Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thomas B. Carter, Chicago pioneer

Chicago in the 1830s was ripe with opportunity.  The population increased at a dramatic rate following the incorporation of Chicago as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837.   Scores of men headed west from their homes in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, seeking their fortune.  One of these men was Thomas Butler Carter.

Thomas Carter was born in New Jersey on March 26, 1817.  In September 1838 he arrived in Chicago, then a bustling metropolis of 4,000, and just two months later said in a letter home, “but this is destined to become a great place, and will soon surpass Buffalo.”  Carter established his dry goods business, T. B. Carter & Co. at 118 Lake Street, in the heart of what was then the business district.  His house stood at the corner of State and Madison.

In 1840, he married Catherine Raymond, who had been born in 1818 in New York.  Catherine’s brother Benjamin Wright Raymond had been elected mayor of the city of Chicago in 1839 and was just finishing his first term at the time.  He was re-elected for a second one year term in 1842.

Benjamin Raymond, Mayor of Chicago
1839-1840 and 1842-1843

Carter was a deeply religious man, and he and his wife were members of First Presbyterian Church.  In June 1842, the Second Presbyterian Church was organized and they were among the 26 charter members (Catherine’s brother Benjamin and his wife were charter members as well).  Within a few years, he was elected Elder, a position he held until the 1890s.  He also organized and led the first choir and served as an officer in both the Chicago Bible Society and the Chicago Sacred Music Society.

By 1847, the congregation was growing to the point that a new building was needed.  Carter served on the building committee, and he and his fellow committee members were not pleased with the plans they received from a local architect.  Carter was heading to the East Coast, and agreed to show the plans to a couple of architects to get their opinion.  There was general agreement that the plans were not sound, and it was recommended that Carter speak with the New York architect James Renwick, Jr., who had achieved recognition for his design of Grace Episcopal Church a few years earlier and had just received the commission to design the Smithsonian Institution “Castle” in Washington, D.C.   (Renwick received the commission for his best known work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, in 1853).  Renwick agreed to design a new building, working within the $25,000 budget.  It would be the first Gothic Revival building in Chicago, and one of the first buildings constructed of stone in the young city.

Architect Asher Carter was sent to Chicago to oversee construction of the building, which was completed late in 1850.  During this period, Thomas Carter hired Carter to design a new house for him on Wabash Avenue, between Adams and Jackson Streets.

Carter remained deeply involved in church work.  In 1856 he drew up the original papers creating the “Lake Forest Association” which was a direct outgrowth of his work at Second Presbyterian.  The Association oversaw the development of all the activities in the newly created town, purchasing 7,300 acres of land.  Fifty acres were set aside for the university, and Rev. Robert W. Patterson, pastor at Second Presbyterian, served as its first president.

Catherine Carter passed away in 1866 at the age of 48.  Soon after, he retired from the dry goods business, and became connected with the Equitable Life Insurance Association.  

In 1870, he purchased a house at 55 Twentieth Street from James Pattison for $9,000.  The house, which now bears the address 215 E. Cullerton Street, was only two years old at the time, but is now the oldest surviving home in the Prairie Avenue Historic District on its original site.

His home, a three story brick Italianate row house, is a good example of pre-Chicago Fire architecture.  The architect is unknown, but it possesses all the typical features of this style including tall arched windows and a projecting cornice supported on pairs of brackets.  

The beautiful double front doors were recreated and installed in January 2006, based on the one and only known historic photo of the house dating to about 1920.

Immediately after the Chicago Fire in October 1871, Carter became deeply involved with the Relief and Aid Society, organized to assist those impacted by the disaster.  In 1874, Carter married Mrs. Margaret Garthwaite of Newark, New Jersey.

In 1892, Second Presbyterian celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Carter, as the last surviving charter member still active in the congregation, compiled and wrote the history of the church.  The same year, he moved to Evanston, making it his home during the summer months, and spending the winters in the south.  (The Cullerton Street house was leased for many years and finally sold by the family in 1925).

Carter and his wife returned from the South in mid-April 1898, and he was taken seriously ill soon afterwards, passing away at his Evanston home on April 24 at the age of 81.  Funeral services took place at Second Presbyterian Church and he was laid to rest at Graceland Cemetery beside his first wife.  He was survived by four children – Frank H. Carter of New York, and Frederic R. B. Carter, Mrs. Lansing L. Porter, and Mrs. J. H. Nitchie, all of Evanston.

Carter monument at Graceland Cemetery
Mayor Benjamin Raymond is interred in the same plot

In 1978, a descendant donated many of his papers to the Newberry Library; the collection is now known as the Thomas Butler Carter Papers 1831-1898.  The papers include many interesting letters written by Carter to his cousin Aaron Carter in New Jersey throughout that period, as well as an autobiography Carter penned in 1889, covering his early life, difficult journey to Chicago in 1838, and his 50 years in Chicago.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Glessner Center

Glessner House Museum is one of two buildings in Chicago that carry the Glessner name.  The other is a lesser known, five-story brick loft building at 130 S. Jefferson Street in the West Loop known as The Glessner Center.  In this article, we will explore the history of that building and how it came to be known by that name.

John Glessner arrived in Chicago in December 1870 with his new bride, in order to take over management of the sales office for his farm machinery firm, Warder, Bushnell & Glessner.  Business thrived under his capable leadership, and by the early 1880s, the firm sought to build a larger headquarters to house their offices, showrooms, and warehouse. 

In August 1882, the firm purchased a lot at the northwest corner of Adams and Jefferson, measuring 80 by 200 feet, for $31,000.  Glessner engaged the firm of Jaffray & Scott to design the five-story building.  The newly formed partnership consisted of architect Henry S. Jaffray (best remembered today for his design of the George M. Pullman mansion at 1729 S. Prairie Avenue), and designer Isaac Scott, a close friend of the Glessner family, who had completed numerous projects for them including furniture and interiors for their home on West Washington Street. 

All was proceeding according to plan until April 10, 1883 when a wooden pier collapsed in the north half of the building, causing the whole interior to crash into the basement level and taking much of the north wall with it.  Later that evening, during a heavy windstorm, the east wall, which had been compromised by the earlier collapse, also fell in.  Jaffray and Scott were dismissed from the project, and architect W. W. Boyington was called in to complete the building.

The new headquarters was ready for occupancy by October of that year.  Known as the “Champion Building” after the trademarked name of the machines produced by the firm, its efficient and attractive design was praised in newspapers and other publications.  The building consisted of two main parts.  The south half of the building facing Adams contained offices and the showrooms, with huge windows facing south to bathe the spaces in natural light.  The north half of the building was utilized as a warehouse, and was bisected by a tall driveway that ran east to west through the building, allowing up to eight delivery wagons to be loaded and unloaded simultaneously while protected from the elements. 

The functions of the building were clearly demarcated on the exterior – the offices and showrooms were set beneath a hipped roof with dormers and a tower, whereas the warehouse was a more utilitarian structure with a simple brick cornice.  A delicate band of terra cotta ran across the top of the large showroom windows and depicted oak leaves and acorns, an image that would be welcoming to farmers visiting to purchase equipment.  Four different designs of oak leaves and three different designs of acorns were used to create a meandering, naturalistic pattern. 

The Chicago Tribune, in an October 27, 1883 article entitled “A Champion Enterprise,” praised the building and stated, in part:

“The building, covering an area of 80x200 feet, built of the best pressed brick, terra cotta trimmings, etc. is of elegant architectural proportions, and forms at once an ornament and landmark.  Designed and built expressly for a reaper warehouse with great care in every arrangement, it is today the best-lighted and most perfect building of its kind in America.”

Main Office
(Inland Architect, October 1883)

Another article, published simultaneously in The Inland Architect and Builder, gave a detailed description of the interior:

“What are conceded to be the finest appointed mercantile offices west of New York are those just completed in the Champion Reaper Company’s building built by architects Jaffray & Scott.  These offices occupy two floors in the front part of the warehouse proper.  The total space occupied is about 60 x 80 feet.  A space of 20 feet square is occupied by an immense vault and the stairway leading to the upper tier of offices.  This stairway is open, and like the general woodwork, is of red-oak.  The main office is 40 x 60, and divided from this and also from each other by partitions composed almost entirely of plate-glass, are four offices about occupying an equally divided space, 18 x 60.  The ceilings are frescoed in colors harmonizing with a heavy, solid, polished red-oak cornice and stained glass in quiet shades, give a softening effect.  The smaller offices are elegantly fitted with grates and mantels, Turkish rugs are on the polished red-oak floors, and above the mantels bronze panels add effectiveness to the general interior, in which one is apt to forget that this is an office devoted to the demands of trade, and not a costly private apartment. . . As a whole, this office in its arrangement and light-colored decoration, with the view of securing perfect light, is a model in office construction, and reflects general credit upon architect and owner.”

John J. Glessner's office
(Inland Architect, October 1883)

After Glessner’s firm merged with others to form International Harvester in 1902, the building was utilized by the new corporation, but was sold in 1907.  Through the years, it was occupied and owned by various companies and was known by its address – 600 W. Adams Street.  For many years, it was owned by Polk Brothers, which used it as a furniture and appliance warehouse-outlet store. 

In 1984, as the surrounding neighborhood was rapidly changing, it was purchased by a developer and completely gutted and rehabbed into a luxury loft office building, containing 60,000 square feet of office space.  The architects were Booth/Hansen and Associates, with Paul Hansen serving as project architect.  

It was renamed The Glessner Center and the main entrance was shifted around the corner to 130 S. Jefferson Street.  Many of the exterior features were altered, including the roofline and corner tower, but the basic structure remains as it did when first built.  And one original interior feature was left in place – the massive door to the vault, which still bears the inscription “The Warder, Bushnell and Glessner Company – Champion Binders & Mowers.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

Double Bough Wallpaper Installed

When the Glessners’ corner guestroom was opened to the public in April 2014 after a four year restoration project, one important element was missing – the Morris & Co. “Double Bough” wallpaper.  Thanks to the generosity of numerous donors, we raised the necessary funds to replicate the wallpaper which was installed in late June, allowing us to reopen the room earlier this month.

The fundraising campaign was led by a generous $10,000 grant from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), which was sponsored by the Chicago Chapter, the first local DAR chapter organized in the United States.  Frances Glessner was a charter member of the Chicago Chapter when it was formed in 1891, and the chapter has funded several recent projects at the museum, including the installation of the exhibit on The Rocks, and the restoration of the Glessners’ Kutani bowl.

Corner guestroom in 1923 (top) and 2015 (below)

The Glessners first installed Double Bough in the guestroom in 1892 after the room had been wired for electricity.  When the room was re-wallpapered in 1916, they chose Double Bough once again.  In November 2010, during early work in the restoration project, Robert Furhoff, an expert in historic interiors and finishes, uncovered a section of the original wallpaper which was carefully peeled off the wall and conserved.  The fragment was important as it established the color way selected by the Glessners.  Morris & Co. produced the wallpaper in several different color ways, and of course, the only surviving historic images of the room were in black and white.

Robert Furhoff, November 2010

The Morris & Co. archive in England was consulted, and a small sample was found in one of the company log books that matched the sample from the Glessner bedroom.  The museum was also informed that all 22 original hand-carved fruitwood blocks used to print the original paper were in the archive, and could be used again to reprint the wallpaper using exactly the same process as undertaken more than 120 years ago.

Sample from the Morris & Co. archives

In order to produce the wallpaper in this manner, the process is extremely time consuming as each of the 22 blocks is applied individually and then the paper needs to dry sufficiently before the next block can be applied.  As such, only one roll of wallpaper can be produced per week.  

The order was placed in May 2014 with Zoffany, the parent company of Sanderson, which owns the Morris & Co. archives.  Several weeks later, the first strike-off was received for approval.  Robert Furhoff was again brought in for consultation, and several corrections were made to the colors used in various parts of the design.  The corrections were returned to England and a second strike-off was received, which was approved.  Production began and the 25 rolls of wallpaper were shipped to the museum in December.

Wallpaper awaiting installation

Due to the way in which the wallpaper is produced, the installation is a complex process, as absolutely no water or paste can ever touch the surface of the paper, or the ink can be damaged.  The museum was fortunate to secure the services of Jim Yates of Historic Wallpaper Specialties, who has a national reputation for the installation of 19th century wallpapers.  One of his most prominent projects was the wallpaper in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.

Jim Yates

In late June, Yates and his team arrived at the museum from Tennessee, and spent the next six days completing the project.  Their work began with the installation of muslin on the walls, so that in the event any cracking of the plaster occurs, it will transfer to the muslin itself, and not damage the wallpaper.  Once the muslin was installed, it was covered with an acid-free liner to provide the optimum base to which the wallpaper would be applied.

While these steps were being undertaken, the wallpaper was all cut to size and readied for installation.  Only one historic photo survives showing the first installation of the wallpaper from 1892.  

Fanny Glessner, November 24, 1897

This photo was taken of Fanny Glessner on the day of her formal debut – November 24, 1897.  The photo was studied to ensure that the pattern (a 31” repeat) was placed on the walls exactly as it had been originally – both top to bottom, and side to side.

As the wallpaper was placed on the walls, the room took on an entirely different feel, as the space was suddenly filled with the intricate floral design that is among the most complex ever produced by Morris & Co.   Within a few days, the furnishings were brought back into the room, including the Morris & Co.  “Rose and Thistle” reproduction draperies, Morris inspired area rug, furniture designed by A. H. Davenport & Company, and engravings displayed in custom-made frames by Isaac Scott. 

Corner guestroom in 1923 (top) and 2015 (below)

The room was reopened to the public for tours on Wednesday July 1, 2015.  With the completion of this room, Glessner House Museum now features one of the largest public collections of Morris & Co. reproduction wallpapers, textiles, and rugs in the country, accurately recreating the Arts and Crafts inspired interior created by John and Frances Glessner more than a century ago.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mrs. Pullman in Washington, D.C.

In last week’s article, we noted an excerpt from the June 28, 1915 Chicago Tribune about Mrs. George Pullman departing Chicago to spend the season at her summer estate in Elberon, New Jersey.  The article also noted, “Mrs. Pullman has another mansion in Washington, which she did not occupy this winter.”  That reference was to her largest home of all, which she had actually already sold by 1915. 

The Pullmans’ daughter Florence was united in marriage to Frank O. Lowden in 1896.  Lowden was actively involved in the Republican Party, and rose in stature when he campaigned for William McKinley in 1900.  From 1906 to 1911, Lowden served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and lived in Washington, D.C. during that time.  Lowden had high aspirations for political office, including the Presidency, so Mrs. Pullman took steps to ensure he and his family would have an appropriate home in the nation’s capitol.

In February 1909, Mrs. Pullman purchased a lot at 1125 16th Street NW, just three blocks from the White House.  She hired the prominent architect Nathan Wyeth to design the 64 room house, which cost over $350,000 to construct.  Wyeth had just designed the new West Wing and Oval Office of the White House, and would soon be hired to design a home in DC for Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh (a Chicago friend of the Pullmans).

The exterior of the four-story Pullman house was clad in limestone on the ground level, with Roman brick facing the second and third stories.  

The fourth story was set behind a massive slate-covered mansard roof.  The interior was grand on a scale that far exceeded the Pullman house on Prairie Avenue in Chicago.  

The imposing entrance hall was designed for the large and elegant receptions Mrs. Pullman envisioned for her daughter and son-in-law. 

The oak paneled dining room was among the largest rooms in the house.  As construction was proceeding, she made trips to Europe, bringing back large quantities of antiques and decorative arts to furnish the massive home.  

The grandest space of all was the enormous gold and white ball room or grand salon, reminiscent of her own Chicago drawing room. 

But alas, Mrs. Pullman’s plans for her son-in-law didn’t come to pass.  Frank Lowden was taken ill, and didn’t run for reelection, leaving Washington, D.C. at the conclusion of his second term in the House in March 1911.  Mrs. Pullman had also been ill, and ultimately no one in the family ever lived in the mansion.

In May 1913, she sold the house and furnishings to a buyer who within a few months sold it to the Imperial Russian government for use as their new embassy.  Most of the original furnishings were removed in 1917 when the Ambassador fled to Paris.  

In the 1930s the house was redecorated by Eugene Schoen & Sons of New York, who refused to alter the grand salon, “down to the last hair of the last cupid.”  It remains in use as the Russian Embassy to this day.

Note:  Frank O. Lowden went on to serve as governor of Illinois from 1917 to 1921.  In 1920, he was a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, but ultimately lost to Warren G. Harding.  He declined the vice presidential nomination in 1924. 

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