Clarke House

1827 S Indiana Ave Chicago

Amy Bizzarri
Written By Amy Bizzarri

The Clarke House is a true survivor, 188 years and counting: she took the heat of several fires, saw cholera kill within her walls, was ripped from her foundation, forced to jump the El tracks, and moved — twice. She saw her owner fall into financial ruin; some of her elegant rooms converted to a butchery. She even found itself suspended in mid-air for two weeks when the hydraulic equipment used to relocate the home froze during the frigid winter of '77. Owner Henry B. Clarke, a New Yorker by birth who immigrated to Chicago in 1835 and made his mark selling guns, boots, and leather, was one of the first wealthy settlers to build south of the river. In 1836, the homestead where he would raise his six children, together with his wife, Caroline, rose from the prairie on 20+ acres of land near the intersection of today's Michigan Avenue and 16th/17th Streets. The Greek Revival Clarke House with its Doric columns and porticos reflected the period's obsession with ancient civilization and stood as a sophisticated home on the prairie. When the Panic of 1837 hit, a bankrupt Clarke farmed and hunted for wild game in the surrounding prairie; he used the south parlors for meat processing and storage. In 1849, Henry died of cholera; his young widow sold 17 acres of the surrounding land and added her own unforgettable touch: the crowing Italianate belvedere. After Caroline's death, the home experienced two high jinx moves, first to 4536 South Wabash Avenue, and finally, on a bitterly cold December night, to its present location, which is just a few blocks from its original location. Today the home offers a glimpse into the life of a middle-class family in pre-Civil War era Chicago thanks to its carefully curated contents. It's easy to imagine the Clarke family gathered by the hearthstone in the Northeast Sitting Room, singing songs together beside the fortepiano or strolling through their garden with its heirloom vegetables and prairie grasses.

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