Wright Plus Co-Chair Sue Blaine says that one of the fun things about this year’s walk is how interconnected the homes and their early owners were to each other.
Oak Park was a smaller town in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these homes were constructed, and many of the early owners had familial or other connections to their neighbors.
Quite a few of the homes in the neighborhood were built as dowry gifts. The Vette House was built as a wedding gift for Elsie Vette, daughter of Susan Beachy, whose home down the street was a Frank Lloyd Wright remodel.
The Hills-DeCaro House was originally commissioned in 1883 for William Gray. The home was later purchased by Nathan Moore who owned the house to the north. Moore hired Wright to remodel the home for his daughter who married Harry Hills. Wright also designed Nathan Moore’s own home, which faces the Hills-DeCaro House across a broad lawn on Forest Avenue
“The number of dowry houses here is astounding,” Blaine said.
A past feature on Wright Plus, the Purcell House on Forest Avenue was built by Gray’s son and daughter-in-law across the street from Gray’s house. That couples’ son, William Gray Purcell, became a noted Prairie School architect.
The Copelands, whose Italianate House on Forest Avenue was also remodeled by Wright, had several daughters. Their daughter Frances married Walter Pratt Beachy, Susan Beachy’s son.
Walter Beachy worked with Frank Lloyd Wright’s second son, John, in creating the iconic Lincoln Logs toys. The Copelands’ younger daughter, Harriet, lived with her family in Wright’s Home and Studio from 1929 to 1934 as a renter.
Blaine notes that the Humphrey House, one of the older homes on this year’s walk with a build date of 1887, was once part of a much larger parcel. The Humphreys owned the southeast corner of Forest and Elizabeth Court, including the lots that are now 2, 4, and 6 Elizabeth Court. They built their first house on Lot 2 and their second house, which is featured on Wright Plus, on Lot 4.
The Humphreys sold Lot 6 to the Gale family, who constructed the Laura Gale House on the site. Laura and Thomas Gale purchased the Humphrey House and to live in while their home on Lot 6 was under construction. Thomas Gale died before the family moved in to the Humphrey house on Lot 4.
Blaine says the connections, some of which are just being discovered today with better research methods, make for a fun walk.
“I don’t know if all blocks have this much interrelationship,” Blaine said. “It makes for a fun little glimpse into life in those days.”