Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Clarke House turns 175

This past Thursday, the Clarke House celebrated its 175th anniversary. Folks from Illinois, Chicago, and around the country, came to celebrate the milestone. The event included a cocktail reception in the Clarke House followed by a sit-down dinner in the Glessner House Museum’s coach house.

Guest on the portico of the Clarke House during Thursdays reception

House History
Built in 1836, the structure is recognized as Chicago’s oldest surviving  home. Due to it’s location (originally located near 16th and S. Michigan), the Clarke House was far enough south to escape the Great Fire of 1871.

Pioneers on the Prairie
Henry and Caroline Clarke came to Chicago from Utica, New York. They came to Chicago to make their fortune. When the Clarkes moved to Illinois, there were barely 1,000 residents in Chicago. Ironically, the Clarkes weren’t counted in the 1935 Chicago census because where the house was originally located and where it stands today, weren’t annexed as part of city until 1837.

The Clarkes had nine children, with three preceding them in death. Henry and Caroline for most of their lives occupied themselves with providing for their six remaining children. When they built their Greek Revival home, things were economically pretty good, but that would all change in 1837. When the United States converted to a gold standard, Henry’s business pursuits turned sour and things became very bleak. Mr. Clarke set about supporting his family through hunting, farming, and some work in the city. The family also took in borders to help make ends meet.

More Challenges
In 1849 the Clarkes faced a real challenge. In 19th-century Chicago, cholera epidemics seemed to visit the city every summer. Henry Clarke fell victim to the cholera epidemic that year and died. Carolyn Clarke was now a widow with six children and no income to keep the family going. The original Clarke House was on a plot of 20 acres. After Henry Clarke passed away, Caroline sold 17 of those acres, which helped her pay off the family’s debts, complete and update the house, which was unfinished at the time of Mr. Clarke’s death.

An Enduring Legacy
The Clarke House is so much more than a beautifully restored old house. It represents the dreams and visions of those who built the foundation on which Chicago, one of the world’s great cities, stands today.

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