FEATURE image: 946 N. Sheridan Road, Waukegan, Illinois 1876. A fuller description of this house whose appearance is almost out of a 19th century novel is found in the post below. All text & photographs by author.
Waukegan, Illinois, is an historic community on Lake Michigan about 40 miles north of downtown Chicago. It is one of the oldest settlements in Illinois. The site of the city was visited by French explorers Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) and Père Jacques Marquette, S.J. (1637-1675) in 1673 where Waukegan began as a French trading post and Potawatomie village.
Waukegan’s origins as “Little Fort.”
“Little Fort” was the first name for the environs of Waukegan. It started around 1700 as a log building overlooking the Waukegan River on its southwestern shore as it drained into Lake Michigan. This point marked the portage from the Lake to the Des Plaines River as it traveled west. The state of Illinois was established in 1818. Over the next quarter century, the Illinois volunteer army fought local native American tribes and forced them to sign treaties and migrate west of the Mississippi. The Potawatomie left Waukegan by 1829 as they ceded their land in this area and throughout northeastern Illinois to the U.S. Government. The 1830s brought vast changes to the area with opportunities for development. In addition to the land transfer, the building of the Erie Canal in 1830 brought boatloads of settlers from New England and New York State into the Illinois and the Midwest region.
Along with other communities which developed on Chicago portage routes, the history of Waukegan’s founding and development shares a similar time frame as well as personalities and activities. In 1835 Thomas Jenkins was the first settler at “Little Fort.” Jenkins was followed in quick succession by other enterprising and hard-working New Englanders who settled much of northern Illinois in the 1830s which was the edge of the Western wilderness. Like Marquette and Jolliet in the 17th century, these newcomers recognized the potential monumental impact that access to Lake Michigan had for transport of goods in and out of the region and what that commercial activity and subsequent settlement would have on the surrounding real estate. As more people arrived, the creation of a village emerged. The area was platted and streets designated, and in a contested election in 1841, “Little Fort,” became the governmental center for a recently formed Lake County.
Little Fort Becomes Waukegan.
Between 1844 and 1846 the town’s population multiplied from 150 to 750 persons. In 1849 the community changed its name from “Little Fort” to Waukegan. By 1859, when the town was incorporated as a city, Waukegan boasted a population of 2,500 people. Chicago, by comparison, had a population of 112,172 denizens in the 1860 census. Waukegan is an English alliteration that closely approximated the word for “fort” or “trading post” in the Algonquin language. In the 2020 census Waukegan reported a population of 89,321 people.
Growing population in the port city. Coming of the railroad.
Waukegan had a natural deep harbor and was a port city. This feature attracted merchants and farmers who could readily ship their goods, produce, and grain from Lake and McHenry County businesses and farms to Chicago –- and, from that point, to the Midwest and the world. Waukegan soon became one of the busiest ports on the lake. When the railroad came to Waukegan in 1855 (today’s Chicago and North Western Railway), it stimulated interest in Waukegan as a manufacturing town that included ship and wagon building, flour milling, sheep raising, pork packing, beer brewing and dairy farming (Hawthorne-Melody Farms). The railroads made it feasible for the establishment of larger industries which appeared in Waukegan at the end of the 19th century such as U.S. Sugar Refinery, Washburn and Moen Wire Mill (U.S. Steel Corporation), U.S. Starch Works, and Thomas Brass and Iron Works, among others. This mercantile and agricultural activity generated sufficient wealth for its citizens to build big houses along Waukegan’s main streets. These residences expressed the current tastes in residential styles from Greek revival and Italianate styles to the Victorian and Prairie School.
1890-1930: Population boom fueled by immigration.
Between 1890 and 1930 Waukegan experienced a population boom fueled by European immigrants and, in the 1920’s, Black Americans during the Great Migration. Waukegan thrived though by the end of the 20th century, the city suffered from an exodus of its population to farther west suburbs. This was accompanied by a shuttering of industries as management sought cheaper labor in other countries. At the same time, Waukegan was welcoming a new influx of immigrants from Latin America.
A few of Waukegan’s most famous residents in history include comedian Jack Benny (1894-1974), science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), World War II combat photographer under Colonel Darryl F. Zanuck (Twentieth Century Fox) Albert Klein, the aforementioned fine artist Kate Cory and NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns Otto Graham (1921-2003).
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and on Foot, Ira J. Bach, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1981, pp. 97-111.
FEATURE Image: The Pickwick Theatre Building, an Art Deco movie palace, opened in 1928. Its marquee is one of the most recognized structures in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The marquee became famous nationwide when it was featured in the opening sequence of the nationally syndicated television show, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s At the Movies. Author’s photograph.
The Pickwick Theatre Building was designed by architectural partners R. Harold Zook (1889-1949) and younger engineer and architect William F. McCaughey (pronounced McCoy). The complex includes a movie auditorium, restaurant, storefronts and offices. Both architects apprenticed under Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926), a leading Arts and Crafts architect and early colleague to Frank Lloyd Wright. Zook and McCaughey did significant work in other affluent Chicago suburbs and out of state. Zook designed homes in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, including his own quirky home in Hinsdale, Illinois, in 1924 where he resided until his death in 1949 (see –https://www.ourmidland.com/realestate/article/Designed-by-R-Harold-Zook-This-Quirky-Illinois-16056515.php – retrieved April 25, 2023). Zook’s public buildings included the St. Charles Municipal Building (1939) and the DuPage County Courthouse (1937). Zook and McCaughey had also partnered to design and build Maine East High School (1927). For a photograph of R. Harold Zook, see-http://www.zookhomeandstudio.org/r-harold-zook.html – retrieved April 25, 2023. McCaughey was born in Virginia and came to Illinois in 1916. He made his home in Park Ridge for many years and maintained an office in the new Pickwick Theater Building he designed.
Originally, the theater had a seating capacity of 1,450. The tower is 100 feet tall with a decorative limestone sunburst carving and capped by an ornamental 15-foot iron lantern. The sunburst is filled by stained glass while on each side of the central tower are two shorter matching pedestals capped with their own lanterns. The building faces both Northwest Highway and Prospect Avenue in nearly equal dimensions (the Prospect side is about 12 feet longer).The building is capped by a cornice with dentils as its second-floor window bays are separated by art deco piers. Each façade meets at a rounded corner. The base of the tower is met by its massive cast-iron theatre marquee.
The Pickwick Theater Building was erected at a major intersection not far from today’s Metra Union Pacific line commuter railroad station. By 1930, when the theater building was new, the population of Park Ridge had grown to 10,000 residents. (In 2020 there were almost 40,000 residents).
Classic Art Deco
In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, The Pickwick Theater Building is noted for its Art Deco style of architecture. Art Deco is defined by its emphasis on geometric designs, bright colors, and a range of ornament and motifs. Zook and McCaughey’s romantic style demonstrates that they were as much artists as architects evident in their distinctive designs, use of natural materials, and quality of craftsmanship.
Sculptor and designer Alfonso Iannelli (1888-1965), who maintained a studio and home in Park Ridge, contributed much to the Pickwick’s interior architecture and ornamentation. Iannelli ‘s decorative work for the building extended to the sculptures, murals, fire curtain, plaster panels, and even its Wurlitzer organ console as well as the cast-iron marquee outside. In 1990, the theater expanded the Pickwick’s screenings without altering the original auditorium while the marquee’s original 1928 red-and-gold color scheme and treatment was restored in 2012.
On December 6, 2022 it was announced the Pickwick Theatre would be closed in January 2023. At the time of this post’s publishing, the theatre was still open and showing a roster of new films. See – https://www.pickwicktheatre.com/ – retrieved April 25, 2023.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 417.
Yanul, Thomas G., and Paul E. Sprague, “Pickwick Theater Building,” Cook County, Illinois. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
FEATURE image: The Loma Theatre with its vertical sign in San Diego, California. was opened in 1945. This is a true transitional/hybrid building for American architect S. Charles Lee. The architect retains the curves (in the sign) of his pre-war theatre buildings and moves to the angles (in the main structure) that increasingly marked his movie theatres post war. The Loma Theatre was built in the later part of Lee’s career and is one of the scores of movie theatres built by the architect between 1926 and 1950. It was operated by Mann Theatres from 1973 until it closed on December 17, 1987. In San Diego’s Midway District, the Loma Theatre had a reputation of being a friendly, classy place (see video below). Author’s photograph, October 1999 60%.
The Loma Theatre was designed by S. Charles Lee (1899-1990) and opened on May 5, 1945 with its first feature, 20th Century-Fox’s Technicolor musical film, Diamond Horseshoe, starring Betty Grable. While the year 1936 was the most prolific year for Lee’s building designs – no less than 32 individual structures in California – the years 1945-46 of which the Loma Theatre is a part were prolific with 17 new movie theatres erected in California as well as one each in Arizona (250 seats), Miami, Florida (2000 seats), and Managua, Nicaragua (2000 seats). The Loma Theatre was originally opened with 1,188 seats.
S. Charles Lee was one of the foremost mid20th-century architects of movie houses on the West Coast. Simeon Charles Levi was born and grew up in Chicago. There Lee worked for Rapp & Rapp, the renowned Chicago architectural firm that specialized in movie theatre design. Rapp & Rapp’s significant work in this period included State Street’s Chicago Theatre in 1921, and the Bismarck Hotel and Theatre, and the Oriental Theatre both in 1926.
The Loma Theatre’s architect was influenced by Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). In 1922, before moving to Los Angeles, Lee was impressed by the Chicago Tribune building competition on North Michigan Avenue whose competitors juxtaposed historicism, such as the Beaux-Arts, with modernism. Lee considered himself a modernist, and his design career expressed the Beaux-Arts discipline and a modernist functionalism and freedom of form.
Beginning his career in California in the 1920’s, by the 1930’s S. Charles Lee was the principal designer of motion picture theaters in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Lee is credited with designing many hundreds of movie theaters in California, including San Diego’s Loma Theatre at 3150 Rosecrans Boulevard.
Mann Theatres operated it from 1973 to December 1987. Its last feature was Paramount Pictures’ Fatal Attraction, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. The Loma ’s vintage signage is intact along with some of its movie-house interior although today it serves as a bookstore. For other interesting memories of this friendly and classy movie house, see – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1716– retrieved December 29, 2022.
FEATURE Image: Signage of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. The church is known as “the birthplace of Gospel music” since Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) started his first modern gospel choir here in 1931. Author’s photograph, 10/2016 6.06 mb
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 417.
FEATURE image: Detail of wood, stone and brick used by architect Joseph Emil Hosek for his 1951 Prairie-style house at 8958 S. Hamilton Avenue in Northern Beverly. See a fuller description and another photograph of the house in this post.
Text & photographs by John P. Walsh.
The Beverly/Morgan Park community owes its charm and uniqueness to the variety of architecture styles and the plan for residential areas that were laid out in the late 19th century. Historic districts were established to help preserve that ambience.
Prairie School founder Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) designed a handful of houses in Beverly/Morgan Park (4) between 1900 and 1917 as did Walter Burley Griffin who boasts an historic district on 104th Place. Today there are four historic districts – (1) the Ridge Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and Chicago Landmark Districts (2) covering historic homes and churches on sections of Longwood Drive and Seeley Avenue, (3) Prairie-style houses designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin, and (4) the train stations along the old Rock Island line.
The Ridge Historic District is an extensive area and one of the largest urban historic districts in the U.S. Boundaries include a substantial amount of historic Beverly and Morgan Park with architectural styles from the 1870s to the 1930s. More homes of historic value that are not in the historic district find designation and protection in the Chicago Landmark Districts.
The Beverly-Morgan Park area is a former homeland of the Potawatomi peoples. In 1833, the Native Americans ceded their land rights to this area to the U.S. government. In 1839, John Blackstone purchased 300 acres encompassing land known as the Ridge, a heavily wooded highland. Chicago and Fort Dearborn were accessible by an indigenous trail, also called the Vincennes Trail.
The area has mature trees, long, winding streets and old houses set back and nestled into hilly green plots. Morgan Park is the older community started in 1844 and later annexed to Chicago in 1914. Its original land tract was bought from John Blackstone by Englishman Thomas Morgan, between 91st and 119th street along the west side of Longwood Drive (the Blue Island Ridge). The area was a farming community until, after the Civil War, Morgan’s children sold the land to the Blue Island Building and Land Company, and, in 1869, Thomas F. Nichols planned a picturesque subdivision with winding streets, small parks, and roundabouts that evoke images of an English country town. Although the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad laid tracks through the area in 1852, commuter service to downtown was established over 35 years later, in 1888, which was six years after Morgan Park incorporated as a suburban village.
Following the Chicago fire, Morgan Park developed quickly in the 1870s including Morgan Park Military Academy (1873), Baptist Union Theological Seminary (1877), and Chicago Female College (1875). The seminary was run by Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed (1842-1927) and William Rainey Harper (1856-1906) who established The University of Chicago in Hyde Park in 1890. The seminary left Morgan Park at that time to become the University’s Divinity School. The political battle for Morgan Park’s annexation to Chicago resulted in its suburban women voting overwhelmingly for annexation in 1914 because it meant better city services and schools.
The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad had opened a station at 91st Street in 1889 and called it Beverly Hills which became the name for the whole area north of 107th along the Ridge. Beverly’s churches and schools reflected the community’s growth from east to west. Beverly (or Beverly Hills) developed along similar lines as adjacent Morgan Park though annexed to Chicago a quarter of century earlier in 1890. Beverly was originally part of the village of Washington Heights to the east which was also annexed to Chicago in 1890.
Notable Buildings in Beverly/Morgan Park.
H.H. Waterman (1869-1948), a Wisconsin native, was a Wright contemporary. Waterman was known as Morgan Park’s “Village Architect” because he designed so many buildings in the community (no less than 15) even as Waterman also built houses out-of-state. Waterman’s architecture is vibrantly creative yet stately and recognizable by their charming and irregular designs. The J.T.Blake House is from the early mid 1890’s, a fecund building period for Waterman. It has a steeply pitched and swooping gabled roof that is asymmetrical and a jutting angled stairway bay. The house materials are stone, wood, and stucco.
Another H.H. Waterman confection is the so-called “Honeymoon Cottage” (above) nestled onto a broad, hilly corner Ridge lot, built in 1892. Waterman built this house for his young wife, Ida May Vierling (1872-1896), who died at 24 years old in 1896, leaving the talented architect alone to raise their baby daughter, Louise Hale Waterman (1895-1953). The house has a pretty terraced entrance with an exaggerated gabled entry porch. There is a high hipped roof that adds to the English cottage style whimsy and disproportion that is the architect’s own home. The Harry H. Waterman House, at 10838 S. Longwood Dr., built in 1892, is part of both the Ridge Historic District and the Longwood Drive District.
The original office of Perkins, Fellows and Hamilton who designed Morgan Park Methodist Episcopal church’s 1926 addition, was on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and briefly shared with Frank Lloyd Wright. Perkins, Fellows and Hamilton became known for designing schools and civic buildings with prolific output in the Chicagoland area. Project designs included the Bowen High School, Carl Shurz High School—considered one of the most beautiful high schools in the area—as well as Evanston Township and Winnetka’s New Trier high schools. The firm also designed park facilities such as the Lincoln Park Boat House and the Lincoln Park Zoo’s famed Lion House.
George C. Walker was president of the Blue Island Land and Building Company. The original portion of the library building was designed by Charles Sumner Frost (1856-1931), cost $12,000, and opened on April 22, 1890. In 1929 its space was quadrupled and, in 1995, it received a major renovation. When Chicago Public Library, George C. Walker Branch, was built, Frost was 34 years old and at the beginning of a new stage in his early mid-career. The low-rise stone building is greatly influenced by the Richardsonian-Romanesque style which was prevalent among young architects in the 1880’s and 1890’s before the onset of the Beaux-Arts revival.
Adapted to a residential-commercial street in a middleclass neighborhood outside downtown Chicago, the building shows the characteristics associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque style, including strong picturesque massing, round-headed arches, clusters of short squat columns, recessed entrances, richly varied rustication, blank stretches of walling contrasting with bands of windows, and cylindrical towers with conical caps embedded in the walling.
Bryson B. Hill House (above) is a classically-inspired mansion with two-story tall Doric columns helping form the front entrance. While Prairie style of architecture was new and modern, the Chicago “Great House” did not go out of style, at least until the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 which necessitated downsizing of many house plans. Albert G. Ferree (1848-1919/1924) also built two and three flats in Chicago in the same period.
Part of the Longwood Drive Historic District, the Robert S. Givins House, at 103rd Street and Longwood Drive, is also known as the Givins Beverly Castle (above). Built by an early developer, the castle-like keep is built of Joliet limestone that attracts attention for its crenellated battlement and towers with arrow-slit windows. The gatehouse entrance is a traditional Richardsonian Romanesque rounded arch. This late 19th century castle on its hill is probably the community’s best-known landmark.
The Evans House (above) with a low hipped roof is built atop the Blue Island Ridge and not into it. There is a central fireplace around which the expansive house pinwheels. The original stucco exterior was later covered with flagstone. The earliest Wright house in the area is the Jessie Mae and William Adams House (9326 South Pleasant) completed in 1901. Robert and Alberta Evans had been married for 12 years when Wright built this home. Robert Evans was a sales manager and treasurer for the Picher Lead Company and Alberta Wetzel Evans was an award-winning botanist.
The T-stem Victorian Gothic with stone foundation has a front porch on brick supports with thick square doric columns. There is a steeply pitched roof with brackets under the roof line.
The first floor of the station (above) is faced entirely in wood advertising the woodsy ambience of its then-suburban setting. A waiting room fireplace survives.
The H.A. Parker House sits on a dramatic hill site met by a base of Richardsonian huge rusticated brownstone stone blocks to form a large semicircular porch and tower at the back. The tall roof with steeply pitched gabled dormers on this helps exaggerate the house’s height.
Blended with Mission style, Morgan Park Congregational Church is a handsome red brick Craftsman building that has been identified as the best preserved in Chicago. The church was designed by Patton, Holmes & Flinn. Normand Smith Patton (1852– 1915) was an American architect based in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Patton’s firm specialized in public buildings, particularly Chicago public schools as well as libraries and chapels.
The Sarah D. Clarke House (or W.S. Kiskaddon House) is a miniature Queen Anne-style house with an Italianate corner tower.
The simple front entrance of the J.R. McKee House is on the side hidden by an oblong triangular brick wall. A projecting sunroom that faces the street is encased by a broken arch.
The Sawyer House is a mansion with many windows, three floors of solid red brick from 1908. The fashionable traditional Beaux-Arts style was built in a time of new Prairie style architecture in ascendance.
Horatio R. Wilson started as a draftsman in 1877. In 1889 he was in partnership with another Chicago architect and, in the 1900’s established an independent office. In this early 20th century period Wilson planned and built many important buildings, including the Illinois Theatre in Chicago, the L. C. Case Office Building in Racine, Wisconsin (1905), the Sharp Office Building in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Railroad Station at Wheaton, Illinois, for the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railroad. After 1910 he was associated with John A. Armstrong in organizing the firm of H. R. Wilson & Company of which he remained the head until his death. During this later period important examples of his firm’s works were the Macmillan Publishing Company’s Office Building and Warehouse (1911) in Chicago, erected at Prairie Avenue and 20th Street, including its addition in 1916. Wilson also designed the Raymond Apartment House on North Michigan Avenue, and the Surf and Sisson Hotels in Chicago. Architect Horatio R. Wilson also designed the South Michigan Avenue building that would later house Chess Records and the Milwaukee mansion that holds today’s Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
The Howard Hyde House is an American System Built home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1917. The client was a cashier at International Harvester. Like the era’s popular Sears Catalog homes. Wright designs were prepackaged and ready to build. Wright had a long-term concern for affordable housing and he worked in short term partnerships with builders such as Milwaukee-based Richard Bros. and Burhans-Ellinwood & Co. The Hyde House was built as a model for a proposed subdivision that the U.S. entry into World War One halted. The only other house Wright built under this plan was 10521 S. Hoyne across the street.
The H. Horton House (above) is Colonial Revival style.
The CSU President’s House is Italian Renaissance Revival with Classical pediments.
The Russell L. Blount House (2) was designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) in 1912. The house has the same floor plan as the Blount House (1) also built by Griffin in 1911 at 1724 W. Griffin Place. The 1912 house has a cathedral ceiling which is intimated in the façade trim. Russell L. Blount, a real estate manager for a bank, and lived with his family in and out of Griffin houses as Blount built and sold them for considerable profit.
The childhood home of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (1920-2019) who used to sleep and spend time on this front porch is at 9332 S. Damen Avenue (above). The Waid-Coleman home was built in 1894 and retains its original stained glass, hardwood floors, pocket doors, and beamed ceilings. The exterior was stripped and painted in 2003 which Justice Stevens later commented made the house look now than he remembered.
Other Notable People from Beverly/Morgan Park:
The Chambers House (above) has a well-preserved French Tower. The architect is unknown who built this suburban villa from the 1870s and which boasts plenty of style and details.
This modest late 1920’s home dressed in a Spanish Revival (or southern California hacienda) style has a central miniature tower and blind arches. Its colorful decorative tiles embedded into the stucco are original. The architect of the Ignatius Chap House (above) was Homer Grant Sailor (1887-1968) who was one of the last draftsmen for Louis Sullivan. In 1917 Sailor established his private practice, designing small Prairie School residences, low-rise commercial buildings and churches in the Chicago area. His work drew upon Sullivan’s simple massing and exhibits a program of applied terra cotta ornament more restrained than that of Sullivan.
The G.W. Reed House (above) is a massive building with irregular massing and that has 4 wings which pinwheel around a central core. With its assortment of beams, arches, and crenellations, the style is an amalgam of medieval, late medieval/early Renaissance, and with some Classical details. Built in 1929, the brick and limestone mansion on a Beverly hillside suggests a Tudor mansion added onto over different time periods. The house is one of two known extant works in Chicagoland of its architect, James Roy Allen (the other is the main gate of the Lake Forest cemetery at Lake Road). Allen designed the home for an executive of the Peabody Coal Company. The house has 19 rooms—plus a servants’ residence with three more rooms—and stands on one acre in the Dan Ryan Woods section of north Beverly. The interior is carved oak and walnut moldings set off by leaded glass windows, with four fireplaces and the original sterling silver andirons, as well as sterling silver sconces.
The M.H. Phillips House (above) is a sprawling Late Prairie style single-story house on a northern Beverly hillside. It is by architect and engineer William G, Carnegie (1888-1969) who reiterates in the house design the popular idiom of Walter Burley Griffin with its deep eaves and patterned wooden muntins on the windows.
Beverly/Morgan Park displays work by generations of Hetherington family architects. This family’s architectural legacy began with John Todd (J.T.) Hetherington (1858-1936) who designed residences, churches, banks, and parks in Chicagoland. His son, Murray D. Hetherington (1891-1972) designed the Brewer House (above). He was the most prolific of the Hetherington architects to design in Beverly/Morgan Park and worked in the English Manor style, which is Tudor Revival sans half timbering. The Brewer House is a prime example of his work, many of these elegant residences designed in the booming 1920s into the 1930s. Hetherington paid close attention to the landscape settings of his houses as the Brewer House also conveys set atop hills and nestled by the Dan Ryan Woods. Using materials such as clinker brick and limestone the architect added texture and contrast to his designs and gave each house an individual character. The Brewer House’s irregular roofline with its variegated slate and random sized slabs are a case in point for this well-designed and constructed individuality. Hetherington interiors are also well designed and appointed with the modern design of large windows.
J.A Brough House (above) is a stucco Spanish Revival house on a corner lot by Murray D. Hetherington in 1927. It sits across from the architect’s own home built in 1924.
Joseph E. Hosek (1907-1993) was based in the Chicago area who did buildings for various clients, primarily in southwestern Chicago and suburbs. This large Prairie-style multi-level home at 8958 S. Hamilton Avenue has 5-feet wide eaves and, in a nod to a popular post-war style, variegated facing stones.
S.P. Balzekas House (above) is a stylish Prairie and Modernist mid1930’s house. William Sevic was an American architect, active in Illinois.
The L.S. Dickey, Jr. House is a successful example of the eclectic Arts & Crafts style. Seen here is its half-timbered double gable. Chatten & Hammond were a prolific architectural partnership. In 1907, Charles (C.) Herrick Hammond (1882–1969) formed a partnership with Melville Clarke Chatten, a firm that expanded to become Perkins, Chatten & Hammond in 1933. The partnership lasted until the early 1950s.
The Dr. W.H. German house is a catalog of the decorative power of wood sheathing, clapboards, patterned shingles, fretwood, and half timbers. Frederick G. German (1836-1937) was a Canadian-American architect with offices in the 1880s in Duluth, Minnesota.
FEATURE image: FISHER BUILDING, 343 S. Dearborn Street, view from the south. Author’s photograph, December 2017.
The success of the Reliance Building at 32 N. State Street built by Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912) and John Wellborn Root (1850-1891) in 1890-91 and Burnham & Co. in 1894-95 led directly to the construction of the Fisher Building in 1895.
The Fisher Building was also designed for Burnham & Co. by Charles B. Atwood (1849-1895). The Fisher Building was three stories taller than the Reliance Building and possessed even more flamboyant Gothic detailing as it is sheathed in golden terra cotta on its visible façades.
The Fisher Building’s façade with its depictions of sea creatures in homage to the building’s namesake, Lucius G. Fisher (1843-1916), an Illinois paper company magnate and architect, was painstakingly restored and adapted for contemporary use in 2001. The rectangular prism with its Gothicized ornamentation sits on 25-foot piles under spread foundations engineered by Edward Clapp Shankland (1854-1924).
In the mid 1890’s, the skyscraper was erected quickly with pride. The steel frame’s first 13 stories were erected in two weeks. The building has oriel windows and engaged colonettes at its corner piers. In 1907, a 20-story addition was built to the north by architect Peter J. Weber with Shankland also as structural engineer.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, pps. 62-63.
The Sky’s The Limit: A Century of Chicago Skyscrapers, Jane H. Clarke, Pauline A. Saliga, John Zukowsky, New York: Rizzoli, 1990, pps. 33-35.
Chicago’s Famous Buildings, 5th Edition, Franze Schulze and Kevin Harrington, The University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 82-83.
Frank A. Randall, History of Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by John D. Randall, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, pps. 37 and 164-65.
FEATURE Image: 124 Scottswood Road, Riverside, Illinois, 1871, by William LeBaron Jenney (1832-1907). There is a full description of this house in the post below.
Text & photographs by John P. Walsh.
The location of today’s Riverside, Illinois, has been an active and important historical area since before the 17th century. It was part of an active trading route and the center for Native American Indian settlements – The Green Bay, Barry Point, Portage Trails, and numerous smaller Indian trails, all passed through the area. It was only a couple of miles from the so-called Chicago Portage which connected Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River centuries prior to the building of the I&M Canal before 1850. French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet passed by Riverside in 1673 when they were shown the portage by Native Americans. The Chicago Portage is a National Historic Site because it opened the western continent to trade and settlement as well as became the key to the founding and development of Chicago, just 11 miles away.
Riverside was originally inhabited by the Illinois and Miami Indians. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Potawatomi became the dominant tribe together with the Chippewa and Ottawa and formed an alliance called the “Council of Three Fires.” These tribes lived on wild game and roots, but later adapted to farming, with fields of corn, beans, and squash.
During these many centuries, Indian burial grounds and encampments were located in Riverside on grounds besides the Des Plaines River and towards the east to today’s Fairbank Road.
The state of Illinois was founded in 1818. For the next 24 years, the Illinois volunteer army fought local native American tribes and forced them to sign treaties and migrate west of the Mississippi.
After the Indians were first forced off their land by treaty in the early 1800’s, brothers David and Barney Lawton (or Laughton) came to the area from Michigan and established an outpost in Riverside in 1827 or 1828. Into the 1840s Illinois was the edge of the wilderness. These fur traders chose the area for similar reasons that the Native Americans had – its proximity to the Chicago Portage and the convergence of established trails whose traffic made it conducive to a thriving trading business.
In July 1832 the U.S. Government sent General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) to help with the Black Hawk War that started in April of that year and ended in August. That short war also involved a young 23-year-old captain from New Salem, Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln. Upon leaving Chicago, Scott and his army camped in Riverside along the Des Plaines River for several days and then marched further west. Scottswood Road, one of Riverside’s primary residential arteries, is named after the general.
In 1831, the first white permanent settlers came to Lawtons’ Tavern in Aux Plaines (the name for Riverside then) and settled in the first houses west of Chicago. Once Gen. Scott’s military campaign was over, he returned to Chicago and dispersed the volunteers. Federal law required the state to have a standing army, so the state legislature passed a law requiring counties to form militia. In 1834, Cook County formed the first militia when Stephen Forbes, Cook County’s first sheriff, called up volunteers to Laughton Tavern. Over 1000 enterprising men assembled in Riverside and elected Jean Baptiste Beaubien (1787-1864) the first colonel of the Cook County Militia.
The first stage of modern transit development was the Southwest Plank Road (later Route 66) completed from Chicago to Riverside in 1849. The road, called Ogden Avenue today, was eventually extended to Naperville, Illinois. It was operated as a toll road whose proceeds went to the private concerns that built it. Toll amounts depended on whether the traveler was a four-horse vehicle or a single horse and rider. Since its installation, the plank road has been a successful endeavor as it was the only road through areas that were often inaccessible.
Commercial enterprises in this period included additional taverns that offered lodging and board for travelers and their horses. There was also a brewery and distillery.
Riverside was mostly wooded tracts and farmland until the Civil War when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad built a rail line through the area in 1863. With the rail a group of businessmen in 1869 formed the Riverside Improvement Company and set out to develop “a perfect village in a perfect setting.”
These Riverside businessmen hired landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895), who had previously designed Manhattan’s Central Park, to design one of America’s first planned suburban communities. Their innovative plan set a template for suburban community planning such as curvilinear streets and modern amenities. Their vision was to design a mostly rural community with the conveniences of urban life such as utilities and broad streets. Whereas these curvilinear streets were utilized to fit an expansive community into limited open space it was also inspired by the community’s relationship to its natural environment, particularly the curves of the abutting Des Plaines River.
The design of Riverside included important public spaces including a central square and park system that contained several large parks and scores of small triangular parks scattered through the village.
By 1871, Riverside had several larger homes, the water tower, and one of the country’s first multi-shop arcade buildings. There was a church, train depot, and grand hotel. Following the Chicago Fire in October 1871 there was a time of regional financial panic accompanied by frenzied renewed building. In the wake of Riverside Improvement Company going out of business, local Riverside residents came together to see Olmsted and Vaux’s design plan completed and built upon.
Riverside grew slowly in its first decades but by the 1920s and 1930s had doubled and tripled its population of mostly middle class and upper middle Chicago commuters. This bedroom community grew steadily until its peak in 1970 (10,357 residents). Since then, Riverside’s population has dropped slightly and leveled off to a lower growth number so that by 2020 there were nearly 9,300 residents. (See – https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census.html – retrieved 3.3.23)
Since its incorporation as a village in 1875, Riverside also attracted increasing numbers of eminent architects to contribute to the diversity of Riverside’s historic architecture. These include Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), Charles Frederick Whittlesey (1867-1941), Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1848-1913), R. Harold Zook (1889-1949), Frederick Clarke Withers (1828-1901), Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926), and William Eugene Drummond (1876-1948). Much of their work remains today evident in scores of historic landmark structures in Riverside.
The original Water Tower had a Gothic Revival wooden tank. The tower is accompanied by two round stone well houses built in 1898 and designed by George William Ashby. When the original tank was destroyed by fire in 1913, a steel tank was installed and the tower was raised 20 feet. It was topped by a canopy designed by William Mann.
A railroad through Riverside came in 1863, 6 years before the Olmsted/Vaux plan and 12 years before the village’s incorporation. William Le Baron Jenney designed the first depot in 1871. This main depot with open covered extensions on the south side of the tracks was connected by a tunnel to the north platform.
The view above shows the expansive tile roof-covered main entrance. The two large columns with variegated brick gives columns design and texture. There are many windows to allow natural light from its south exposure and a view of the tracks to the north.
Looking east, the orange-brick-colored main depot has open covered extensions for commuters to be protected from the elements during their wait outdoors for a train connection.
Looking west, a view of the train depot with one of its open covered extensions and peaked snow-covered tile roof. The northern platform is visible across the railroad tracks on the right. Author’s photograph taken in February 2023.
In 1891, the Village of Riverside and Riverside Township reached an agreement so that the village donated the land for a town hall and the township paid for its construction.
In 1893 the township authorized $15,000 for construction (about $500,000 today) and this picturesque and stately building, designed by George Ashby, was completed in 1895. The clock was added to the main tower in 1941.
The building is Richardsonian Romanesque at a time when that style, very popular in the 1880’s, had begun to wane among contemporary architects in preference for the Beaux-Arts.
There is a steeply pitched hipped roof with brick for the top floor and rough faced stone for the ground floor. The turret is polygonal and the windows are of various sizes on all three floors. There are many delicate design elements such as copper cornices, colonettes, stringcourses and dressed stone.
The Arcade Building is the first commercial building built in Riverside following Olmsted and Vaux’s plan and is associated with the village’s original developers, the Riverside Improvement Company.
The Arcade Building – a multi-color brick and limestone building with pointed arches and projecting cornices and stringcourses – is High Victorian Gothic. It was designed by architect Fredrick C. Withers, an associate of Olmsted and Vaux. With its mansard windows between tower pavilions, the simple building references the elaborate and decorative Second Empire architecture.
The church building was designed by Fredrick C. Withers who designed the Arcade Building at around the same time. Like that early commercial building the church is an amalgam of styles and forms, including Gothic Revival and Italianate.
The stone building has a series of pitched gable roofs that cover and form the transepts and chancel. The corner tower rises to a timber belfry with moldings and pointed arch openings whose original manual pull bell as well as modern chimes still mark the hours. Extensions to the left and right are mid-20th century additions done in harmony with the original design.
This clapboard Carpenter Gothic style house was designed as a model home for the Riverside Plan by that plan’s designer, Calvert Vaux. It is an example of East Coast architecture transplanted into the heart of the Midwest. The ground floor is higher than the second floor. The low-pitched roof is punctuated by a projecting porch with Gothic Revival carpentry supported by struts and a gabled roof.
Two other second floor porches are on the short sides of the building extending across that width above a ground-floor projecting bay. The clapboard sheathings are meticulously and variedly cut for decorative effects throughout the building’s exterior.
This neighboring pair of Queen Anne style homes are variations of the same building design. The buildings’ design shares a porch across the entire front, arched enclosed second floor porch, and front-facing attic windows. Both share the same kind of clapboard and shingle sheathing.
This house is set back from the road and built in 1869 which was the year that Olmsted and Vaux were commissioned to design the suburb. The Italianate-style house has tall windows and large brackets with feet and shoulders for their jambs and segmental points. The second-floor windows are met by a first-floor transomed window. A steeped pitched roof and complex massing is Gothic Revival. A subdued color palette blends into the natural surroundings. The porch veranda is original.
The above 1870 house is a T-shaped Gothic revival with the stem of the “T” facing the street. The stem is surrounded by a veranda whose porch columns are Italianate with Gothic style “carpenter” capitals. The tall windows and lintels are Italianate. The façade’s windows are under a hood molding and the attic has a small window with a pointed lintel. The T-stem’s pitched roof in the Gothic Revival style is slightly lower than the T-cross’s pitched roof behind it.
A frame clapboard and shingled 4-square cube from 1905. There is a front porch held up by four huge piers with ornamental moldings that cover expansive first-floor polygonal bay windows. Below the hipped roof are two center windows with round heads. The painted dark green and yellow mix is stately and blends into the nature setting.
The Queen Anne house from 1890 has a lot of windows. It is a basic cube with a gambrel roof with a wing that also has a gambrel roof. The front porch is covered on one side with a flared roof and on the other side with a pitched gable roof. The second floor has an open porch that looks over the Des Plaines River. The original clapboard and shingles have been covered on the first floor by later stucco.
Avery Coonley Estate, 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright.
What became the nationally-recognized Avery Coonley School was founded in 1906 to promote the progressive education theories of John Dewey (1859-1952). It was founded as The Cottage School by Queene Ferry Coonley (1874-1958) on her estate in Riverside, Illinois, for her 4-year-old daughter.
The school, which continues to thrive today, has occupied several structures in its history. This included a literal small cottage on the Coonley Estate in Riverside to larger buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909. The school moved to Downers Grove in 1916 and, on a 11-acre campus there designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951), became the Avery Coonley School in 1929.
This section of Wright’s 1909 design is set back well off the street and mostly hidden by trees. Behind an iron fence, it is difficult for the public to perceive the full extent of the estate. Wright’s design begins at the street with a low stone urn.
On June 11, 1978, the courtyard’s swimming pool heater exploded and started a fire. The fire destroyed the main house’s living room and a bedroom. The exterior was later meticulously restored to its original appearance which included the school’s stucco walls, simple board trim and multi-color tile façade, all beneath a broad, tiled, hipped roof. At the time of the restoration the swimming pool was re-converted to its original function as a lily pond.
A free-standing L-shaped domestic structure with a broad hipped roof, the house was added sometime after 1909. Within its setting in the highly-designed suburb of Riverside, this Prairie style house sets a template and direction for much of what would be 20th century suburban development across the country.
This is the main block of the Avery Coonley estate. The house is the epitome of the Prairie School style of broad horizontals, here using stucco boards, tile and glass beneath a low hipped roof. Wright’s design starts at the street with the low stone urn.
The basic plan of the playhouse is a T-shaped building with the higher T-stem to the street. A simple stucco structure, the playhouse’s flat roof and lower wings provide the broad horizontality of the Prairie style. The flat roof of the T-stem extends over three elongated windows while the lower wings have clerestory windows.
Drummond began his career working for architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). Later, working for Frank Lloyd Wright, Drummond became the chief draftsman for many of Wright’s well-known commissions. In 1912 Drummond went into partnership with Louis Guenzel who had been a draftsman for Dankmar Adler (1844-1900) and Louis Sullivan (1856-1924).
The house is a one story hipped roofed cube or block with a broad brow of stucco soffits with eaves. The original casement windows include three in the front for the living room with geometric Prairie patterns. The lower portion of the façade is board siding and the top section is stucco.
The simple stone house in an English country cottage style was built in 1897. It has diamond-patterned casement windows and a single half-timbered gable poking out of a gambrel roof. The timber entrance porch that abuts stone achieves an overall craftsman effect.
Attributed to William LeBaron Jenney, the house is an early building in Riverside. It is a fusion of two styles – the Stick Style and Gothic Revival. The carpentry is solidly masterful. The roof has a low pitch and is punctuated with a massive chimney, dormers and gables with filets, spars and kingposts. The spurs or brackets supporting the overhanging eaves rest on boards intersecting with the clapboard. There is a broad veranda with turned posts supporting a lintel that supports small pointed arches with struts. The porch railing has tightly aligned balusters extending to a below-porch skirt with complementary cut-out patterns. The veranda roof extends over the angled main entrance to become a porte-cochère for the driveway.
In the Gothic Revival style, the design and board-and-batten construction of the house is grand and appealing. With steeply pitched roofs, there are several gabled wings of varying distances and directional faces from the building’s core. Windows include long tabernacle windows and others with more elaborate extending jerkinhead roofs that are supported by boards incised with decorative cuts. There are pointed head windows on the second floor over the main entrance while the veranda stretches across two sides of the house supported by slope cut square posts with milled brackets. These and other rare trim and other details, including two massive chimneys, have survived in this house that is today over 150 years old.
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and on Foot, Ira J. Bach, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1981, pp. 664-679.
FEATURE image: 562 Keystone Avenue, River Forest, Illinois, is a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909. It is an excellent example of Wright’s mature Prairie style including its original Prairie-style glass.
River Forest, Illinois is a suburb of Chicago in Cook County. River Forest is perhaps best known for its diversity of 19th and early 20th century American residential architecture. House designs and styles include those by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and others in the Prairie School. Nestled near the Des Plaines River to the west, along heritage lands of the Menominee, Chippewa and, later, Potowatomi Native American tribes, today River Forest is an affluent residential suburb closely tied to its adjacent neighbor to the east, the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. These communities share several affinities including its high school, namely, Oak Park and River Forest High School that is in Oak Park and was founded in 1871. River Forest’s population today approaches 12,000 residents and the suburb is home of two universities, including Dominican University founded in 1848 and Concordia University Chicago founded in 1864. River Forest’s train station is on Metra’s Union Pacific/West Line with service into nearby downtown Chicago, about 12 miles away.
These are my photographs of some of the residential architectural highlights to be seen in River Forest and were taken in June 2022.
INTERLUDE: OTHER PERIOD HOMES in RIVER FOREST, ILLINOIS.
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and on Foot, Ira J. Bach, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1981, pp. 605-622.
FEATURE image: Flanders House (1841), 24044 Main Street, Plainfield, Illinois. See a fuller description below.
Jason and Lucy Flanders House, 1841, Plainfield, Illinois.
Plainfield was settled at the end of the 1820’s when James Walker constructed a sawmill on the DuPage River. The mill attracted settlers to the region and created Will County’s first permanent community. Located about halfway on the Chicago-Ottawa stagecoach line, Plainfield developed commercially, including a booming lumber trade. Jason and Lucy Flanders married in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1833 (they were both 23 years old). Jason Flanders, born in Vermont, had worked in Boston, Massachusetts since 1830. Lucy Ann Clark Flanders was born in New Hampshire. The Flanders arrived into Will County in 1833 and after seven years of farming, moved to Plainfield in 1840. The Flanders had six children.
Built in 1841, Flanders House exhibits characteristics of both the Federal and Greek revival styles. This includes symmetrically arranged windows and a central entrance overlaid by a porch of the 1920’s. Also known as Mapleview Farm and Bragaw-Klomhaus House, The Flanders’ Place has had only a handful of owners in its 180-year history. There is no record of the house ever being used for any non-residential purpose though it may have served in a commercial capacity, perhaps serving travelers on the Dr. Temple Stage Line Chicago-Ottawa route.
The two-story, side gabled rectangular building is approximately 30 x 40 feet in dimension and with later additions. Jason Flanders built the house with hewn logs and sided it with walnut, its original siding hidden by later exterior finishes. The house was finished on the inside also with walnut. Walnut was abundant in the Plainfield area which may explain partly why the Flanders did not hesitate to whitewash the house exterior.
Jason Flanders was the town constable (Plainfield’s first) and at his death had amassed many hundreds of acres of land. The Flanders and their descendants retained control of the property until 1974. While it is recorded that Jason Flanders was a Methodist, his late-20th-century descendant sold the house to a Lutheran church for use as a parsonage. It was sold again in the early 1990s and restored to emulate its original appearance. Flanders House remains one the oldest extant houses in Plainfield, Illinois, today.
FEATURE image: Exterior of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church with its gold domes. The tradition-minded parish, founded in early 1970s, serves a busy urban community.
The huge mosaic over the main entrance memorializes the conversion of the Ukrainians to Christianity in 988 by St. Volodymyr of Kyiv or Vladimir of Kiev (957-1015). The mosaic was executed by Hordynsky, Makarenko, and Baransky. The church is built in the modern Byzantine style.
In addition to the colorful and bright mosaic, the upward angle and its perspective adds to the feeling of entering into a sacred space. Along with the archways and curve of the main golden dome, the eye focuses on the artwork’s bright figures.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha?Their little-known story – which is important to the Ukrainian people and pivotal to European history – is told in some detail immediately follows these photographs.
A beautiful outdoor garden with the residential streets of Ukrainian Village as its background is the setting for the larger-than-life-sized statue of Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj (1892-1984). He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965 and is a “Confessor of the Faith.” The Founder of the parish, Slipyj blessed the new church building’s cornerstone. Supporting the Ukrainian state and refusing to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, he was continously imprisoned by the Soviet authorities from 1945 to 1963. Through the intervention of St. Pope John XXIII and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Josyf Slipj was released by Nikita Khrushchev in early 1963 and participated in the Second Vatican Council.Josyf Slipyj died in Rome in 1984 and his cause for canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church has been introduced at the Vatican.
Parishioners praying and going to Communion at Sunday Mass.
With the artists’ skills, the bright colors and evocative forms of the artwork surround churchgoers as they move toward the altar at Communion during the Divine Liturgy.
The colorful and vibrant decorations that include paintings, carvings, vestments, books, stained glass, and more, are integral to the parish’s liturgy and life.
Two women sit before icons of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha and the Blessed Virgin.
Every nook and cranny of the church is decorated with colorful images from religious and Catholic Ukrainian history. The natural light streaking down from the main dome’s windows adds a heavenly glow.
Two female haloed saints in a modern art style are marked by their unique attire as one holds an unfurled scroll with words in Ukrainian. Christianity arrived into Ukraine by way of the Greco-Byzantine world over 1000 years ago.
A painting of the dormition of Mary is emphasized by, above, an icon of Mary and the child Jesus. Colors, forms, and subject matter are very high quality and soft and peaceful making them pleasant to look at and pray with.
The wood carvings and full-length portrait icons are gorgeous. The fresh flower arrangements further brighten the scene.
Visitors are joined by worshippers lighting candles and praying before a large icon of Mary and the child Jesus.
The main altar gate of carved wood with icons and gold curtain. The Last Supper in center above.
Residents and (below) a residence’s porch flower garden in Ukrainian Village near Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church in Chicago.
Stained glass, paintings, banners, and chandelier blend together and provide a more complete picture of people and episodes of the faith. North wall and ceiling.
High above the sanctuary is a magnificent view of the main dome painted in bright colors with the figure of Christ Pantocrator. Christ gives his blessing as he holds an open book with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and omega. It signifies one of Christ as the Son of God’s titles in the New Testament: “I am the beginning and the end” (Revelation, 21:6, 22:13).
Ukrainian Village is a neighborhood first settled by Ukrainian immigrants in the 1890’s. It is about 4 miles to the northwest from downtown Chicago.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha?
St. Volodymyr is the apostle to proto-Russian and Russian Christianity. He was the great prince of Ukraine in Kiev. It was ruled by the Varangians, a barbarous Viking tribe from Scandinavia – and Volodymyr (or Vladimir) of Kiev was as barbarous as any of them.
In 988, when Volodymyr was about 31 years old, he was converted to Christianity. The missionaries came from the Byzantine world at Constantinople. The results were immediate: Ukraine was now in close contact with the Byzantine world to the south and its Christian church under the pope.
Volodymyr married the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, Basil II (957-1025). But it was Volodymyr’s personal embrace of the Christian faith that infused the Ukrainian people with their deep and abiding faith. Having received baptism, he set out to be a Christian and not corrupted by money and power that proved a serious temptation for many church and state leaders in the Dark Ages.
Volodymyr used his temporal powers to evangelize the people – his personal example his greatest asset to its success. Though he encouraged various activities and programs in the lives of the people – including the multi-faceted work of Greek missionaries – it was his sincere, transparent, and fundamental reform of his own life that by far had the greatest impact on the Ukrainian people. More than one thousand years after his rule, Volodymyr is still recalled as a generous, humble and devout soul.
As a Christian ruler Volodymyr had doubts about inflicting the death penalty. Though assured by his Byzantine church counselors that his Catholic faith allowed him to follow the law which allowed for it, Volodymyr corrected them and said that that sort of reasoning was not satisfactory to his faith.
Volodymyr, the great prince of Kiev, died a poor man – not only various from his origin but, again, that of many of the ecclesiastics now in the realm. Before his death, Volodymyr dispersed all his money and personal belongings to the poor and to his family and friends. St. Volodymyr’s feast day is July 15. He is patron of Ukrainian and Russian Catholics.
Saint Olha was the wife of the Kyivan Great Prince Igor. Igor signed a peace treaty with the Greeks in 944. The treaty of 944 was drawn up at Constantinople and allowed for Christianity in Ukraine. This toleration already indicates some sympathy for Christianity among the powerful in Kiev. Igor himself, however, in his official position did not embrace Christianity nor officially allow the presence of a structure of Church hierarchy. The treaty was drawn up to quietly allow co-existence of Christians in a pagan Viking culture.
Yet when the Byzantine emissaries arrived in Kyiv, pagan opposition had emerged from the Varangians. The Christians were thrown into abeyance and Igor was murdered in 945. Into this volatile situation the burden of government fell upon Igor’s widow — the Kyiv Great-Princess Olha, and her three-year-old son Svyatoslav (945-972). Her first act was to avenge Igor’s murder.
Olha belonged to one of the obscure ancient-Rus’ princely dynasties, whose Slavic line had intermarried with assimilating Varangian newcomers. Olha’s Varangian names includes Helga and Olga.
Though still a pagan, Olha’s revenge on the Varangians on behalf of her late husband was a victory for the realm’s Christians. Further, having weakened the influence of petty local princes in Rus’, Olha centralized the whole of state rule. She became a great builder of the civil life and culture of Kyivan Rus. Her centralization became an important network of the ethnic and cultural unification of the nation which, when Olha became a Christian, aided in the building of a network of churches. Her essential activities proved key in developing what is the modern Ukrainian national identity. At the same time, important trade with Poles, Swedes, Germans, and so forth, led to significantly expanding foreign connections. One noteworthy development was that wooden buildings were replaced with stone edifices.
Rus’ had become a great power. Only two European realms could compare with it in the tenth century – the Byzantine empire in the east, and the kingdom of Saxony in the west. Both these empires were Christianized and pointed the way to future greatness for Rus’. In 954 Great-princess Olha sailed to Constantinople. Though a display of Rus’ military might on the Black Sea, it was a spiritual mission. Olha’s might and the Byzantines’ wealth and beauty were mutually impressive.
Constantinople was the city of the Mother of God as dedicated by Constantine the Great in 330. Olha made the decision to become a Christian. She was baptized by Patriarch Theophylactus (917-956) with her godfather being the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (905-959). She took the Christian name Helen for Constantine’s mother. Following the rite, the Patriarch said: “Blessed are you among the women of Rus’, for you have forsaken the darkness and have loved the Light. The Rus’ people shall bless you in all the future generations, from your grandson and great-grandson to your furthermost descendants.” Olha replied: “By your prayers, O Master, let me be preserved from the wiles of enemies”. It is precisely in this way, with a slightly bowed head, that Saint Olha is often depicted in religious artwork. During her state visit, and following her baptism, Great princess Olha of Rus’ was fêted throughout Constantinople
Saint Olha devoted herself to efforts of Christian evangelization among the pagans, and also church construction, including Saint Sophia Cathedral. Yet, many despised her new found Christianity and paganism became emboldened. They looked to the reign of Svyatoslav who angrily spurned his mother’s Christianity. Meanwhile Byzantine church and state leaders were not eager to promote Christianity in Rus’. In Olha’s lifetime, Kyiv favored paganism and had second thoughts about even accepting Christianity. By order of Svyatoslav, churches were destroyed and Christians murdered. Byzantine political interests found the church and state looking to undermine Olha’s influence and favored the Rus’ pagans.
Olha attempted to help Svyatoslav during a period of wartime, though Kyiv was a backwater to his imperial interests for the next 18 years. In the spring of 969 the Pechenegs besieged Kyiv and Olha headed the defense of the capital. Svyatoslav rode quickly to Kyiv, and routed the nomads. But the warrior prince wished to rule elsewhere than Kiev. Svyatoslav dreamed of uniting all Rus’, Bulgaria, Serbia, the near Black Sea region and Priazovia (Azov region), and extend his borders to Constantinople. Olha warned her son that his plans were bound to fail as the Byzantine Empire was united and strong.
On July 11, 969 Saint Olha died. In her final years, with the triumph of paganism, she had to secretly practice her faith. Before her death, she forbade the pagan celebration of the dead at her burial and was openly buried in accord with Orthodox ritual. A priest who accompanied her to Constantinople in 957 fulfilled her request.
Considered by Ukrainians the holy equal of Great Prince Volodymyr, St. Olha was invoked by St. Volodymyr on the day the people of Rus’ were baptized. Before his countrymen, St. Volodymr said of St. Olha: “The sons of Rus’ bless you, and also the generations of your descendants.”
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, California, 2003.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, pp. 577; 760-761.
Chicago: City of Neighborhoods, Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerrett, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 193.