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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Feb. 9, 2012                                         

Anderson Center home for town's heritage

Hinsdale Historical Society facility offers resources for residents to reclaim the past

By Ken Knutson 

   Hinsdale’s residential heritage is on daily display in the many well-preserved houses holding firm to their roots on blocks around town after more than a century.
   Many of their contemporaries, of course, have been replaced with more modern designs. But thanks to the Roger and Ruth Anderson Architecture Center’s rich repository of archives, the lineage of these homes lives on.
   Administrator Janine Wilkosz said the center has a file for every lot in the village. The volume of the content depends largely on the homeowners.
   “We really rely on previous owners, oral histories, photographs that the families will give us,” she said.
   The file for a home on the 600 block of South Garfield Avenue reveals a Civil War-era construction in an Italianate style that was later converted to a Colonial look. Personal letters found in the walls during a modern-day renovation were donated for posterity, and one of the home’s young current occupants wrote down observations for a school project.
   “The stairway for the widow’s walk is still in the attic,’ ” the report reads. “ ‘There’s a railing on the fireplace to keep the ladies’ skirts out of the fire.’ ”
   Another home in the 300 block of Ravine won a $200 prize from Western United in 1938 for modern design.
   “And this one is actually still there,” Wilkosz noted.
   Property transaction worksheets list every owner a home has had. The center works with the village to ensure that a house slated to be torn down is photographed before demolition. The village requires photographic images for its records, but preservationists like to capture details.
   “It’s a little bit difficult to keep up on,” she admitted, especially when the real estate market is brisk. “For us, we like to have them for our own personal files so we don’t have to keep going to the village.”
   A three-bedroom home in the 1950s would have set you back about $28,500 — and it might have come with seven fruit trees as detailed in an old multiple listing service form on file.
   “Those are the little anecdotal stories that the homeowner might be surprised to find out,” Wilkosz said.
   Maps of early Hinsdale and blueprints for a never-constructed R. Harold Zook-inspired subdivision near Burns Field provide glimpses of what was and what might have been.
   With a master’s degree in historic preservation, Wilkosz enjoys assisting people in navigating the process for landmark or National Register of Historic Places status.
   The center also hosts annual Ask an Architect programs in which people bring their renovation or addition ideas and receive a free consult from a professional.
   “It’s very popular. People will want to build a new garage or they want to change their porch,” she said.
   The center has no agenda, Wilkosz emphasized, other than to be a helpful resource. So whether homeowners want to preserve historic integrity or fully modernize, the architects can offer guidance.
   “We want to spread the word that we’re not just concerned with historic architecture, but we will talk to you about your home that was built in 2005,” she said.
   One embarking on a restoration project may be able to peer back in time through the compiled archival materials, which include blueprints and details of a home’s original construction. The center also has a library of catalogs featuring period materials, Wilkosz said.
   “So for chimney pots or door handles or windows, a new staircase, things like that they can look up from trade catalogs,” she said.
   Every home has a story, Wilkosz suggests, and 305 N. Washington St. is no exception. A photo from around the turn of the century shows a family spread across the expansive porch on a seemingly lovely day, posing for the camera. More than 100 years later, that porch is now obscured with overgrowth and a builder’s sign posted in the front yard indicates it is soon to be only a memory.
   Thankfully for Hinsdale residents, that memory has a place to call home.

Step back in time with a stroll down Hinsdale’s Blaine Street

   Scott Miller said he and his wife were looking for a spacious home in southeast Hinsdale when they prepared to move seven years ago.
   Instead, they found a quaint circa-1889 farmhouse right in the heart of town.
   “This was everything the opposite of (what we wanted),” Miller said. “We just fell in love with it. It just had a lot of character and charm.”
   Miller and his growing family are part of the unique one-block Blaine Street, where all of the homes can trace roots back to around the turn of the century or earlier.
   The lot sizes are essentially the same as they were when first laid out in the late 19th century, Miller said, and there’s a uniformity to the homes that is not common with today’s developments.
   “You get a sense of what the village must have been like,” he said.
   Neighbor William DeBoer is the elder of the block as a 40-year resident.
   He said historic integrity was not on his radar when selecting the house.
   “We were just looking to get an investment property, and this home happened to be available,” he said. “We had no clue about historical value.”
   But through raising children and becoming active in the community, DeBoer and his wife developed an appreciation for the retro milieu.
   “We like it the way it is, the looks of the homes and everything,” he said.
   With vintage comes outdated infrastructure, and funds were soon deployed to replace the old knob and tube electrical system and remove the gas line to which the dining room chandelier was mounted.
   But preservation was incorporated into the renovation, keeping the original maple and walnut floors (even though they’re down to their last sanding layer) and maintaining period touches.
   “We replaced the switches with the same push button switches,” Miller said.
   And home improvements often yield interesting discoveries.
   “We found old hats and old newspapers stuck in the walls,” he said. “There’s a beam in the basement that’s essentially a piece of tree with the knots in it.”
   Thanks to the Anderson Center, Miller knows the home was built by a widow from Boston who rented it out to vacationing Chicagoans to put her son through Boston University.
   DeBoer said he has fond memories of replacing the garage roof years ago with his young sons and carefully refurbishing the wrap-around porch with authentic-looking spindles and posts.
   He acknowledged that his front window was altered from its original state but much has been kept as it was.
   “We’re trying to protect as much as we can,” he said.
   As a buffer area, the west side of the street features some professional offices and a medical building. But the residents have worked to make sure the block did not become an extension of the business district.
   “We had to protect our rights because we want to keep our buffer,” DeBoer said.
   Neither Miller nor DeBoer said they are pursuing landmark status for their homes. Miller said it’s enough for now to see former residents return after more than half a century gone by to show grandchildren where they grew up.
   “People who live on this street really pride themselves in maintaining the look of the home,” Miller said. “When we’re ready to retire, we’re going to pass it along to the next generation.”


  Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and the Hinsdale Historical Society, which works to collect, preserve and promote the village’s history and its architecture.



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