This February we're celebrating Black History Month by featuring the congregation of St. Paul's Church of God in Christ which owned the house from 1941-1977.
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].