Edgewater's Oldest House

Vol. XIII No. 1 - SPRING 2002

By: LeRoy Blommaert

Is this house at 5713 N Ravenswood Edgewater’s oldest surviving residence? The short answer is “possibly.”

Because there are no records of building permits for Edgewater prior to 1889 (when it was annexed to the City of Chicago), one cannot definitively establish when the house was built. The only thing the Chicago building permits establish is the negative: that it was built before 1889. That’s because no building permit has been found for the residence. (The other possibility - that the permit was lost - is very improbable.)

Fortunately, there are other sources and methodologies that can help build a case that if 5713 is not the oldest surviving residence it definitely is one of the oldest. These are property records, location (in relation to Edgewater’s development), and building attributes.

Property records: Edgewater resident and WEAR activist Joseph Drantz has researched the county property records. This is what he found: The land on which the house sits was originally owned by Rosehill Cemetery. The old “lands” book, in which the first entries were made for unplatted properties listed several pertinent documents. Document 35839 shows that that Rosehill Cemetery as grantor issued a warrantee deed to a Lizzie Hughes on May 5, 1872; document 35831 shows that Lizzie Hughes as grantor secured a trust deed from the Jas N. Bank Company on May 2, 1872; and document 36310 records James N. Bank as grantor issued a SWD to Rosehill Cemetery on May 1, 1872. While it not possible to establish for sure that Lizzie Hughes had a house built on the property in 1872, the fact that the land was purchased, conveyed and a warranty deed issued within a few days strongly suggests that a house was indeed built. If that were the case, the other houses north and south of it were built later.

In 1880 the property was transferred to the Timothy Avery Trust. That action might explain why there was no record of an adult Lizzie Hughes in the 1880 census of Lakeview Township. The property remained in the Timothy Avery Trust until 1913.

Location: The house is located in one of the areas where one would expect the earliest houses to have been built based on what we know of the historical development of what is now Edgewater: (I) along the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW) near the Summerdale (Foster) and Rosehill depots; (2) along Green Bay Road (Clark St); and (3) along the Ridge (Ridge Ave). The salient fact of Edgewater’s development is that it occurred first at the west end rather than the east end. Before Cochran purchased his first land in 1885 east of present-day Broadway, the entire area east of Broadway was undeveloped sand and scrub. While there were a few farm residences and auxiliary structures in the area between Broadway and Clark, most were destroyed or moved when the land was platted and subdivided in the late 1880s and early 1890s, with the exception of those on Ridge Ave.

The residential development that did occur at Edgewater’s west end before Cochran wasn’t much compared to what would come later under Cochran and others. It was mostly farm structures and, near the C&NW RR depots, workmen’s cottages. The C&NW tracks and Rosehill Cemetery date from the 1850s - at least 25 years before Edgewater’s other railroad, the Evanston Division of the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul, began operations (1885) on the right of way of what is now the “L.” So it would be natural to look there for some of Edgewater’s oldest surviving residences.

What we know from various sources of Edgewater’s development is corroborated by a remarkable document at the Chicago Historical Society: Rascher’s 1887 fire insurance map of Lakeview. Fortunately, the Chicago Historical Society’s map is updated only through 1891- Like the more familiar and numerous Sanborn fire insurance maps the updating is represented by printed pieces of paper pasted onto the original pages at the appropriate locations. Most of the “paste ons” represent subdivisions made since the original printing, so that houses shown in those subdivisions can reasonably be excluded as among the oldest. The “paste ons” can be distinguished from the original printing because they sit very slightly higher on the page.

Among the structures on the original printed pages is 5713 N. Ravenswood as well as the house to the north and the house to the south of it, both also extant. In the same general area the maps shows a few structures north of Cemetery Drive, but they have since been demolished, as have also a few structures shown on Foster near Ravenswood. Several wooden houses are shown on Clark Street, but they too have long since been demolished as a result of the commercialization of that street. Several frame farm residences and auxiliary structures are shown in the area between Broadway and Clark, both south and north of Ridge Ave, but they were either demolished or moved when the area was platted and subdivided. (There may be one or two existing houses in this area that could have been moved; Further research is needed before excluding them as pre-1888 construction.)

On Ridge Ave. itself, the map shows several structures, including the 7-mile house of Nicholas Kransz at the northeast corner of Ridge and Clark, long since demolished. Interestingly only three brick structures are shown for all of Edgewater, and all three are shown on Ridge Ave. A large structure was shown as occupying part of the southeast corner of Ridge and Clark, where the present Mabelline building now stands another was the brick house built in 1883 by one of Nicholas Kransz’s sons. A nursing home presently stands where it once stood. The third structure is one that still stands at 5626, across from Walgreen’s; however, on the map it does not stand perpendicular to the street as it does now. The map also shows the frame residence immediately to the northwest of it. Further research is needed on these residences, but they are clearly among Edgewater’s oldest surviving residences.

Building Attributes: The earliest Edgewater residences were not the middle and upper middle class homes like those built by Cochran and other developers. They were farm homes and workmen’s cottages. As such, they were small and modest. The house at 5713 N. Ravenswood fits this profile; it is both small and modest. It appears that the front square structure was built first, the added on in the rear; this follows the pattern of expansion of small early homes of the 1870s and earlier. The original square has 12 foot ceilings on the first floor and is of the Italianate style. Both of these attributes lends credence that it was built in the 1870s.

Summary: It can be conclusively established that the house at 5713 N. Ravenswood was built before 1888 and that it is among Edgewater’s oldest surviving residences. Its location, the property records, and building attributes also lend credence to the claim that it was built in the early 1870s and is the oldest surviving residence. There are a few other candidates for the title, but it is the front runner. We will revisit the issue in a subsequent article in which we will examine the credentials of its competitors.

An interesting anecdote is that 5713 was once used as a chapel and office by Rosehill Cemetery, but this has not yet been substantiated.