During the last three decades of the 19th century, a six-block section of Prairie Avenue served as the residence of many of Chicago’s elite families and an additional four-block section was also known for grand homes. Now, a two block section of the street forms the core of the Chicago Landmark Prairie Avenue Historic District that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district includes the 1800 and 1900-blocks of South Prairie, the 1800 block of South Indiana and 213 through 217 East Cullerton. I highly recommend that you visit the area when you are in town to see the amazing architecture. Just remember that parking can be tough when the Chicago Bears are playing at nearby Soldier Field on Sundays.
Not to be missed are:
The John J. Glessner House, operated as the Glessner House, is an architecturally important 19th-century residence located at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue. It was designed in 1885–1886 by architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in late 1887. You will enjoy seeing the beautiful tile-work, wood carvings and antiques.
Glessner House offers guided tours of the fully restored home which is a National Historic Landmark. Tours are led by trained docents and last approximately 75 minutes. Self-guided tours are not available. All tours begin at the Visitors Center located inside the main Prairie Avenue entrance. They also feature a number of special lectures, tours, afternoon teas, neighborhood walking tours and other events Check out the website for details.
Clarke House Museum: This museum is Chicago’s oldest building that was constructed in 1836. According to their website, “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.”
“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.”
It was moved to its current site, with great difficulty as it had to be moved above the “L” train tracks. “The house was restored to its 1850-1860 state rather than its 1836 form because that was when Mrs. Clarke had the resources to fulfill and update the plans she and Mr. Clarke had made for their home.”
“All of the original Clarke family furnishings had long since disappeared. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Illinois (NSCDA IL) undertook the refurnishing of the house as part of the organization’s national historic houses program. Furniture from the period when Clarke House was built, and 1860 when Caroline Clarke died, was donated by several members of the organization. Other objects were also purchased by the organization.” 1827 S. Indiana Avenue.
Second Presbyterian Church: This historic church is an arts and crafts masterpiece from 1874. Architect James Renwick designed the Gothic Revival exterior and Howard Van Doren Shaw and Frederic Clay Bartlett redesigned the interior in the Arts and Crafts style in 1901. Stunning stained glass windows made by William Morris & Company, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, Tiffany Studios, McCully & Miles, and Louis J. Millet enhance the Church’s interior. Original Bartlett murals, light fixtures and 175 angels grace the space. In 2013, Second Presbyterian Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its Arts and Crafts interior. The highlight by far are the nine Tiffany windows.
They offer public guided tours as well as self-guided tours. Check out the website for the schedule as well as for a list of their special events and lectures. 1936 S. Michigan Avenue.
The Keith House, a distinct 1870’s mansion, is in the heart of the renowned Prairie Avenue Historic District. It is located at 1900 S. Prairie. It was designed by J. R. Roberts in the Victorian Châteauesque style, combining classical and French motifs. The house has been in the same family since 1978 when they opened an art gallery and continue to foster community through art shows and other gatherings. Today it is used for weddings, special events, and corporate events.
Spoke & Bird: This is a fun, casual neighborhood cafe serving American bistro fare from morning on in a “rustic-chic space” with a beer garden. I enjoyed coffee there as I explored the neighborhood. 205 E. 18th St.
The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant: Opened in 2000, this stylish restaurant at 1401 S. Michigan Ave. is located in a former fire station that was formerly Engine Company 104 of the Chicago Fire Department. WGN says that “the firehouse was built in 1905 with horse-drawn fire equipment to serve the Prairie Avenue neighborhood and its prominent families, including the McCormicks and Palmers who built their homes in the area after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.” The restaurant has preserved the original Romanesque Revival architectural design. It was devastated by a fire itself in 2014 and reopened in 2017 with great neighborhood support. The menu features American fare and cocktails. I went for brunch when exploring the architecture and had a very good experience.
To stay in the area, I was very impressed with the Wheeler Mansion. Located at 2020 S. Calumet Ave.; it has a courtyard garden and beautiful rooms and common areas decorated with antiques. It is also a great spot to stay if you go to an event at McCormick Place which is nearby. I would much rather stay there than a large convention hotel. It offers a lovely breakfast as well.