In River Forest, a pair of homes with architectural and historical significance recently hit the market, and the distinctive styles of the homes offer a glimpse into the village’s past.
The first of the two residences, Solomon Thatcher Jr. House, was built in 1874 on two lots at 516-18 Keystone Ave.
Solomon Thatcher Jr. was born in Canandaigua, New York, in 1833 and came to the Chicago area in 1858. He worked for the American Express company, dabbled in real estate and was an owner of the Blackstone Quarry on Chicago’s West Side.
Thatcher purchased a parcel in River Forest west of Lathrop and between Chicago Avenue and Lake Street, which he subdivided for sale, giving portions to the Methodist and Catholic churches, which would later build the First Methodist Church of River Forest and St. Luke Church.
Solomon Thatcher married Clara Thatcher, who was no relation. She was the only daughter of David C. Thatcher, whose father David A. Thatcher was an early settler of River Forest.
A devout Methodist, Thatcher contributed to the Methodist exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and later founded Lake Bluff as a Methodist outpost. Clara Thatcher was very active in the temperance movement, and her obituary notes that it was largely through her efforts that River Forest was a “prohibition town.”
The Thatchers raised four children in their River Forest home: Maybelle, Frederick, Claribel and Florence. Solomon died in 1894 and Clara in 1899. Both are buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.
The home is thought to be the only example of the Second Empire style in River Forest. Second Empire architecture, known for mansard roofs and pedimented dormers, flourished in France during the reign of Napoleon III and spread throughout Europe and elsewhere during the latter part of the 19th century. Other hallmarks of the style borrow from the Italianate Style, such as double-hung windows, window hoods, decorative cornice brackets and wrap-around porches, like the deep porch fronting 518 Keystone Ave.
At almost 8,000 square feet and spanning two lots, the house is an imposing presence on Keystone Avenue. A grand entry foyer welcomes visitors to the home. Throughout the first-floor, original woodwork in the detailed molding and wainscot invokes an earlier era. Floor-to-ceiling windows, 8-foot-tall pocket doors and stained-glass windows bring an old-world style to the home.
The original woodwork continues on the second floor, where there are four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The third floor has three more bedrooms, a game room and another full bathroom.
A one-bedroom coach house above the garage includes a full kitchen, bathroom and family room. Situated on an extra deep, 235-foot lot, the home is within walking distance of Keystone Park and the Metra. The home is listed for $1,575,000 by Michael O’Neill of @properties and had a 2020 tax bill of $52,110.
A few blocks away, 560 Edgewood Place was built a generation later, and exemplifies what was a new trend in architecture. Designed in 1913 by William Drummond, who worked for a time as a draftsman in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio, the W. Muther House is a stunning example of the Prairie style.
The stucco-walled house has green trim and a tucked away front entrance door. In a precursor to today’s popular open floor plans, the house has an open flow between rooms. The original, double-sided Roman brick fireplace warms the living and dining rooms. Horizontal molding decorates the rooms.
Drummond, who is credited with taking over Wright’s practice when the volatile architect abandoned Oak Park in 1909, built his own Prairie style home across the street that very year.
Afterwards, Drummond partnered with Louis Guenzel and designed many homes and buildings in River Forest, including the First River Forest Bank Building, the River Forest Women’s Club and the River Forest Methodist Church.
At 3,000 square feet, the home has five bedrooms and two full bathrooms with a powder room on the first floor. The house backs into the Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve and boasts mature gardens with perennial flower beds.
Margaret McSheehy of Historic Homes Realty is listing the home for $999,000. The home had a 2020 tax bill of $22,847. According to the listing, a full set of Drummond’s architectural drawings of the house will be conveyed with the house.