New local landmarks
In December 2004, the village board designated four buildings as Oak Park landmarks and in February added two more. That brings the total of local landmarks to 27. Details below are summarized from the historic landmark application forms prepared by Doug Kaarre, urban planner for the Village of Oak Park. The newest landmarks are:
• Poley Building, 408-410 S. Austin Blvd. Now known as Parkview West Condominiums, this three-story brick building is significant for its Tudor Revival style and its architect, Charles Kristen. Kristen designed over 70 Oak Park homes in the 1920s and '30s, the majority in the Tudor Revival style.
• Harold C. Lewis House, 950 Columbian Ave. This 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival style house, at the southeast corner of Columbian Avenue and Berkshire Street, uses decorative details from the entire history of Spanish architecture. It's a rarity in Oak Park.
• Andreas Brisch House, 701 S. East Ave. Built in 1919, this south Oak Park home is an excellent example of the Chicago Bungalow, a one-and-a-half story brick structure with a raised basement, dormers, a rectangular footprint, and a low-pitched hipped roof with overhanging eaves.
• George and James Tough House, 1045 Wesley Ave. This American Four Square is an example of an extremely popular style in early 20th century Oak Park, particularly south of Madison Street. It was built by a notable early resident, George Tough, a successful grain merchant who was president of Suburban Trust and Savings Bank, a member of the school board and the Village Board of Trustees.
• Albert Schneider House, 553 N. Marion St. The circa 1899 Victorian is significant for its Queen Anne style and its original owner, Albert Schneider, the head of a prominent early Oak Park family. The owner of five acres between Marion Street and Harlem Avenue, bisected by what's now Schneider Avenue, Schneider kept the property for his family's use instead of subdividing it. The homes of two of his sons, successful Oak Park businessmen, also remain.
• Margaret Morse House, 1036 Fair Oaks Ave. Built in 1926 by Prairie School architect and Oak Park native John Van Bergen, this house is a rare local example of Van Bergen's later "Highland Park" style. Limestone replaces stucco as the material used in the main body of the house.
River Forest's sacred snake mound
There is ancient, sacred ceremonial ground in Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve in River Forest. The Snake Mound, on the bank of the Des Plaines River, was an effigy or religious mound. It was not for burial purposes like the series of mounds further downstream in Forest Park.
The mound builders who constructed the snake effigy mound on the east bank of the river near Augusta Street were a mysterious race of Native Americans who seemed to come from nowhere, then suddenly vanished or were absorbed into tribes the Europeans found here several centuries later.
"The Snake Mound is between 600 and 800 years old," explains Jim Hodapp, one of the co-founders of the Thatcher Woods Savanna Restoration Project. "This group of mound builders probably disappeared 200 years before Columbus arrived. I believe that possibly they were a faction of the Central American mound builders who'd worked their way up into the North American Midwest.
"There's a huge egg in the prominent open jaws of the enormous snake," Hodapp points out. "The serpent symbolized a significant religious or mystical principle. Snakes often represented eternity or rebirth because the snake's habit of shedding his skin seemed a renewal of life. There was a large fire pit that was found to still contain charcoal. This mound was a sacred gathering place for religious ceremonies. Remember, all of this was constructed hundreds of years before the Potawatomi arrived."
The Snake Mound was discovered in the 1930s by River Forest geologist and naturalist Isabel Wasson. It was verified by anthropologists from the University of Chicago.
Hodapp remembers Wasson well. "She was an amazing woman. Isabel Wasson is the one who started the environmental education movement in America back in the 1920s and '30s. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she was up in years but still excited by her work," he says.
"This snake mound was one of the most sacred religious spots in early Native American life in this region," explains Hodapp. "One of my goals is to have that effigy's snake head reconstructed where the trucks destroyed it. Oak Park preservationists Victor and Jean Guarino discovered Wasson's original sketch from 1935 in some files, so such a restoration is now possible. This would be a great tribute to the original people of this vicinity and to Mrs. Wasson."