Published Feb. 9, 2012
Anderson Center home for town's heritage
Historical Society facility offers resources for
residents to reclaim the past
By Ken Knutson
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
“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
“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,”
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
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
“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
He said historic integrity was not on his radar when selecting the
“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
“We like it the way it is, the looks of the homes and everything,”
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
“We replaced the switches with the same push button switches,”
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
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,”
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
The Hinsdalean and the Hinsdale Historical Society,
which works to collect, preserve and promote the
village’s history and its architecture.