Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sulgrave Manor - Ancestral Home of George Washington

In March 1917, John Glessner received an invitation to help fund the restoration and preservation of Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington in Sulgrave, Northhamptonshire, England.  Although there is no evidence that Glessner did make the requested donation, other members of his family later did.  In this article, we will explore the history of the site, the efforts to preserve it in the first decades of the 20th century, and its status today.

Sulgrave Manor was constructed in 1540 by Lawrence Washington, the five times great-grandfather of George Washington.  The entrance porch was completed soon after Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, and her coat of arms and initials were fashioned in plaster work upon its gable. 

Just above the door is the Washington family’s coat of arms carved in stone.  Known as the “mullets and bars” with three stars over two stripes, it is widely believed to have served as the inspiration for the American flag. 

The house, constructed of a local limestone, was occupied by Lawrence Washington, his wife, and their eleven children.  As was typical for Tudor houses, the center of the house was the Great Hall, which still looks much as it did in its day, furnished with authentic furnishings of the Tudor period.  The complex included courtyards, walled gardens, grass paddocks, and various outbuildings including a barn, brew house, buttery, and shop. 

Descendants of Lawrence Washington continued to occupy the house until 1659, when they immigrated to America.  By 1700, when John Hodges added a north wing, the western portion of the house (to the left of the entrance porch) had already been destroyed. 

In 1914, the manor was acquired by the British American Peace Committee, which had been formed to celebrate the centennial of the end of the War of 1812, finalized with the 1814 Treaty of Ghent.  An article in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Rejoice in 100 Years of Peace” recounted details of the presentation of the house to the committee on July 25, 1914:

“The first formal ceremony in honor of the one hundred years of peace between the English speaking nations occurred here today when Sulgrave Manor, the home of the family of George Washington, purchased for $42,500 subscribed in Great Britain, was handed over to members of the centenary committee as a gift to the American people.

“This quaint village was in holiday attire in honor of the occasion.  The visiting party consisted of the American ambassador, Walter Hines Page, the Duke of Teck, Lord Shaw, Shirley Benn, member of the house of commons; H. S. Perris, secretary of the committee; Harry Brittain, secretary of the Pilgrims’ society, and Arthur Branscombe, author of the history of the Washington family.  They were greeted by the mayor and other officials of the municipality, in their official robes, after which school children sang the national anthems of both the United States and Great Britain.

“The party then proceeded in motor cars to the manor, where, at the ancient doorway, the Duke of Teck handed the keys to Ambassador Page, and thence to the ancient church, where Washington’s ancestors are buried.”

The timing of the ceremony is of note, in particular because it was commemorating a long period of peace.  Just ten days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany, and the country was thrust into the horrors of World War I.  This necessarily delayed the planned restoration of the house, but by 1917, invitations were sent out soliciting donations of $250 each from 200 individuals to complete the needed work.

The committee included such prominent individuals as statesman Robert Bacon, historian and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, philanthropist William K. Vanderbilt, and Charles W. Eliot.  Eliot has served as the president of Harvard University from 1869 until 1909, and was a close friend of the Glessners.  Presumably John Glessner received his invitation because of this connection.

The fundraising effort was put on hold when the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  A second solicitation letter was sent out in December 1919, this time with an added appeal from King George V and the Prince of Wales inserted.  The request had been altered to asking 50 individuals for $1,000 each.

Once the funds were secured, the house and grounds were restored under the supervision of the imminent English architect and landscape designer Sir Reginald Blomfield.  Work included the rebuilding of the west wing, which had been destroyed in the 17th century; the new wing included the Director’s quarters, and restored the symmetrical appearance of the façade.  (One can’t help but notice that the symmetrical façade, set beneath a broad sloping roof, bears a similarity in overall massing to Glessner House; see image below).  The house was officially opened to the public in 1921, with the flags of Great Britain and the United States both displayed.

In 1924, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America raised $112,000 from 35,000 subscribers to endow the Manor and grounds in perpetuity.  It is highly likely that Frances Glessner was among the subscribers, as she became a member of the Dames in 1921.  Funds for further restoration were raised between 1926 and 1931, and Alice Hamlin Glessner, the Glessners’ daughter-in-law and an active member of the New Hampshire Society of the Dames, was among the funders for that project.


The property is administered presently by the Sulgrave Manor Trust.  By the early 2000s however, the property had fallen into disrepair.  In 2014, Sulgrave Manor was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List “to call attention to the need for increased resources and to promote the development of creative management strategies to ensure the long-term survival of the property.” 

The bicentennial of the Treaty of Ghent was celebrated at the site in 2014, and a comprehensive strategic plan was funded by the Estate of Paul Mellon.  Recent restoration projects have been funded by the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  To read more about the site today visit:
World Monuments Fund
Sulgrave Manor

Modern images of Sulgrave Manor courtesy of the World Monuments Fund.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

50th Anniversary Gala Celebration

December 14, 1966 was an extremely significant date in the history of Glessner House Museum.  It was on that date that the deed for the house was filed for record with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, officially transferring the house to the newly formed Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, and thus securing the future of H. H. Richardson’s masterpiece of urban residential design.

Chris Multhauf, Zurich Esposito, Honorary Gala Chair Dirk Lohan,
Catherine Lohan, Kevin Havens, Lynn Osmond

On December 14, 2016, exactly 50 years later, nearly 200 people gathered at the Chicago Club for a special gala celebration to mark that anniversary by honoring our past, celebrating our future, and setting the stage for our next 50 years.  A number of individuals involved with the house in its early years were present, including four of our founders – Wayne Benjamin, Wilbert Hasbrouck, Dirk Lohan, and Ben Weese.  

Susan and Wayne Benjamin

Early docents, staff, and board members renewed acquaintances and shared their memories of why Glessner House Museum is important to them.  The event netted $70,000 – twice the amount that was needed to purchase the house in 1966!

Gala co-chairs Cynthia and Ben Weese

The gala was underwritten by a generous grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust.  Dirk Lohan served as Honorary Gala Chair, and Ben and Cynthia Weese were Gala Co-Chairs. 

Steve and Marilyn Scott
Elliott and Jane Otis
Allan and Angela Vagner

At 6:30pm, Executive Director and Curator William Tyre welcomed everyone and noted the significance of the occasion, acknowledging special guests including our founders, and several members of the Glessner family who had traveled from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Glessner family: Joyce Carter, Jacob Carter, Harry Carter,
Liz Carter, Stuart Clifford

Four individuals were honored with awards featuring a handcrafted replica of a portion of the wrought iron grille on the front door – one of the most iconic design features of the house.

Jessica Caffery accepting award from Bonnie McDonald

The first award was presented to Toni Preckwinkle by board member Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.  McDonald noted how Preckwinkle had been mentored early in her career by Leon Despres, long time alderman, known as the “liberal conscience of Chicago” during his two decades on the City Council.  Despres and his wife Marian were two of the individuals who provided funding to purchase Glessner House in 1966.  Preckwinkle was in Boston at a conference, but recorded her acceptance noting that Despres shared a valuable piece of information with her, “There is no end to the good you can do as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”  The award was accepted on her behalf by Jessica Caffery, Director of Real Estate Management for Cook County, who noted Preckwinkle’s commitment to the preservation and adaptive reuse of the old Cook County Hospital building.

Jack Tribbia accepting award from John Waters

The second award went to Jack Tribbia, and was presented by board member John Waters, an architect with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.   Jack Tribbia is the President of the Restoration Division of Berglund Construction and has been involved in the preservation and restoration of many of the most important buildings in the Chicagoland area ranging from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Shedd Aquarium, and from the Sullivan Center to Farnsworth House.  Jack served as a board member at Glessner from 2005 until 2011, and has remained active since that time, providing valuable consultation and advice on a variety of building projects. 

Ald. Pat Dowell accepting award from Mary Kay Marquisos

Pat Dowell, Alderman of the Third Ward, received the next award, presented by board member Mary Kay Marquisos, former Senior Director of Communications with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.  Marquisos noted how Dowell has been a strong voice for community-based development, constituent engagement, and transparency.  Dowell has been an advocate for historic preservation and has landmarked more than half a dozen buildings and districts in her ward.  Mostly recently she was deeply involved in the massive $132 million restoration of the Rosenwald Court Apartments at Michigan Avenue and 47th Street. 

Bob Irving accepting award from Pauline Saliga

The Lifetime Service Award was presented to Bob Irving by board member Pauline Saliga, Executive Director of the Society of Architectural Historians.  Irving, a retired Professor of Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology, joined the first docent class at Glessner House in the spring of 1971 and was one of 33 to complete the rigorous training course that June, being trained to give tours of Glessner House and a walking tour of Chicago School buildings downtown.  In the early 1980s, he developed a new walking tour called the “Riverwalk” which evolved into the now world-famous CAF River Cruise, one of the top tourist attractions in the city.  Irving has served continuously as a docent at Glessner House for 45 years, his encyclopedic knowledge and quick wit making him a visitor favorite for decades.

Board president Barbara Gordon

Following the presentation, board president Barbara Gordon provided the closing remarks, noting how it is the individuals who have been involved with the museum during its first 50 years that have kept the site engaging and relevant.  She noted:

“As we look ahead to our next fifty years and beyond, we are not content to merely rest on our laurels.  At a time when many historic house museums struggle, the opportunities for Glessner House Museum are greater now than ever before.  Dedicated board, staff, docents, and supporters will help us envision and guarantee a bright future through new initiatives that will broaden our audience and create a self-sustaining and relevant organization well into the 21st century.  We encourage all of you to join us in the exciting work that lies ahead, as we ensure that the legacy entrusted to our care continues to grow and thrive in the years to come.”

Judith and Dick Spurgin
Barbara Badger and Robert Kudder

All attendees received a copy of the just published 50 Moments: Highlights From the First Fifty Years of Glessner House Museum 1966-2016 authored by William Tyre.  The book is now available in the museum store.

The gala was a fitting way to close the celebration of our 50th anniversary, as well as launch the first day of our next 50 years!

All images by Tim Walters Photography

Saturday, November 19, 2016

On the trail of Girolamo Savonarola

On November 5, 1891, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Mrs. Hutchinson sent me a beautiful miniature of Savonarola.”  In this article, we will explore Frances Glessner’s interest in the 15th century Dominican friar and the story behind the miniature presented to her as a gift.

Savonarola was born in the Northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1452.  He graduated with a master of arts from the University of Ferrara but in 1475 made the decision to enter the priesthood.  He went to Bologna and was admitted into the Convent of San Domenico, of the Order of Friars Preachers, where he was ordained in 1476.  In 1482, he was sent to serve as a teacher at the Convent of San Marco in Florence.

He became vocal about clerical corruption, the exploitation of the poor, and the evils of secular art and culture.  When Charles VIII of France invaded Florence in 1494, Savonarola pleaded with the king to spare the city and to take up his divinely appointed role as a reformer of the Church.  A Savonarolan political party, known as the Frateschi, established a republic, after the Florentines expelled the ruling Medici family. 

Savonarola was summoned to Rome in 1495 when Florence refused to join Pope Alexander VI’s Holy League against the French.  He defied the Pope by continuing to preach under a ban, and was ultimately excommunicated in May 1497.  The Pope threatened Florence if they continued to harbor Savonarola, and he was eventually imprisoned and tortured.  On May 23, 1498, he was hanged in the Piazza della Signoria.  His body was burned and his ashes scattered in the Arno River to prevent his followers from searching for relics.

His beliefs in republican freedom and religious reform lived on not only in Italy, but in other parts of Europe as well, influencing Martin Luther amongst others.  His writings and sermons were later published and widely circulated and inspired the fight for Italian independence in the mid-19th century. 

Museo di San Marco, from the Glessners' copy of Romola

In February 1890, the Glessners set sail for their one and only trip to Europe.  In late March they arrived in Florence and were highly impressed with its beauty and culture.  On March 29, 1890, Frances Glessner noted visiting the Museum of St. Mark (Museo di San Marco) to see the Fra Angelico frescoes and the Savonarola cells.  The Museum was housed in the former Convent in which Savonarola had lived during his time in Florence. 

It appears highly likely that while in Florence, the Glessners purchased their copy of George Eliot’s Romola, a historical novel in which Savonarola plays an important role.  The 1884 edition in the Glessner library, although published in London, bears a bookseller’s label inside the front cover indicating it was purchased at the shop of George A. Cole, English Bookseller, 17 Via Tornabuoni, Florence.  The beautifully bound volume, which came in its own slipcase, has twenty photographs of Florence bound into it, including images of both the Museo di San Marco and the portrait of Savonarola the Glessners would have seen during their visit to the museum.

Portrait by Fra Bartolomeo,
from the Glessners' copy of Romola

The original portrait of Savonarola was painted about 1498 by Fra Bartolomeo, an Italian Renaissance painter who lived from 1472 to 1517.  In the 1490s, he came under the spell of Savonarola, which led him to become a Dominican friar in 1500, and he gave up painting for several years, until instructed to resume painting to the benefit of his order.  His style influenced the work of Raphael, with whom he maintained a close friendship.  His portrait of Savonarola is the most famous image of him. 

In early 1891, the Glessners’ good friends, Charles and Frances Hutchinson, set sail for an extended trip of Europe.  Charles Hutchinson, long-time president of the Art Institute of Chicago, made numerous trips to Europe in search of works to acquire for his museum.  In a letter accompanying the gift for Frances Glessner, Frances Hutchinson wrote:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner:
When I was in Paris this Spring, I ordered this head of Savonarola for you and it is just framed and ready for your approval.  Mr. Hutchinson thought he remembered you expressing a desire for one and I only hope someone else has not been more expeditious in gratifying you.”

The miniature portrait is finely detailed, capturing the detailing and coloring of the original portrait, but with an influence of the late 19th century.  Frances Hutchinson had the piece framed by Thurber’s Art Galleries, located at 210 Wabash Avenue in Chicago.

Glessner House library, 1923; the Savonarola portrait
hangs directly beneath the bust of Dante

Frances Glessner hung the piece on the bookcases along the west wall of the library.  It was returned to Glessner House Museum in 1968 by her granddaughter, Martha Batchelder, and now sits in a small stand on her desk in the master bedroom.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The National Register Turns 50!

October 15, 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act.  The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966 and was the most significant and wide-reaching preservation legislation ever enacted in the United States.  The date also marked the listing of the first sites on the National Register of Historic Places, created as part of the Act.  In this article, we will look at the four sites in Chicago listed on the National Register that day.

Other preservation legislation preceding the Act included the Historic Sites Act passed in 1935, which empowered the Secretary of the Interior to create preservation programs, including the Historic American Buildings Survey, formed initially to provide jobs for architects and engineers during the Great Depression.  In 1949, President Truman signed the National Trust for Historic Preservation Act to encourage and engage the public in the preservation of buildings and sites, although it did not provide funding. 

During the 1950s and 1960s, the creation of the interstate highway system and urban renewal program destroyed countless historic sites across the country.  In response, a report entitled With Heritage So Rich, coordinated by Lady Bird Johnson, sought to examine the effects of urban renewal and to find ways to protect historically and architecturally significant properties from harm caused by federal projects.  The report was a direct force leading to the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966.  That Act created the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Offices, the Section 106 review process (to review the impact of federal projects on historic sites), and the creation of the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register is the official listing of buildings, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation, based on a series of four criteria.  Although listing does not prevent alteration or destruction, it does qualify properties for various grants, loans, and tax incentives and raises public awareness of these properties.

The National Historic Landmark (NHL) program existed prior to 1966, and a provision of the Act was that all properties designated National Historic Landmarks were automatically added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.  Four properties in Chicago, all located on the South Side, were National Historic Landmarks as of that date, and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their listing on the National Register on Saturday October 15, 2016.

Frederick C. Robie House
Designated an NHL on November 27, 1963
5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

 “The Robie House has been called Wright’s strongest statement in domestic design.  Its free-flowing interior spaces, overhanging roofs to shade windows and balconies, indoor recreation spaces, and strong horizontal lines forecast trends in house design during the following 50 years.  As sculpture it can be considered an abstraction in lines and planes.  Pictorially the tawny brick and dove-colored concrete trim are pleasing to the eye.  The entrance has been awarded a minor role and treatment of the chimney stack lends drama.  Inside the sensations of security and privacy are enhanced by elevating the principal rooms one story above a raised basement.”  (National Register Nomination Form)

Site of the First Self-Sustaining Nuclear Reaction
Designated an NHL on February 18, 1965
East side of South Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets

The first self-sustaining nuclear reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, was constructed in a former squash court measuring 30 by 60 feet underneath the west stands of the old Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.  Scientists, including Enrico Fermi, achieved the controlled release of nuclear energy for the first time here on December 2, 1942.  Chicago Pile-1 was part of the Manhattan Project, the Allied forces effort to create the atom bomb during World War II, and consisted of 45,000 graphite blocks.  It was moved the next year to create Chicago Pile-2, and was dismantled in 1954.  

The site is now marked by a sculpture entitled “Nuclear Energy” by Henry Moore, which was dedicated on December 2, 1967, the 25th anniversary of the first self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction on the site.  The sculpture is meant to conjure images of both a human skull and a mushroom cloud.

Hull House
Designated an NHL on June 23, 1965
800 S. Halsted Street
1856, architect unknown
1905, Pond & Pond, architects

In the 1960s, the main structure of Hull House was restored to its 1850s Italianate appearance, while the interior was restored to the period after 1890 when it was occupied by Jane Addams.  Addams made numerous additions and alterations to the main building, which were stripped away when the building was restored.  Of the large complex of buildings which surrounded it, designed by architects Pond & Pond, only the dining hall has been retained and restored on a new site close to the main structure.  The significance of Hull House lies in its use as a settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 to serve the huge numbers of recently arrived European immigrants on Chicago’s near west side.  The House provided social and educational opportunities for the immigrants, who attended classes in art, history, literatures, crafts and many other subjects.  Hull House went on to establish the city’s first public playground, bathhouse, and public gymnasium, pursued educational and political reform, and actively investigated housing, sanitation, and working issues.  Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Midway Studios
Designated an NHL on December 21, 1965
6016 S. Ingleside Avenue
Pond & Pond, architects

The sculptor Lorado Taft (1860-1936) and a group of fellow artists and students lived and worked in this building, consisting of converted carriage house that was added on to and enlarged over time.  As noted in the National Register Nomination Form, “Lorado  explained that he built like a chambered nautilus, cell after cell, until there were 13 studios occupied by himself and associated sculptors and many assistants – at least 20 in all.  Most of these private studios opened on to a large roofed court to which in time was added a fireplace and a fountain; a marble-cutting room and a stage for plays were built later . . . Below Taft’s own private studio, which today contains many of his original models and studies, was what he called the “Dream Museum” room, containing an enormous table of time replicas in plaster of the great masterpieces of the world arranged according to the plan for his Dream Museum.”  Taft was a sculptor of realistic works often on a monumental scale, including the Fountain of Time at the west end of the Midway Plaisance, and the Fountain of the Great Lakes, outside the Art Institute.   Through his works, his writings, and his years as an art teacher and lecturer, he greatly influenced American sculpture in the first decades of the 20th century.  Today the building now provides studio and gallery space for the University of Chicago’s studio art program.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Charles A. Jackson, first caretaker of the Museum

Charles A. Jackson with two "young friends" in 1971
Chicago Tribune photo by Harold Revoir

As Glessner House Museum continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary during 2016, we take a moment to remember the first caretaker of the museum, Charles A. Jackson.  Although Jackson was several years older than the house itself, he served as an able and well-respected watchman for a period of time after the house was rescued from demolition in 1966.

Jackson was born in Mobile, Alabama on June 6, 1880 (7-1/2 years before Glessner house was completed).  As a young man, he travelled extensively, working in the kitchen on ships owned by an Alabama-based shipping firm.  Following World War I, he made his way to Chicago, during the early years of the Great Migration, when more than 6 million African-Americans relocated from the rural South to the northern part of the United States. 

He settled in the Prairie Avenue neighborhood, during the period when the Glessners were still in residence in their home.  In the mid-1950s, he was hired as the caretaker for the Lithographic Technical Foundation, which at that time owned and occupied the Glessner house.  He rented a room two doors to the south, in the former Wheeler mansion at 1812 S. Prairie Avenue, which had been converted to a boarding house years earlier.

1812 S. Prairie Avenue (far left) in the mid-1950s; Glessner House at right
Photo by Jack Simmerling

When the Foundation (by that point renamed the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation) relocated to Pittsburgh in 1965, Jackson remained as the caretaker for the Glessner house, admitting our museum founders during 1965 and 1966 when they held meetings in the library to plan how to purchase and save the house. 

Charles A. Jackson sitting on the porch of 1808 S. Prairie Avenue in 1965
Photo by Jack Simmerling

In 1967, Jackson had moved into the basement of Glessner house when the two houses at 1808 and 18012 S. Prairie Avenue were seriously damaged by fire.  (The two buildings were razed in 1968).  Jackson occupied the front room of the basement, previously the coachmen’s waiting room, and today occupied by our Visitor’s Center.  One of the museum founders, Marian Despres, in her twenty year history of the house, noted the following about him:

“By March 1967, Charles Jackson, who had been hired as a watchman, had moved into the basement of Glessner House.  He knew everyone in the neighborhood and as long as he was there, there were no further break-ins. . . The only problem that arose during his tenancy was that sometimes, when a distinguished visitor was being entertained in the library, the aroma of cabbage and onions would waft up through the registers to mix with the brandy and cigar atmosphere of the House.”

Jackson became such a well-known fixture in the neighborhood, always sitting in the doorway of the house when the weather was good, that he became the subject of an article in the Chicago Tribune on August 1, 1971.  Entitled “Glessner’s Caretaker, 91, Basks in Glow of Memory,” the article included a quote from the Executive Director, Jeanette Fields:

“Our caretaker is kind of a legend around here . . . He’s really a grandfatherly type, altho he has no children of his own. . . Mr. Jackson has been a great influence on the children in the neighborhood.  He’s always eager to help them earn money by doing things for him and encourages them to do what’s right.”

It appears that Jackson was quite a good story teller.  Despres noted that he claimed to have been a drummer boy in the Civil War, but given that he was born 15 years after the war had ended, that was easily disproven.  However, in the 1971 Tribune article, Jackson also claimed to have played a part in the history of aviation.  He noted that he designed and built a propeller for an early airplane for Mobile resident John Fowler, a watch repairman and part-time preacher.  Jackson noted:

“Mr. Fowler was a preacher and he used to preach up and down the streets of Mobile, and I would follow him around.  One day I heard him say he was going to build an ‘air ship’ and fly it over Mobile Bay.”

After helping Fowler build a shed and the body of the plane from lumber, Jackson recalled watching the airplane take flight and travel 28 miles across Mobile Bay.  That was in the early 1890s, a full decade before the Wright brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.  In 1966, Jackson wrote a letter to the editor of a Mobile newspaper seeking recognition for Fowler and his contributions in the field of aviation.  He received several letters from various Mobile residents who confirmed they had either seen the flight or heard of Fowler and his invention.

The story of John Fowler is well-known, although his exact accomplishments are subject to debate.  He did build three “flying machines” and charged an admission fee for residents to see them.  It appears what he designed may have been more appropriately termed gliders that could take flight in strong winds.  One of the Wright brothers supposedly did visit Fowler around 1900 to study his wing design. 

Exactly what role Charles A. Jackson played in Fowler’s experimental designs is ultimately unknown.   But what we do know is that Jackson was a much beloved institution at Glessner house for many years, delighting countless young people with his stories of the old days, no doubt hoping his tales would inspire the children to “do what’s right” and live their dreams.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Brief History of the Humble Window Screen

The light bulb, the telephone, the automobile, and the phonograph are all ranked among the greatest inventions of the 19th century.  But what about the humble and often overlooked window screen?  Prior to its introduction during the Civil War, hot weather meant either keeping the windows and doors of a house closed, or opening them and subjecting the occupants to wasps, flies, mosquitoes, and a range of potentially infectious diseases.   In this article, we will briefly explore the history of the window screen, and then look at how they were used at the home of John and Frances Glessner.

Cheesecloth was sometimes used to cover windows as a way to keep out insects.  Being loosely woven, it allowed air to circulate, but it was easily torn, soiled quickly, and limited the visibility from inside.  Advertisements for wire window screens started to appear in the 1820s and 1830s, but the idea didn’t take off.  It was the onset of the Civil War that made window screens a household word (and necessity).

Gilbert and Bennett factory (destroyed by fire in 1874)

Gilbert and Bennett, a Connecticut based company that made sieves, is generally credited with the invention of the modern window screen.  The company’s business suffered during the Civil War, as they could no longer sell their products in the Southern states.  An enterprising employee had an idea that changed history – paint the wire cloth to prevent it from rusting, and sell it for use as window screens.  The idea took off, and the company made the production of wire cloth a major part of its business.  Homeowners would purchase the wire cloth and then nail it to wooden window and door frames they constructed.  The firm later introduced steel wire, which did not rust.

The firm of Bayley and McCluskey filed a patent in 1868 for screened windows on railroad cars, which helped to prevent sparks, cinders, and dust from entering the passenger compartments.   Screens were first advertised in the Chicago Tribune in May 1869, the advertisement reading in part:

“The annoyances of spring and summer, such as flies, mosquitoes, dust, etc., can be obviated by using the wire window screens manufactured by Evans & Co., No. 201 Lake street.  These can be obtained at fifteen to fifty cents a foot.”

Window screens not only made houses more comfortable, they also had a direct impact on health, as they kept disease-carrying insects out of homes.  Over time, the incidents of these diseases declined dramatically.  This aspect of window screens was considered so important that the Boy Scouts and other volunteer organizations would help communities install and maintain screens.

As was the case with window shades, artists soon saw the possibilities of window screens, which were basically canvases with holes in them.  Screens were painted on the outside, normally with landscape scenes, leaving the holes unobstructed.  In addition to being decorative, the screens were practical as well.  From the outside, the painted scenes blocked the view inside the house, providing a level of privacy.

Painted screen, National Museum of American History
Click here for more images from their collection

Painted window screens became extraordinarily popular in Baltimore, after a Czech immigrant named William Oktavec painted a screen to advertise produce in his store in 1913.  He was soon asked to paint screens for homes, and other artists jumped on the bandwagon.  It is estimated that there were 100,000 painted screens in Baltimore at its peak, many adorning the row houses with windows at sidewalk level, where privacy was most desired.  The screens are considered a Baltimore folk art and are still produced today, and a collection is displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in that city.  There is even The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore, formed to preserve and encourage the art form.

The building specifications prepared by H. H. Richardson for Glessner house specifically include window screens:

“Finish and put up to all the outside doors and windows, the best patent wire screens, to have steel frames and hardwood runs, except one window over main stairs on 18th St., one in library, one in Parlor, two in dining room and one in upper hall.  The window screens will be on the outside.  The doors will be made of 1 ¼” clear pine stock.”

Male servants' door at right, with screen door, 1923

It is interesting to note that the specifications call for the screens to be on the outside – an indication that screens were far from being universal at the time, so the contractors needed to be given extra instruction.  One will also note that screens were not put on every window in the house – the specifications list six windows that would not have screens, in each case in rooms where there were multiple windows.  

This bit of information relates directly to instructions written by Frances Glessner in 1901 for the servants who were to remain in the house during the summer.  She noted:

“When the weather is warm, open the windows and doors to court yard early in the morning and at about six in the evening – open only doors and windows which have wire screens.  Keep all closed from 9 o’clock in the morning until six in the evening.”

Screen door for the Prairie Avenue door, in storage in the basement.
Note the custom made wall brackets to hold the door.

The screens for the Glessner house were manufactured by E. T. Burrowes & Co. of Portland, Maine, the largest manufacturer of window screens in the late 19th century.  They were sold locally through Robinson & Bishop, the western managers for the company, with offices at No. 1202 Chamber of Commerce Building.  In October 1893, the firm won the top award at the World’s Columbian Exposition for their production of wire window screens and screen doors. 

The company noted that “our screens are in use in the best dwellings in every city in the United States,” listing the homes of Thomas A. Edison, P. T. Barnum, General P. H. Sheridan, George Westinghouse Jr., and Grover Cleveland in their advertisements.

In the early 1890s, the company published a 12-page booklet listing the names of hundreds of Chicago area residents who used Burrowes window screens in their homes.  Listed were many Prairie Avenue residents including George Pullman, Joseph Sears, Philip Armour, and William Hibbard.  The booklet was illustrated with photographs of thirty houses, including the “Residence of Hon. Robert T. Lincoln (U.S. Minister to England)” which adorned the cover. 

The Glessner house was illustrated as were several other prominent South Side residences.

2720 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2904 S. Prairie Avenue (demolished)

2838 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

1826 S. Michigan Avenue (demolished)

Next time you open your window on a warm summer day, without the worry of a mosquito flying in, take a moment to recall the interesting history of one of the most useful and practical items ever invented to keep our homes safe and comfortable.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ada Small Moore, Art Collector

In our last two articles, we have discussed Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, organized in 1894.  This week, we look at one of the most fascinating members of the class – Ada Small Moore.

Ada Moore (center) with Reading Class members
Alice Hyde (left) and Julia Herrick (right), May 5, 1902

In her journal, Frances Glessner recorded the last meeting on May 5, 1902 before the class broke for the summer season.  This was the class at which the iconic photo was taken.  In the journal, she noted “Mrs. Wm. Moore was here.”  This was a reference to Ada (Small) Moore who had moved to New York City in 1900, but was visiting Chicago, and therefore able to join the class that morning.

Ada Waterman Small was born in Galena, Illinois on August 17, 1858 to Edward A. and Mary C. (Roberts) Small.  Her parents were both born in Maine, and moved to Galena shortly after their  1852 marriage, where Edward entered into business.  In 1857, he entered the law office of the Hon. Wellington Weigley as a law student, and was admitted to the bar a year later.  He formed a partnership with Weigley, and then continuing his own private practice until 1869 when he moved his family to Chicago. 

In October 1875, Ada Small was married to William H. Moore, an attorney who had joined her father’s law firm three years earlier.  He was ten years her senior.  Edward Small died in 1882 at his residence, 1910 S. Indiana Avenue, and Moore then formed a law partnership with his brother James, who in turn, married Ada’s sister.  The William H. Moores took up residence at 3625 Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive), later moving to 2922 S. Michigan Avenue.

William H. Moore, often called Judge Moore, became an extremely successful attorney, financier, and corporate organizer.  He organized and sat as a director for several steel companies that merged to create United States Steel.  With his brother, he organized numerous companies including Diamond Match Company, National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco), the American Can Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, and several railroads.  He was also known as an expert horseman.

In 1900, the Moores moved from Chicago to New York City, purchasing the home then under construction at 4 East 54th Street.  The house had been commissioned in 1898 by William Earle Dodge Stokes and was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White.  However, Stokes marriage was quickly failing and in December 1899 he sold the partially completed house to William and Ada Moore for $325,000.  In reporting the sale, the New York Times stated that the house “may safely be classed as one of the finest private dwellings in the city.”

The house lived up to the description.  Standing five stories tall and three bays wide, it was clad in white marble and designed in the Italian Renaissance style, complete with a balcony extending across the second floor, and a balustrade at the roof level.  The rusticated ground floor was set behind a marble and wrought iron fence.  The interior featured elaborate stained glass, inlaid floors, cast plaster ceilings, and a five-story winding marble staircase.  (Later history:  The house was listed on the National Register in 1972 and is a rare survivor of the residential prominence of 5th Avenue.  It was purchased by the present owner, Banco Di Napoli, in 1993 for $12.8 million and extensively renovated).

The Moores hosted lavish dinner parties for opera stars and the elite of New York City, and Ada Moore filled the house with Asian antiques.  She became well known as a fine and decorative art collector with her collecting interests including painting by Peter Paul Rubens and John Singer Sargent; Chinese bronzes, paintings, jades, and porcelains; Roman and early Christian glass; Persian miniatures and textiles; Luristan bronzes; Japanese woodcuts; and French furniture.

Rockmarge (above), stables (below)

In 1901, the Moores commissioned the Boston architects Herbert Brown and Arthur Little to undertake a major remodeling of the 1870s E. V. R. Thayer House in the Georgian style.   The remodeled house, set within the stretch of homes in Beverly, Massachusetts known as Prides Crossing or “the Prides” was named “Rockmarge” and was a full sporting estate, to accommodate Moore’s interest in horses.   The home was frequently the site of local charity events, and the extensive gardens were open to the public.  For more information on Rockmarge, visit

Ada Small was deeply interest in archaeological excavations in both Iran and Greece.  She donated a scientific library to the American College in Teheran, Iran and received the Order of Elim, First Class.  She was also made an honorary member of the community of Corinth, Greece, funding the museum there, and received the Greek Golden Cross of Saviour’s Regiment. 

She frequently loaned items from her collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University for exhibition, many of the items later donated as gifts and bequests.  The Chinese and Japanese collections at the Yale University Art Gallery were built through her gifts.  She donated cylinders and other ancient Oriental seals to the Morgan Library.  She also presented the Library of Congress with a set of 46 Chinese paintings depicting tilling and weaving, executed in the 17th century.

Deeply proud of her ancestral heritage, she was a member of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Society of Colonial Dames, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.  She was also a member of the Society of Women Geographers.

William Moore died in 1923, and Ada continued to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia, collecting many of the objects she later donated to museums.  She lived in the family’s New York home until her death in January 1955 at the age of 96. 

Prominent descendants of the Moores include their son Paul Moore, Sr., founder of Republic Aviator; grandsons the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr. and Bankers Trust chairman William Moore; and great-grandson poet and author Honor Moore.

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