat that unified a variety of religions, ways of perceiving the world and an ethical approach to life's daily human interactions. After experiencing the property in its entirety, a sense of harmony, unity and peace is felt by many of those who have been fortunate enough to visit the estate.
"I remember seeing him on the grounds of the college on breaks," Morsch said. "He would be wandering around looking at the birds and enjoying the view, while sneaking a cigarette. Looking back, it's as if he knew his time was limited and he took every opportunity to enjoy the world around him."
Perhaps Armour intended for the experience of visiting his personal retreat to help one feel both in touch with themselves, while at the same time feeling a sense of shared humanity. Though those who knew him can now only speculate on Armour's intentions with his unique estate, the unification of different religions and beliefs in one building leave one contemplating humanity, morality and our ethical responsibilities in how we treat others. Maybe Armour wanted to share something significant he himself had learned in his lifetime — that we are all more alike than we are different.