Saturday I toured Chicago’s Clarke and Glessner Houses south of the Loop on the rejuvenated Prairie Avenue, where millionaires once lived and have recently returned after a bleak era when light industry and parking lots took over the neighborhood.
The Clarke House, above, was built by a prosperous banker and his wife in 1836. It’s the oldest house in the city. According to their letters, the Clarke’s could see Native American campfires from their property in the 1830s. They started building it in 1836 and it took 13 years to complete because shortly after they started it there was a financial crash and Henry Clarke, a banker, lost everything. For a long time the family lived in half the house and Mr. Clarke used the other side for his taxidermy work, a sideline he did to augment his salary as a banker.
A Romanesque, square house, Clarke House looks a bit odd on the outside. I just wanted it to be wider. The house had been moved a few times over the years and in the 1970s they had to lift it over the el tracks to get it to its current location on Prairie Ave. They did that in January and the hydraulic system froze. The house was precariously up by the tracks for two weeks.
Clarke House looks bigger on the inside than from the outside. The Colonial Dames provided the furnishings since the original furnishings are long gone. In the basement there’s a diorama which depicts how open the land was when the Clarke’s first came to Chicago.
The Glessner House was built later and the exterior resembles a fortress. I have to agree with the first neighbor, George Pullman who thought the house was hideous. Since the Glessner’s only lived in Chicago in the winter, (yep, in the winter) they built right up to the property line. No green. The neighbors hated it. There was an interior courtyard with a couple turrets that really looked strange. Inside was better. Lots of wood, artwork and carpets. I’d read an article in the Chicago Historical Society’s magazine from Mrs. Glessner’s diaries. She rarely bothered to learn her servants’ names and at one point they banded together and walked out on the family. The tour guide neglected to share that information. Mrs. Glessner seemed to be a big snob, though our tour guide emphasized how close and happy the marriage was.
Our tour guide was great. She had such enthusiasm! Tours alternate between the two houses Weds. – Sunday.
Tour for one house $10 adults, $9 seniors/students, $6 children 5-12.
Tours for both houses $15 adults, $12 seniors/students, $8 children.
Bring a student i.d. for the discount. If you’re over 24, they’ll scrutinize the i.d. but give you the discount eventually.Wednesdays are free.