Margery Blair Perkins and the “Classic Town” of Evanston

Dr. Jenny Thompson is Director of Education at the Evanston History Center. She is editor of “Evanston: A Tour Through the City’s History.”

Evanston History Cover (1)

Evanston: A Tour Through The City’s History

In June 2013, the Evanston History Center announced the publication of a new edition of Margery Blair Perkins’ history of Evanston, titled, Evanston: A Tour Through the City’s History.

The new edition, issued in honor of the city’s sesquicentennial, updates Perkins’ original edition, published as Evanstoniana in 1984. The book traces the history of Evanston up to the early 1980s, chronicling the city’s growth, its built environment, individuals, and institutions, such as Northwestern University. The book includes nearly 200 contemporary and historic and photographs (from EHC’s vast collection).

Margery Isabella Blair was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1907. She graduated from Cornell University and

Margery Blair at Cornell, 1928

Margery Blair at Cornell, 1928

studied law for a year at the University of Hamburg, Germany. In 1932, she married architect Lawrence B. Perkins, a native of Evanston, and the couple moved to city, eventually moving into the house at 2319 Lincoln Street that her father-in-law, Prairie School architect, Dwight H. Perkins built for his family in 1904.

The Perkins would remain in Evanston, raising their family, and Margery Blair Perkins would become

increasingly captivated by the city’s vast range of architectural styles and rich history. And so she began chronicling that history through research and writing; she would also serve as a volunteer and board member for the Evanston Historical Society (now known as the Evanston History Center).

2319 Lincoln, the Perkins Home for many years

2319 Lincoln, the Perkins Home for many years

Margery Blair Perkins would soon become known as a local historian extraordinaire; she wrote and led “heritage hikes,” as she called her walking tours, all over the city; she gave slide shows in which she discussed the city’s architectural styles and history; and she was also active in a variety of civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters; and she also managed several mayoral and aldermanic campaigns.

When Perkins passed away in 1981, she left behind a vast trove of research. Her friend and colleague, Barbara J. Buchbinder-Green worked to compile some of that research into a book-length history of the city that Margery so dearly loved; the book was published posthumously in 1984 as Evanstoniana.

garwood's

Garwoods Drugstore. From Evanston: A Tour Through the City’s History

18 Preparatory School

Preparatory School. From Evanston: A Tour Through the City’s History

Perkins’s history follows a tradition of Evanston residents who have sought to capture the city’s story and present it to the world. In 1891, another Evanston resident (and a transplant to the city just like Perkins), Frances Willard published her history, A Classic Town, The Story of Evanston (1891).

In it, Willard described Evanston as: “a quiet city that still prefers to call itself a village; kissed on one cheek by Michigan’s waves, fanned from behind by prairie breezes, jeweled with happy homesteads set in waving green, and wreathed about with prairie wild flowers, a town as comely as a bride, even to strangers’ eyes.”(13)

Margery Blair Perkins

Margery Blair Perkins

No doubt that Perkins, who once referred to Willard as “Evanston’s number one woman,” would agree with this description.

The Evanston History Center will host a book launch party at the Dawes House, 225 Greenwood Street, Evanston, on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, from 5:30-7pm. Light refreshments will be served and copies of the book will be on sale. Free and open to everyone!

Evanston: A Tour Through the City’s History, 217 pp. (paper) includes nearly 200 photographs and images. $35. Published by the Evanston History Center (EHC). All proceeds benefit EHC. On sale now at the print on demand site, Lulu: http://bit.ly/15yOvSk

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