Sometimes in our work here at the Evanston History Center the past seems more present than at other times. Two great examples of this can be found right now on the north side of town.
The first is the new construction that’s been going on all year on what was the Kendall College site bounded by Lincoln, Sherman, Colfax and Orrington streets. It is rare in Evanston these days to see whole blocks under construction, but this is exactly what many areas of Evanston looked like in the early 20th century when so much construction was underway on vacant land all over town. By the 1960s most land in Evanston was built on and it was hard to find even one vacant lot. Drive by and see for yourself what vacant land looks like as it slowly fills up with new houses and garages, fences and alleys.
The second happened just last week – a house being lifted off its foundation and moved from its original location, rather than being torn down. The house at 1318 Isabella had sat on its Wilmette lot for more than 80 years until purchased by a developer who intended to tear it down for new construction. Designed by architect John Van Bergen, who worked in the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, the prairie style house became the focus of preservationists who lobbied for saving it. The developer agreed to hold off on demolition, as long as a buyer could be found who would move the house to a new location. And this is how on a sunny October Friday, one could visit Isabella Street and watch one section of this house travelling from its former to its temporary home in the old Dominicks parking lot.
Many Evanston homes were moved to new locations in the late 19th and early 20th century for just the same reasons. Someone would want a new, more modern, usually larger and grander, house at a location and the small, older house would be in the way. Rather than simply tear it down, house movers would be called in and permits would be issued which would dictate the route the house would take as well as the day and time of the move. (Side note: we have copies of these permits in our research collection. Do you know if your house was ever moved?)
In our much more disposable-minded age, house moving is very uncommon. Most of the time the older home is simply leveled for new construction. But thankfully for the Van Bergen house, wiser forces prevailed and this historic home was saved. We can’t wait to see how it looks once it is pieced back together and in place at its new home.
By Lori Osborne, EHC Archivist and Director of Outreach