Monday, September 29, 2014

Richardsonian Romanesque St. Paul - Part I

St. Paul, Minnesota possesses many wonderful architectural landmarks.  During the last two decades of the 19th century, a number of prominent architects working in the city embraced the Richardsonian Romanesque style for some of the most distinctive buildings ever constructed in St. Paul.  The heavy and solid Romanesque style, with its illusions to the past, provided a sense of tradition and permanence in the new “western cities” of the United States, such as St. Paul.  In this article, the first of several to explore how H. H. Richardson’s Romanesque style was embraced and interpreted by others in St. Paul, we will explore one college building and several commercial buildings, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Main, Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue

Macalester College was founded in 1874 by Rev. Dr. Edward Duffield Neill as a Presbyterian-affiliated but nonsectarian liberal arts college.  It opened in 1885 with just over 50 students.  It was at that time that architect William H. Willcox was commissioned to design the first new structure for the college.  Completed in 1887, the building, now known as “Old Main,” embraced the Richardsonian Romanesque style with its heavy base and porte cochere of rusticated stone and arched windows of various sizes and groupings set into the brick walls above.  Willcox had practiced in Chicago throughout the 1870s and arrived in St. Paul in 1882, designing numerous structures during his decade there.  The college remains one of the top-rated liberal arts colleges in the United States, and alumni include Reader’s Digest founder DeWitt Wallace, vice president Walter Mondale, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Great Northern Building
281 E. Kellogg Street

This substantial seven-story brick structure was built in 1887 to house the corporate offices of the Great Northern Railroad, by its president, James J. Hill.  The architect, James Brodie, was the in-house architect for the company, and later served as construction superintendent for Hill’s massive residence on St. Paul’s exclusive Summit Avenue.  

The most distinctive feature of the building is its massive and heavy rusticated stone entrance arch; the same stone forms the base around the entire building.  In contrast, delicate foliate carvings decorate the arch and engaged side columns (see image at top of article).  Large arched windows at the first floor level are referenced with the smaller and simpler arched windows at the upper three levels.  Recently converted to residential use, the original brick barrel-vaulted ceilings have been left exposed in the units.

Walsh Building
189-191 E. Seventh Street

This modest three-story commercial building constructed of rich red brick with stone trim in 1888, derives its prominence from the generous arched windows at the second level, in groupings of two and three.  The cornice is embellished with a detailed brick parapet wall above, and a slender turret at the corner.  The architect, Edward Bassford, was a native of Maine who arrived in St. Paul in 1866, and by the 1870s was the busiest architect in the city.  He designed numerous houses, schools, as well as commercial buildings such as the Walsh.  His office employed several architects who went on to prominent careers of their own, including Cass Gilbert, who later designed three state capitol buildings (including Minnesota), and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

Merchants National Bank
366 Jackson Street

This building, another design by Edward Bassford was opened in 1892 to house the Merchants National Bank.  The striking rusticated sandstone exterior features window openings of different sizes and designs at each level, resulting in a richly ornamented surface.  Large two story windows at the lower levels illuminated the banking room, while the paired windows on the third and fourth levels show the location of the offices.  

Polished columns at these floors embellish the windows, which are set beneath a high detailed cornice and parapet, all executed in the same stone.  The building was restored in recent years by David A. Brooks and is now known as the Brooks Building.

Saint Paul Building
6 W. Fifth Street

This eight-story office building of Lake Superior sandstone occupies a prominent corner at Fifth and Wabasha Streets.  Constructed in 1889 and based upon a design by architect J. Walter Stevens, the composition of base, shaft, and capital groups the floors into three distinct sections.  The lower two floors, heavily rusticated, are joined with tall two-story columns along the long side of the building, with huge windows set in between.  

The next four stories, with less rustication, feature windows grouped in pairs which are set beneath larger, highly decorated arches at the top of the sixth story.  The final two stories are composed of tall narrow windows with very thin columns connecting the two levels, all set beneath a projecting bracketed cornice. 

Pioneer-Endicott Building
141 E. Fourth Street

This large complex was built as two separate buildings in the late 1880s.  The corner Pioneer Building, constructed between 1887 and 1889, is a design by Chicago architect Solon S. Beman (designer of the Town of Pullman, the Kimball mansion on Prairie Avenue, and the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, amongst many others in Chicago).  

In 1890, the L-shaped Endicott Building was designed by Cass Gilbert and James Knox Taylor and wrapped the Pioneer on two sides.  The two buildings were connected by arcades in the 1940s, and the complex has been known as the Pioneer-Endicott ever since.  

The Pioneer Building was significant in its day.  At 13 stories, it was tallest building in St. Paul at the time, and remained the tallest building west of Chicago until 1915.  A 36-foot wide light well provided light and ventilation and featured the first glass elevators in the United States, which could travel 300 feet per minute.  It has recently been converted to more than 200 luxury apartments.

Next week:  The Federal Courts Building, now the Landmark Center

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Preserving the beauty of the White Mountains

The Glessners' summer home, The Rocks, in New Hampshire

Exactly 125 years ago, during the summer of 1889, John J. Glessner penned a letter to the editor of a local newspaper near his summer home in New Hampshire.  Entitled “Good Advice to Mountain Folk – A Few Words of Truth and Importance by a Prominent Summer Resident,” the article shared Glessner’s thoughts on the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the White Mountains, which he felt was being compromised with signage and other manmade intrusions.  In addition to preserving the landscape in and of itself, Glessner was also careful to point out that it was the natural beauty that drew many visitors to the area every summer, bolstering the local economy.  Glessner would go on to write many more articles on this topic, and was among the earliest members of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests when it was organized in 1901.  In the late 1970s, nearly 1,300 acres of his summer estate “The Rocks” was donated to the Society by his grandchildren, a fitting tribute to this early conservationist.  The text of the 1889 article, in its entirety, follows.

A view from the Glessners' home at The Rocks

On an eminence a little to the south of the carriage-road between Bethlehem and Littleton, and about midway between those villages stands the “Rocks,” the summer abode of Mr. J. J. Glessner of Chicago.  During a few years residence amid its beautiful surroundings, that gentleman’s keen eye has detected many shortcomings of the resident population, and, in a letter published in a recent number of the LITTLETON JOURNAL, has, in a few kindly words, made some valuable suggestions to follow.  Here is what he says.

I wonder if the people of the White Mountain region appreciate the grand scenery in the midst of which they dwell.  Frequently the things which we come in contact with every day are not highly prized.  I imagine that here in Chicago, with its dead level surroundings, even though it has a considerable elevation above the sea level, we think more of the hills and rocks and forests and magnificent scenery of Grafton and Coos counties than do the people who see these beauties constantly.

Looking from the porch at The Rocks

Not only have you the bracing air and pure water and all things so grateful to the denizens of the cities, but the beautiful surroundings are greater attractions than you realize, and draw the summer visitors to your neighborhood.  With the advent of the summer visitor comes not only gaiety, but a handy and profitable market for your commodities and labor.  Under other circumstances the produce and labor must go to market, but here the market comes to the produce and labor, and it is because this influx of summer visitors is pleasant and profitable to you, that I ask whether you fully appreciate the beauty of the surroundings and their market value.

Personally I am not anxious to have many city people visit the mountains in summer, for it increases somewhat the cost of my living there, and I see enough city people in general at other seasons; but it has a money value to you, in that it enhances the selling price of butter and eggs and poultry and vegetables, and gives employment to hundreds of people and horses, etc. etc.

But the pure air and the pure water are not enough to fill your hotels.  City people, with their eyes full of city dust, and their ears deafened with city din, want something pleasant to look upon, and your people are not careful enough in preserving the natural scenery.  It is all right and desirable to have neat fences, well-cleared and cultivated fields, substantial barns, comfortable houses, etc., but do not mar the boulders or fences or barns with advertising signs, do not destroy the beautiful wild shrubbery that lines the roadsides; do not cut down the fine trees on the farm, or by any act reduce the natural attractions of your surroundings.  As it is now, many persons feel repaid for a journey half the world over to visit the White Mountains.  I have personally known Englishmen who came to the United States merely to see the White Mountain country while the forests were in their gorgeous autumn coloring.  But you may be sure a sign on a boulder advertising some one’s liver pills, or a board nailed to a barn advertising the tourists to take the Fall River Steamers, or a bridge lettered to show the virtues of somebody’s bitters, nor yet a dirty barnyard visible from the road, or a roadside devoid of shrubbery, or a field showing the deformities made by the woodman’s axe, help in any way to draw the visitor or induce him to lighten his pocketbook.  These things are not congruous with the landscape.

A view through a window at The Rocks

The wild flowers of Northern New England, the asters, goldenrod, ferns and maple bush, even the hazel-bush, are beautiful beyond your thoughts.  Make a good drive-way by all means, smooth it and drain it properly, but do not destroy the shrubbery at its sides.  Have good fences, walls or board fences, but do not deface them with signs, and never permit such an indignity as painting anything on the noble rocks.  Keep your barnyards and dooryards clean, it is both profitable and pleasant to you.  Keep your dwelling and other buildings in good repair; that is pleasant and profitable, too.  But as far as possible let Nature alone.  Do not try to improve upon her work.  In both extremes she surpasses all that you can do; hers are more delicate and graceful, and again greater and grander than any workman ever can do.

The summer traveler may be selfish and supercilious; he may be a cad and disagreeable; he may not be a model for imitation by your sons, but he spends money, he helps to make your farm and labor profitable.  Cultivate him, cherish him, even pamper him, do all in your power to induce him to come again and bring his family and friends, but do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; do not damage or deface or destroy the natural scenery about you.

My great admiration for your many attractions has induced the writing of this letter, and I shall be more than pleased if through your courtesy, Mr. Editor, my words have even a slight influence.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Home for the Servants

The Glessner house was not only home to four members of the Glessner family, but also their live-in servants.  Situated on a large corner lot, the design of the house provided for separate entrances for family and servants, and furthermore, separate entrances for the female and male servants.  The servants even had their own separate address.

The photograph shown above, taken about 1890 by the Glessners’ son George, depicts the female servants’ entrance facing 18th Street.  The entrance, set within a dramatic arch and concealing the doorway at far left, is one of the most distinctive and most photographed features of the exterior of the house.  Visitors to this day, especially those approaching from the west, often stop at the entrance, assuming it must be the main entrance to the house.

The image is interesting for two reasons.  For one, George carefully posed the photograph to capture the silhouette of the cook in the kitchen window set within the arch.  The shade is pulled down and the cook is illuminated from behind, giving a clear silhouette of her head.  Additionally, a bronze plaque mounted on to the granite clearly indicates the address used by the servants – 35 Eighteenth Street.

Early addresses for east-west streets in the city did not use State Street as a dividing line, and as such addresses did not include “East” or “West.”  The system was to start the numbering at the lake and then proceed west.  The shoreline of Lake Michigan was much closer to Glessner house than it is today, as indicated by the low number of the address.  When these streets were renumbered in 1909, State Street became the zero mark, and the address of the servants’ entrance became 225 E. 18th Street.

The original “35” address plaque, with its distinctive font, was replaced, and the new “225” plaque remained in place for the remainder of the Glessners’ lives.  At some point after the house passed to the Armour Institute, the plaque was removed, and the fact that the servants had their own address was all but forgotten.  During the 125th anniversary of the house in 2012, docents Jackie Walker Dunscomb and Joan Stinton generously funded the creation of a new “35” address plaque, as a way to help interpret the lives of the many servants who called the house home through the decades.  The plaque was installed during the last week of August 2014.

In consultation with master metal smith John LaMonica, Alice Melita Steffen was engaged to design and craft the new plaque.  Steffen, shown above with the new plaque, is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, where she received a First Class Honors Degree in Sculpture and Environmental Art.  She also studied at the London City and Guilds Art School and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is what brought her to the United States from Great Britain.  She was delighted to have the opportunity to work on Glessner House, given her long interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, which she considers to be a major influence in her work.

The plaque was cast in bronze using the “lost wax process.”  The process begins by making a replica of the plaque in wood, from which a plaster mold was produced.  The historic photograph of the plaque was used to determine the overall size, and the design of the numbers.  Hot wax was then poured into the plaster mold and then “chased” to remove imperfections in the wax replica.  The replica was then “sprued,” which involves the addition of a tree-like structure that allows the molten bronze to flow into the mold and the air to escape.

The sprued wax plaque was then dipped into a slurry of silica repeatedly to create a ceramic shell around the mold.  The shell was then placed into a kiln allowing the wax to melt (flow out) leaving a hollow mold, hence the name “lost wax process.”  Bronze was melted in a furnace and then carefully poured into the mold.  The shell mold was then allowed to cool before sand blasting to reveal the rough bronze cast.  The sprues were cut off and the plaque was finished by hand to remove any imperfections and polished. 

Liver of sulfur was rubbed into the numbers to give them a dark cast, and then a patina was applied to the bronze to provide a protective coating and to inhibit corrosion and weathering.  Finally, the plaque was installed using epoxies to attach it permanently to the granite, in exactly the same place as the original.

Today, the plaque is a visible reminder of the many men and women who called the house at the southwest corner of Prairie Avenue and 18th Street home from 1887 until 1936. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tableaux Vivants

Fanny Glessner as Yum Yum

Exactly 125 years, on August 31, 1889, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Isa (Coolidge) went to town with George to buy some articles for the evening – they were getting up some tableaux.”  The family was in residence at their summer home, The Rocks, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the tableaux were to provide the evening entertainment.

The term tableau vivant (tableaux vivants plural) means “living picture” in French, and refers to amateurs or professionals dressed and posed to represent works of art or other scenes.  During each tableau, the people on display do not speak or move.  This form of entertainment became very popular in the 19th century, before the widespread availability of color reproductions of artwork.  The tableaux might be presented in a drawing room following dinner, as a sideshow at a county fair, or elaborately staged in a theatre, one following another to tell a story.  The idea was similar to the “magic lantern shows” that became popular during the Victorian era.

The tableaux vivants to be presented at The Rocks were announced by a formal notice, as indicated in the journal:

“We found a notice put up in the hall that an entertainment would be given for the benefit of The Rocks.  John pinned another one above it saying the proceeds would be used to provide water for the great unwashed heathen visiting The Rocks.”

The latter reference being a humorous acknowledgement of the house guests then in residence, a few of whom were forced into participating.  Elizabeth Sprague and Caroline Kirkland both “rebelled strongly at being put on exhibition” but only Miss Kirkland was able to get out of it. 

The tableaux drew upon characters ranging from opera to ancient civilizations.  Fanny portrayed two characters – Yum Yum from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and Brunhilde from Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

Fanny Glessner as Brunhilde

The entertainment proceeded thusly:

“The first tableau was of Fanny as Yum Yum – bound up in a window curtain and bed quilt.  Then Miss Coolidge as an Indian with a drawn bow made of a barrel hoop.  This one they called a truthful savage.  Then Elizabeth in a white Grecian costume (cheese cloth), “the modern liar,” all to illustrate something I said about civilization making people lie.  Then Miss Scharff was an Egyptian princess – then all four together.  Then came Fanny as Brunhilde stretched out on the lounge which was covered with my shawl – her dress was of cheese cloth – both arms bare – hair down – a wing affair on her head (turkey wings) a spear of paste board and the Brown’s boiler cover laid over her dear little stomach and lungs.  George stood by her – with a bare arm, one of the fur rugs bound over him, a blonde wig, made of rope, on his head.  He awakened Fanny with a kiss – we pelted them with flowers which had been thrown out in the afternoon.”

And thus drew to a close a charming evening of entertainment, forever preserved in Frances Glessner’s journal and in these two photographs taken by her son George.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pullman may soon be our newest National Park

Administration and Factory buildings

On Thursday, August 21, 2014, more than 300 people crowded into the Pullman Administration Building on Chicago’s far South Side to show their support for the designation of the landmark Town of Pullman as a National Park.  Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, was at the meeting to hear the overwhelming show of support from residents, preservationists, historians, and politicians on the importance of the Pullman community in American history.

Alderman Anthony Beale and U. S. Representative Robin Kelly both spoke.  Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, who earlier this year introduced bill S.1962 to designate Pullman as a National Park, sent representatives, as did Governor Quinn.   Mayor Rahm Emanuel had met with Director Jarvis earlier in the day, but upon hearing of the large crowd in attendance, made a last minute appearance.

Arcade Row, built for Pullman management,
 with the Greenstone Church in the distance

The bipartisan bill introduced by Durbin and Kirk has not moved forward, typical of most bills introduced into Congress.  The best chance for the designation to occur anytime soon would be for President Barack Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman as National Park 402.  Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff, promised at the meeting to make the call and ask the President to exercise his power.

When one thinks of a National Park, images of Yellowstone and Yosemite come to mind.  But in the past 25 years, the National Park Service has made a concerted effort to embrace sites that tell the whole American experience – including the stories of immigrants, laborers, women, African-Americans, and more.  Pullman has the potential to tell all of these stories, and would also be the only National Park in the greater Chicagoland area.

Looking east from atop the Arcade Building

The model factory town of Pullman was developed in the early 1880s by George Pullman for his Pullman Palace Car Company.  Pullman (who was a neighbor of the Glessners, residing at 1729 S. Prairie Avenue) envisioned a utopian community with good housing and other amenities to improve the quality of life for his workers (and, as a direct result, a happy workforce).  Architect Solon S. Beman used locally made brick to design the factory and public buildings, and housing in a pleasing Queen Anne style.  Landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett designed the parks, streetscapes and overall plan, creating a unified appearance for the town. 

Pullman strikers outside the Arcade Building, 1894

During the 1880s and early 1890s, people came from around the world to visit the Town of Pullman and marvel at its appearance and success.  It became one of the sites that many people visited when coming to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  But all of that changed the next year, when an economic downturn led to Pullman lowering the wages for his workers, but not the rents they paid back to the company for their homes.  The result was the infamous Pullman Strike of 1894, when company workers walked off the job, and members of the American Railway Union boycotted Pullman cars, paralyzing rail traffic across the country.  The National Guard was brought in to restore order, and ultimately the labor action was defeated, but the strike left permanent scars.

Pullman porters

The company was forced to sell off all of its property not used directly in the manufacture of its railroad cars, and in time, the housing was all transferred into private ownership.  In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American union in the country founded in 1925 by A. Philip Randolph, was formally recognized by the company. 

Hotel Florence; Administration building at far left

In 1970, the Pullman Historic District, which covers approximately 300 acres, was designated a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its importance in social history, architecture, and urban planning.  The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency manages the Administration and Factory complex and the Hotel Florence as an historic site.  The Historic Pullman Foundation operates a visitor center for the many thousands of people who visit annually, and co-sponsors an annual tour of homes each October with the Pullman Civic Organization.

Today, Pullman stands poised and ready to be recognized as the newest national park.  To read the bill introduced by Senators Durbin and Kirk, and to voice your support for the designation, visit

Monday, August 18, 2014

House Moving Part III: Clarke House, 1977

Last week, we looked at the first move of Chicago’s historic Clarke house in 1872.  This week we will examine the second move of the house in 1977.

After the 1872 move, the house continued to serve as a private family residence for generations of the Chrimes and Walters families.  In 1941, it was sold to Bishop Louis Henry Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ.  They used the building for church purposes and the Bishop’s residence for the next 35 years.  Respectful of its history, they celebrated the birthday of the house each year.

Discussions surrounding the creation of the Prairie Avenue Historic District were underway by 1970 when both the Clarke and Glessner houses were designated landmarks by the city of Chicago.  Within two years, the city began negotiations to purchase the Clarke house from the church and move it from its location at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue, where it had stood for 100 years, back to its original neighborhood.

The move almost stopped before it started.  On Monday January 31, 1977, fire broke out in the basement of the building.  Fortunately there was no major structural damage, and the many layers of paint on the interior moldings protected them from the blaze.  Three days later, an article in the Chicago Tribune announced that the city was continuing its negotiations to purchase and move the house, in spite of the fire.

In late August, detailed plans were announced for the move of the house later in the year.  Wilbert Hasbrouck, a respected preservation architect was retained by the city to oversee the move and the restoration of the house at its new site at 1827 S. Indiana Avenue.  He undertook an extensive analysis of the house and its structure, to determine exactly how the house could be moved, and how it would be restored to its original 1836 appearance. 

Ironically, the 1977 move proved much more difficult that the earlier move, due to the presence of power lines, street lights, and most significantly the elevated train tracks.  The tracks of the Englewood-Jackson Park L (a.k.a. the Green Line) stood a few blocks east of the house and would have to be crossed.  Numerous moving techniques were considered and dismissed – dismantling the building into three layers; utilizing the railroad rights-of-way; and using a barge on Lake Michigan for part of the move.

Ultimately it was decided to raise the house 25 feet and slide it above the el tracks using an elaborate combination of jacks and support cribbing.  The diagrams above, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 20, 1977 showed the basic steps:
-remove the cupola, porches and other small parts of the house;
-place the house onto a 64-wheel trailer, pulled by a 1-1/2 ton truck;
-move the house onto jacks and support cribbing on the west side of the el tracks which crossed 44th Street between Prairie and Calumet avenues and raise it a foot at a time to a height of 25 feet;
-winch the house across the tracks on rollers along steel I-beams to the support cribbing on the east side of the tracks, and then lower the house a foot at a time back down to the ground and onto the 64-wheel trailer;
-complete the move via trailer to the new site.

The proposed route for the move, as shown in the map above, covered 32 blocks:
-north on Wabash to 44th Street;
-east on 44th Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive;
-north on King Drive to 31st Street;
-west on 31st Street to Michigan Avenue;
-north on Michigan Avenue to Cermak Road;
-east on Cermak Road to Indiana Avenue;
-north on Indiana Avenue.

It was anticipated that the move would take approximately 12 days.  On the first day, the building, which weighed 120 tons, would be placed on the trailer and moved at a walking speed to the west side of the tracks.  Five days would then be needed to jack up the house to a height of 25 feet – one foot higher than the tracks.  The next day, the house would be winched across the tracks, a move that would only take about 30 minutes.  Then five more days to move the house back down to the ground, and finally one more day to complete the move onto extra-wide footings at its new location.

November 18: Removal of the cupola

The move began on Wednesday November 23, 1977, the day before Thanksgiving, at which time the house was moved as far as the tracks on 44th Street.  Everything proceeded accordingly to plan (although small pieces fell off the house at various points along route) and the structure was ready to be winched across the tracks.  At one minute after midnight early on Sunday December 4th, the electric power was shut off on the el tracks and the house was slowly pulled across the tracks.  A crowd of 2,000 people gathered to watch the event, despite the bitter cold temperatures.

December 4: The move over the Green Line tracks

The temperature created a problem.  After the house was move onto the cribbing on the east side of the tracks, it was discovered that the hydraulic jacks had frozen.  The house would sit suspended in mid-air for the next two weeks, surprising commuters who encountered the house at eye level as they crossed the bridge at 44th Street.

December 12:  Trimming trees on 44th Street

December 18:  On King Drive at 41st Street

December 18: Crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge
over I-55 at 25th Street

Finally, on Sunday December 18th, the house was moved the last leg of its journey and placed on to its new foundation.  The final cost of the move was $410,000.  An extensive restoration was undertaken over the next 4-1/2 years, in a partnership between the City of Chicago which owned the building, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois which agreed to furnish the house to the time period, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation which would operate the tours in conjunction with Glessner House Museum, which they owned and operated at the time.  Robert Furhoff undertook an extensive analysis of the interior of the house, uncovering original paint layers and wallpapers which were replicated in the restoration.  One of the most significant projects was the recreation of the east portico, based on the one historic photograph that survived showing the house during the occupancy of the Clarke family, dating to the mid-1860s.

The house opened to the public as an historic house museum in 1982.  In 2004, additional restoration work was completed including the recreation of the matching portico on the west side of the house.

Photos courtesy of Clarke House Museum.

Monday, August 11, 2014

House Moving Part II: Clarke House, 1872

Clarke House at its original location on the east side
of Michigan Avenue in the 1860s
(Courtesy of Clarke House Museum)

The move of the Clarke House to its current location in 1977 is well documented.  This, of course, was the second time the house had been moved.  In this article, we will examine the first move of the house in the spring of 1872.

After the death of Caroline Clarke in January 1860, her children continued to reside in the house.  This included daughter Mary, and her husband Frank Williams, who moved back into the house so that Mary could care for her younger siblings.  The Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 spared the house and surrounding neighborhood, but within months, the family decided to sell the family homestead.

The three acres of land on the east side of Michigan Avenue south of 16th Street on which the house stood were sold to St. Paul’s Universalist Church.  Their building had been lost in the Fire, and like many congregations, they were looking to rebuild farther from downtown and within the growing residential district on the south side.  The house itself was sold to John Chrimes, a tailor, who also purchased an empty lot nearly four miles to the south at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue on to which he would move his house.

St. Paul's Universalist Church, built on the
original site of Clarke House

The house had been a prominent and familiar landmark in Chicago since the time it was built in 1836.  As such, its relocation was the source of great interest, and the Chicago Tribune published a lengthy article about the history of the house and the period in which it was built.  Excerpts of that article entitled “The Clarke House.  Another Old Landmark About to Pass Away,” published May 26, 1872 follow.

“Thirty-six years ago Henry B. Clarke was building a $10,000 house on the southern lake shore.  It was a great feather in the cap of the South Division, then very much crowed over and overslaughed by the domineering North Side.

“So it was timely and helpful, from a South Side point of view, that Henry B. Clarke commenced his ten thousand dollar house on the lake shore.  The house, so long a landmark is now being removed to give place to a stylish city church, that of St. Paul’s Universalist Society, which is to adorn the east side of Michigan avenue, in the block between Sixteenth and Eighteenth streets.

“The Clarke homestead originally fronted east, looking out on the lake.  A picket fence and a cordon of tall poplars made the inclosure, of which the entrance was near what would now be the extension of Prairie avenue.

“And now the Clarke home is to be replaced by the Universalist Church, that twenty years ago was in the residence suburbs of the city on Washington street, between Dearborn and Clark.”

In the mid-1850s, when improvements were made to the house, the west facing side of the house became the main entrance to face Michigan Avenue, and a large portico, to match the original east facing portico, was constructed.  In preparation for the move, both of these porticos were removed.  A second lengthy article in the Chicago Tribune dated June 9, 1872 and entitled “The Clarke House. Discovery of Interesting Papers” detailed the discovery of a time capsule Henry B. Clarke had placed inside one of the columns as the east portico was being completed in January 1839.  The article read in part:

“When Henry B. Clarke was building the Clarke House, the well-known landmark, now on its way to Forty-seventh street from its site, since 1836, on Michigan avenue, at Eighteenth street, it will be remembered, from our recent sketch, that the crash of 1837 had some influence in the way of postponing the completion of the structure, and it was not until the winter of 1838-9 that Mr. Clarke finished the handsome full portico on his east front.  It was not for many years later, until Michigan avenue was opened in the rear of the house, that this portico was exactly repeated on the west, and, as it proved subsequently, principal front.

“Upon the sustaining core timber of one of the large fluted columns, it has, within a few days past, been discovered that Mr. Clarke spiked solidly, with two tenpenny nails driven straight through the package, a bundle of papers that now, for the first time in over thirty-three years, has seen the light of day.  The location was high and dry, and all the papers are as bright and clear as on the day they were wrapped up in this memorial.  It may be readily imagined that the Clarke family opened these papers with a vast deal of interest.  The packet consists of manuscript, currency, a tax-receipt, family memoranda, a memorial to Martin Van Buren, and a selection of newspapers of the day.

“In Chicago, since these tenpenny nails were driven, on a prairie, with scarcely 2,000 inhabitants, the children named in the Clarke family memoranda have lived to see a city of 300,000 send its outposts six miles below their once isolated suburban home.  Why will not the house-builders of to-day imitate the excellent example of Henry B. Clarke, and seek some means for the preservation of our current memoranda? . . . Mr. Clarke’s package has taken its place in the family archives as a relic it will not be easy to equal in interest or value.”

The items enclosed included a letter recommending Clarke’s appointment for the office of “receiver of Public Monies at the Land Office in Chicago, in the event of a vacancy occurring in that office.”  Clarke also included a tax receipt showing that he had paid his taxes in the amount of $7.50 for the year 1838.  A handwritten memorandum listed the members of the Clarke family along with a notation “My dislike for paper-promises to pay, I desire to be known.  I inclose one of the coots.” 

This latter statement referred to a $5.00 paper bank note issued by the Kirkland Safety Society of Kirkland, Ohio – the Mormon financial institution of Joseph Smith.  The notes had been issued in connection with the construction of the Mormon’s $60,000 Kirkland temple, but not being backed by hard currency, were rejected by Chicago banks and merchants. 

The house after its move to 4526 S. Wabash Avenue
with members of the Chrimes family in the foreground
(Courtesy of Clarke House Museum)

The house was placed on its new foundation in June 1872.  There were a few significant changes to the house as a result of the move.  The new foundation was a bit taller than the original, as indicated by the fact that the front entrance was reached by a flight of eleven steps, as opposed to eight as originally built.  In addition, the two porticoes were not rebuilt at the new site; they were replaced by open porches, and small entry vestibules were constructed at both ends of the main hall.  And the house was painted brown.  The most interesting change involved the orientation of the house.  Since it now sat on the west side of the street, the original east facade once again became the main front entrance for the house.  Three generations of the Chrimes family occupied the house until it was sold in 1941.

Next week:  The second move of the Clarke House in 1977
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