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History of the Clarke House Museum

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The Chrimes Family

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, bypassing Clarke House. Fearful of another fire, and wanting to get an ailing child out to the purer air of the country, the Chrimes 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. 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 they 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 no longer needed as much space, they urged the City of Chicago to acquire it, but these efforts were unsuccessful. Bishop Louis Henry Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ offered to buy the house from the Chrimes family in 1941, and the granddaughters accepted.

 

Clarke House in 1960St. Paul Church of God in Christ


Bishop Louis Henry Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ built a church on land adjoining the house, using the Clarke House as 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 in good condition. Eventually, the church needed the land for other purposes. The City of Chicago, under the leadership of Mayor Richard J. Daley and through the office of First Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Elizabeth McLean, initiated negotiations to purchase the house in 1972.

 

The City Acquires the House

By 1977 the City owned what was considered the oldest surviving structure in Chicago. The decision to save the house was influenced by the availability of an appropriate site where it could be relocated. With grants from the State of Illinois, the City had purchased land near the original Clarke property 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.

 

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