Wednesday, February 23, 2011
HYDE PARK MANSION SURVIVES MORE THAN A CENTURY
Chicago Daily Tribune August 19, 1962
Just as the cupola on its roof once served as a landmark for ships navigating the waters of lake Michigan, a Greek-revival white frame mansion in Hyde Park now stands as a symbol of what can be accomplished thru [sic] residential conservation. Neither physical relocation, not use by successive owners, not the ravages of time and weather, have brought on the destruction of Chicago's oldest residence, the "Widow Clarke House," 4526 Wabash av. The home was built in 1836 by a Chicago hardware dealer. The structure's present owner, St. Paul Church of God in Christ, 4528 Wabash av., plans to show it off at a 126th anniversary celebration from 3 to 7p.m. today.
Tours in the afternoon will give visitors a glimpse of the 19th century version of suburban living. A program in the evening will include discussions of the historical and architectural significance of the house. Speakers who will address the guests at 5p.m. include Edward Sneed, Cook county commissioner; Paul Angle, director of the Chicago Historical Society; Frazier Land, president of the Chicago Urban league; Ald. Ralph Metcalfe (3rd Ward); and Earl Reed, representing the American Institute of Architects.
The church, which acquired the building in 1941, works each year toward the rehabilitation of the house. It has spent $18,000 so far, and members have donated afternoons and evenings working to restore the house to its original condition. Altho [sic] the building is used by the church as an office and meeting place, congregation members look toward the day when the house will become an historical monument- dedicated to all Chicagoans.
"Chicago has often been referred to as the city which doesn't have a place for landmarks," said Bishop Louis Henry Ford, pastor of the church. "We will continue to fight off demands to tear down this building because we feel it deserves a place in Chicago on equal footing with the water tower." In the 21 years his church has owned the building, Bishop Ford has constantly withstood the persuasion of real estate agents who propose tearing down the structure and replacing it with one of more modern design.
"This is not just any home, It is Chicago's oldest," he said. "I hope the citizens of Chicago will help us relocate the building to its original site at 16th street and Michigan avenue, complete with a park and museum."
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
PARTY TO HELP PAY REPAIRS TO HISTORIC HOUSE
Chicago Tribune December 30, 1951
The Congregation of St. Paul Church of God in Christ, 4532 Wabash av., will hold a benefit musical program and New Year's eve service at 8p.m. tomorrow in Du Sable High School auditorium. The Rev. Louis H. Ford, pastor, said proceeds from the program will be used to pay for the repairs being made on the Widow Clarke house, 4526 Wabash av., the oldest residence in Chicago, which the church owns. The congregation has contributed more than $4,000 to rehabilitate the house.
The Rev. Ford, who now uses the residence as a parsonage, has directed the drive to gather funds for basic repairs of the plumbing system and roof and for painting the exterior of the historic home. He estimated that another $5,000 would be needed to complete repair work on the interior. He said he hopes to make the house a museum of early Chicago home furnishings and design.
HISTORIC HOUSE, LANDMARK IN CITY, BEGINS 121ST YEAR
Chicago Tribune August 27, 1956
The 120th anniversary of a Chicago landmark was celebrated yesterday at 4526 Wabash av., where the city's oldest known home stands. It is the "Widow Clarke" house, built about 1836 at 18th st. and Wabash av. in the Greek revival style.
The 14 room white frame building is a reminder that old dwellings need not be dilapidated, said the Rev. Louis Henry Ford, present occupant. The birthday celebration was planned to demonstrate the importance of property conservation, he said.
The Rev. Mr. Ford is pastor of St. Paul Church of God in Christ, next door at 4532 Wabash av. The church purchased the historic house for $7000 in 1940 as a parsonage. Since then, more than $15,000 has been expended in rehabilitating the old building, said the pastor.
A birthday tea attended by city officials and hundreds of neighbors was held on the parsonage lawn to mark the event. Parked in Wabash av. was such city cleanup equipment as garbage trucks, street sweepers, and a rat control demonstration truck. The display of vehicles was intended to encourage citizens in neighborhood conservation.
After the Chicago fire of 1871, Clarke's widow sold the house, which was moved to the present location. Replacement value of the landmark is estimated at $50,000. Four spacious rooms on the first floor and four on the second floor have their own fireplaces, with original mantles. Most of the house's original cherry doors are in place. Ceilings are 12 feet high.
The house was one of three in Chicago to be blueprinted by the federal historic Americans buildings survey. The blueprints were recorded in the Library of Congress in 1932.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
We salute Bishop Louis Henry Ford and his flock for their committment to preservation and the special care they gave Clarke House while it served as their parsonage. It's never easy maintaining an old house and the effort, time, and money the church put into keeping Clarke House standing is worthy of admiration.
Look throughout this month for excerpts from period newspapers highlighting their efforts. We hope you enjoy a glimpse into the recent past of Chicago's oldest home.
City's Oldest Mansion To Get Face-Lifting
Chicago Daily News, Saturday, September 22, 1951
A faded mansion reputed to be Chicago's oldest dwelling is getting its first face-lifting in half a century. The mansion, known to historians as the "Widow Clarke House" at 4526 Wabash will closely resemble its original appearance when the present $13,000 repair job is completed. It is believed to be 115 years old.
The owner, the Rev. Louis H. Ford, pastor of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ, is using the dwelling as a parsonage.
He said his aim is to completely restore the run-down mansion to its original grandeur, including the colonial [Greek Revial] style front porch which turned to ruin decades ago.
The old mansion, which has 13 rooms, will be painted white, in contrast to its present drab brown. "We're ripping out all the old shingles, repairing the siding, bolstering the foundation and putting in new sewers and a new water line," Ford said.
Ford said the building is structurally sturdy. "When we get through it will be as sound as any building in the city," he said. He said that in five years or so he "will deed it to the city and community as a historical museum, if anyone is interested."
Long a landmark, the building was erected in 1836 when Chicago was mostly a log village protected by the guns of Fort Dearborn. It was built by Henry Brown Clarke, who came to Chicago in 1833 [Clarke arrived June 1835] and prospered in the hardware business.
When first built, the house stood in the midst of a landscaped 20-acre estate in the vicinity of Wabash and 18th St [the house was nearer to 16th Street]. Clarke died in 1849.
After the Chicago Fire of 1871 the house was moved to its present location. The church aquired the building in 1940 [purchase was made in 1941].
John Chrimes, a tailor, and his wife Lydia purchased the Clarke House in 1872. The previous year, the Great Fire of 1871 had begun west of the Clarke House and spread northeast through the downtown area. The Clarke House escaped destruction. Fearful of another fire, and wanting to get an ailing child out to the purer air of the country, the Chrimeses had the Clarke House moved twenty-eight blocks south and one block west to 4526 South Wabash Avenue. In the move, the original pillared front portico was removed. The three remaining acres of Clarke land were sold separately to St. Paul’s Universalist Church at the same time. The land was used to construct a new church to replace the structure lost in the Chicago Fire the year before.
Three generations of the Chrimes family occupied the house from 1872 to 1941. The Chrimes daughter Mary married William H. Walter, and during their residence took great interest in the house’s history. The two Walters daughters, Lydia and Laura, both graduates of the University of Chicago and teachers in Chicago public schools, in turn appreciated the historic significance of their 1836 house. When they longer needed as much space, they urged the City of Chicago to acquire it. These efforts were unsuccessful.
Bishop Louis Henry Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ offered to buy the house in 1941, and the Chrimeses’ granddaughters accepted. The bishop and his congregation built a church on land adjoining the house, using the Clarke House at various times for offices, schoolrooms, social events, and their parsonage. Well aware of the history of the house, the congregation made every effort to maintain it.
On October 4, 1970 Clarke House received an official designation by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, receiving legal protection and ensuring its continued preservation. The St. Paul Church of God continued to operate out of Clarke House, but eventually, the church needed the land for other purposes. The City of Chicago, under the leadership for Mayor Richard J. Daley and through the office of the First Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Elizabeth McLean, initiated negotiations to purchase the house in 1972. By 1977, the City owned what was considered the oldest structure in Chicago. The decision to save the house was influenced by the availability of an appropriate site for its relocation. With grants from the State of Illinois Open Space and Land Acquisition Act for historic and urban areas in 1974 and 1975, the City had purchased a plot of land near the original Clarke property for the Prairie Avenue Historic District, along Prairie Avenue between 18th and Cullerton streets. The Clarke House could be relocated to the east side of Indiana Avenue between 1800 and 1900 south, approximately one block south and one block east of its original site, and it could face east toward the lake as it had in 1836.
The Restoration of the Clarke House
Thorough architectural and historical studies of the house were conducted and procedures for its relocation we developed. There was no way to move the house to its new site without encountering the elevated train (the “El”) structure which had not existed at the time of the move south in 1872. The City Architect and architectural consultant Wilbert R. Hasbrouck studied ways of surmounting the obstacle of the El. Among the possibilities considered and rejected were slicing the house into sections, an airlift by helicopter, an overnight removal and replacement of an El span over one street, and an excavation that would allow the house to move under the El tracks.
The decision was made to lift the 120 ton structure over the El. The house was picked up and transported on wheeled dollies to the point where the El crosses 44th Street between Calumet and Prairie avenues. There the house was slowly jacked up twenty-seven feet on wooden cribs until it stood slightly above the El tracks.
At exactly one minute after midnight on Sunday December 4, 1977, when El traffic was at a minimum, all train service on the line was halted. Temporary rails were laid across the tracks, cables were attached to the house, and trucks on the street below pulled the house slowly across the tracks. Despite the very cold weather, about 2,000 people gathered to watch as the house moved over the tracks and onto another set of cribs on the east side of the El. Soon the trains were running past the house once more.
In the bitterly cold weather, the hydraulic equipment that would have lowered the house froze. When the weather finally warmed up on December 18, the house was lowered and moved to the new site and placed on the excavation prepared for it. A new foundation was then built up to fit the idiosyncrasies of a very old structure.
The Clarke house was to be not only the embodiment of Chicago’s past and a historical record in itself, but also a public museum. Steel reinforcements were added to floors and to the staircase. Air conditioning and security equipment were concealed in walls and fireplace flues. An elevator was added in former closet space. The basement was designed to include offices, restrooms, and a museum gallery. Daniel Majewski, Assistant City Architect, was in charge of all phases of the restoration of the Clarke house.
All of the original Clarke family furnishings had long since disappeared. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Illinois undertook the refurnishing of the house as part of the organization’s national historic houses program. Furniture of the target restoration period of 1836- 1860 was purchased by the organization. Robert A. Furhoff, consultant to the NSCDA and to the City of Chicago, studied the evidence of original paint colors and wallpapers, bits of which were found under the woodwork. His research made possible an accurate recreation of the interiors as they appeared between 1836 when Clarke House was built and 1860 when Caroline Clarke died.
In 1998, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Colonial Dames formed a public-private partnership and assumed the management of the Clarke House Museum. One year later, the Clarke House welcomed Cyrus Clarke to his ancestral home 127 years after the Clarke House passed from Clarke family ownership.
Restoration is on-going at the Clarke House Museum. In 2009, the Colonial Dames hired historic house museum experts Richard and Jane Nylander to reassess the furnishing and decoration of the Clarke House. Their report suggested many changes to enhance the visitor’s experience by refocusing the period of significance, reinforcing regional specificity, accurately reflecting the occupancy of the Clarke family during a specific period, and increasing authenticity of decorative treatments.
Changes began October of 2009 and are continuing today. The period of interpretation has been narrowed to the years 1853-1860 to reflect the changes made by Caroline Palmer Clarke following her husband’s death with the income generated from the sale of seventeen acres. Artifacts, programs, and exhibits at Clarke House now prominently feature 1850s Chicago, focusing on social, political, and economic issues of the period. Research is being done to learn more about what the Clarkes, specifically, were doing and experiencing during the 1850s. Visitors have an opportunity to find relevance to their own experiences through engaging, fresh historical perspectives.
The Clarke House, Chicago’s last remaining Greek revival structure, provides a unique link to an era when the city was just a small frontier town. It marks the beginning of Chicago architecture and history. We hope you will join us again and again for a unique experience you can only have in Chicago.
The house was constructed for Henry Brown Clarke and Caroline Palmer Clarke. Mr. Clarke, a merchant from Utica, New York, migrated to Chicago in 1835 at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, Charles Walker having heard of the prairie town’s economic promise. Engaged in the shipment of guns, boots, and leather, Mr. Walker had come to Chicago earlier that same year, not only to seek his fortune, but to buy land and settle in “the West.” Mrs. Clarke and two of her three young children soon followed her husband to Chicago.
In June of 1835, Mr. Clarke bought twenty acres of land along the south shore of Lake Michigan, reportedly for the price of $10,000. For the site of his family’s new residence, Mr. Clarke chose a section of land on what is now Michigan Avenue in the vicinity of 1700 south. To the west stretched the nearly limitless prairie, with its tall grasses and plentiful game. One and a half miles south of its nearest neighbor, the Clarke House could only be reached via an old American Indian path (today’s Michigan Avenue) that ran in front of the new home’s west entrance.
The Construction and Style of the Clarke House
The Clarkes knew what they wanted in their dwelling. In a letter to a relative back East, Mrs. Clarke wrote of the “good” houses that would soon be built in Chicago: “The buildings are not mostly small and look as though they had been put up as quickly as possible, many of them are what they call here Ballon [sic] houses, that is built of boards entirely- not a stick of timber in them, except the sills…” The “balloon” house to which Mrs. Clarke referred was in fact one of Chicago’s major contributions to architecture. A balloon frame was built of light weight two-by-four or two-by-six wooden boards fastened together with machine-made, inexpensive wire nails that were then becoming widely available for the first time. This type of framing system, which looked so flimsy to early observers that they thought it would ‘blow away like a balloon’, could be built more quickly and cheaply than a tradition hand-shaped timber frame. The technique swept the country and continues to be the dominant method of building wooden frame structures today.
The Clarkes, however, decided to build a large, heavy, timber frame structure. They modeled the house in the Greek revival style, resembling many of the houses in upstate New York where the Clarkes had lived before moving to Chicago. The Greek revival style flourished in America from about 1820 to 1860, appearing first in cities on the Eastern seaboard and then spreading gradually west as the young nation expanded. The words of writer James McConkey about another Greek revival house apply also to the Clarke House: “…a dream of order and balance and proportion set down in a rude wilderness to represent the original owner’s sense of himself and what he could achieve, as well as a spiritual attitude that justified his striving.” Encouraged by the idea that their own governmental ideals resembled those of ancient Greece, Americans saw the Greek revival style as an expression of their developing national character.
Prior to the emergence of the Greek revival as the style of choice, American architecture had been based largely on Western European styles, which themselves derived primarily from classical Roman antecedents. Both the Georgian and Federal styles which prevailed from the early eighteenth century through the early nineteenth were based on these models. By the 1820s, Americans were looking to other sources for inspiration. Beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, accurate knowledge of the differences between Roman and Greek form emerged, primarily as a result of archeological explorations. The Antiquities of Athens, published in England in 1762, contained engraved illustrations of classical Greek buildings and had an important effect by encouraging the use of Greek architectural elements. Joined to this new understanding of antiquity was the sympathetic American response to the Greek Revolution of the early 1820s. There was a natural identification with their war of independence from the Turks, and relief funds were sent from American towns to Greece. These two influences fused into a desire to emulate the Greek traditional forms, and classical Greek decorative elements were thus used to create a distinctively American style.
The original classical Greek buildings were constructed of cut stone blocks: rectangular ones for walls, and round, stacked drums of stone for columns. In America, Greek revival structures were often made of wood and brick. A columned portico, or porch, topped by a triangular roof shape, or pediment, was the most prominent feature of both the classical temple and its wooden American counterpart. Nineteenth-century visitors to America marveled at the white “Greek” temples that appeared in the cities and dotted the countryside. When Alexis de Tocqueville, a French philosopher, traveled to America in 1831, he remarked on “a number of little white marble palaces, some of them in classical architectural style.” Upon closer examination he found they were all of whitewashed brick with columns of painted wood. These wood and brick Greek revival buildings were elegant in an understated way.
The Clarke House was probably built by a local carpenter using readily available pattern books or builders’ guides. Such publications provided floor plans for Greek revival and other styles of houses, drawings of moldings, staircases, and additional details, as well as practical suggestions on the use of wood, stone and other materials. With such guidance at hand, a skilled carpenter could produce a fashionable, well-designed home. A.T. Andreas, in the first volume of his History of Chicago (1884), wrote that the Clarke House was built by John Campbell Rye, a carpenter. Nothing further is known of Rye, but he may have been the John C. Rue listed among carpenters working in Chicago in 1839 in the book Industrial Chicago: The Building Interests, published in 1891. The house the Clarkes built, however, is far from a stereotypical pattern book house.
The House the Clarkes Built
For their own home, the Clarkes apparently considered the balloon frame unsubstantial and temporary, and so they built a timber frame house, the kind Mrs. Clarke considered a “good” house. The Clarke House thus demonstrates the survival of traditional construction techniques in which logs, roughly squared, are firmly held together by mortise and tenon joints: the tenon or tongue of one timber is fitted into a matching slot, or mortise, in the other, both laboriously cut to fit. Wooden pegs are driven into the joints to prevent slippage. Thus built, the Clarke House has withstood time, two fires and two moves.
The strong frame is covered on the exterior by horizontal clapboards. The interior surfaces are finished with hand-split lath and plaster. To make the lath, a long thin section of a log was split repeatedly at either end and fastened to the wall. Each separate lath could then be pulled down, in the manner of an accordion, and nailed to the vertical wall studs. The result, when filled with a rough coat of plaster and then a smooth finish coat, was strong and enduring. Visitors to the house can see the original construction system through an open panel in the wall of the upstairs middle bedroom.
In its general proportions, mass, floor plan, ornament, and detailing, the Clarke House is in the American Greek revival tradition. As in the ancient Greek temple, the façade is commanded by a large portico supported by tall columns and a well proportioned pediment. The Clarke House columns sit on a small pad or plinth and so it appears to have been modeled from a simple Roman Doric prototype, rather than from Greek precedents. A parapet or low ornamental railing defines the edge of the roof. The house is crowned by an unusual and somewhat Italianate lantern and finial. The lantern was added to the house in the 1850s, probably in an attempt to update the house in the latest fashion.
The symmetry and openness of the house are underscored by the placement and design of the door and window openings. The front door is tall, important, and welcoming with is transom and sidelights divided by delicate mullions. On either side of the door are two windows, reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling, and seeming to invite stepping from window to portico. Their sashes are triple-hung, with six panes of glass in each sash. Corner pilasters and ornamental cornices above the door and windows increase the feeling of grandeur. The north and south sides of the house are dramatized by three first floor windows with six-over-six sashes and by a handsome arched window at the middle of the second floor. On the south side of the house, the central first-floor exterior window is positioned only for symmetry; it is not cut through to the interior and serves only as an element of design. All the windows have shutters that not only contribute to the overall design but were also part of a highly effective 1830s cooling system.
As in most Greek revival houses, there is a wide central hall. With its graceful walnut-railed staircase and wallpaper printer to resemble cut stone, the hall provided elegant entries to the house from the east and the west. Because of the openness of the hall, it was badly damaged in 1977 by a fire that swept up from the basement furnace, shortly before the house was moved to its present location. The woodwork was deeply charred and might have been wholly destroyed had it not been for the multiple layers of paint that protected it. Other rooms, particularly those at the northeast corner, also suffered serious damage.
On the south side of the hall is a spacious double parlor that can be divided into two rooms by sliding doors. The east room of this double parlor, with is high ceiling, long windows, and deeply carved woodwork, served as the family’s parlor; the identical west room was used as a dining room. Completed in the 1850s, the finishes and ornamentations in these rooms are more elaborate than in any other part of the house. The fireplace surrounds and mantels in both rooms are finished in a reproduction hand-grained black and white imitation marble.
The most exacting research, sometimes through as many as twenty-seven layers of paint, revealed a rich original color scheme. Two sections of the parlor ceiling, divided by a band of beading, were painted two shades of gold. Stronger colors were used on the band of ornament at the top of the walls and on the ceiling medallion from which an elaborate brass chandelier was suspended. The floral elements of the medallion were painted in intense but muted shades of blue, green, pink, gray, and brown, highlighted with touches of gold and encircled by gold leaves.
On the second floor are six bedrooms, the middle room on either side of the hall being distinguished by a tall arched window. The lantern (commonly referred to as a cupola) above the second floor hall is yet another element in the cooling system of the house. Its open windows, combined with the cross ventilation achieved on the first floor, kept most of the hose cool and comfortable even on the hottest summer days. The lantern also brought sunlight into the otherwise dark upper floor hallway.
The Clarke Family
After the Clarkes arrived in Chicago in 1835, Mr. Clarke not only acquired the land he wanted, but also became partner in the wholesale hardware firm of Jones, King, and Co. The firm dealt in construction, farming, and trapping implements that were in great demand in the rapidly growing city and throughout the Midwest.
When the Clarkes settled in Chicago, it was still a small frontier town. In a letter to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Clarke wrote: “I am far better pleased with Chicago than I expected. The situation is, I think, very pleasant and the town is laid out handsomely. When the streets come to be built up with good houses… it will be very pleasant indeed.”
The influx of European- Americans started in 1833 when the departure of Native Americans opened the area to new settlement. At that time, the population was 350 people; by 1837, the year Chicago was incorporated as a city, the population had already grown to 4,000. Some of the necessary services for a developing community were becoming available. “Good tasting” water was brought in from the lake and sold by the barrel for a price Mrs. Clarke considered negligible “in Chicago’s way of doing business.”
In the fast-rising Chicago economy, Mr. Clarke had also become a director of the city’s first bank, the Illinois State Bank, which had opened in 1834 at the corner of LaSalle and South Water Streets. His brother-in-law, Charles Walker started shipping wheat from Chicago to New York and, it is said, was well on his way to becoming one of the city’s first millionaires. The expansive years of the early 1830s ended in the Panic of 1837, when almost overnight the Illinois State Bank failed and Jones, King and Co. foundered. As a result, the Clarkes did not have the money necessary to finish the interior of their new house.
During these hard times at the end of the 1830s, Mr. Clarke turned to farming, dairying, and hunting. Alice L. Barnard, a teacher who lived with the Clarkes, wrote to a friend that the unfurnished south parlors were hung with “half a dozen deer, hundreds of snipe, plover, and quail, and dozens of prairie chickens and ducks.” The game was used by the family and also sold. The first city directory in Chicago, published in 1844, listed Clarke as “farmer, lake shore below Michigan Avenue.” Economic conditions improved during the 1840s. Mr. Clarke served as city clerk from 1846 to 1848 for a salary of $600 and fees. During the 1840s, the Clarke family continued to grow, and by 1849, there were six Clarke children living (three had died in infancy): James, Mary, Robert, Caroline, Edward, and Cyrus. In 1849, however, the Clarkes again suffered hardship that affected the entire city. After a severe winter, spring flooding contaminated the city’s drinking water. Cholera broke out in epidemic proportions, killing nearly three percent of the city’s population. Henry Clarke then 47 years old, contracted the disease and died on July 23, 1849.
By the 1850s, the city was beginning to spread southward close to the once-remote Clarke property. The State Street stagecoach made daily trips to the city limits at 22nd Street. After Mr. Clarke’s death, Mrs. Clarke subdivided and certified a significant portion of the land and created “Clarke’s Addition to Chicago.” The twenty Clarke acres were divided into four blocks and the blocks subdivided into lots that were sold except for a plot of three acres on which the house stood. The Clarke family was able to secure its financial position, and in the early 1850s, the lantern was added to the house. Michigan Avenue was opened all the way to the Clarke House, and a favorite Sunday excursion for Chicagoans was a carriage ride to see what had come to be called the Widow Clarke mansion.
In 1860, Mrs. Clarke traveled to Buffalo, New York, probably to visit her late husband’s younger brother Cyrus. While there Mrs. Clarke died, and her body was returned to Chicago for burial. She was interred next to her husband on the family’s land. When Graceland Cemetery opened, both Henry and Caroline Clarke and their eldest son James, who had died in 1856, were reburied in a Clarke family plot. The Clarkes’ youngest child, Cyrus, was only twelve years old when his mother died. Mary, the oldest of the surviving children and her husband Frank B. Williams moved into the Clarke House to care for Cyrus and the other children.
By the 1860s, the pioneer era in Chicago had ended. The village had grown into a city of more than 100,000 people. The Clarke children continued to live in the house their parents had built until 1872, when it was sold.