The Oak Park River Forest Historical Society’s annual spring “Tales Our Houses Tell” housewalk takes place on Sunday, May 7, and this year’s event focuses on a new neighborhood. In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Oak Park River Forest High School, the housewalk will explore six private homes in the neighborhood around the school.
Walk chairwoman Mary Boyaris says that the historical society is excited to feature homes around the high school to help tie into the school’s landmark anniversary, but in spite of the researchers’ best efforts there were few connections between the homes and the school.
She points out that the high school building went through roughly three iterations from its 1892 beginnings on East Avenue and Lake Street. As the school grew to include the main building at Ontario and Scoville in 1907, she says that a number of homes were destroyed to make way for the school.
Much of the home development around the school halted during that time period. After the 1913 addition to the school made clear its boundary at Scoville and Erie, she says many more homes were developed on Scoville, East and Linden.
For the first time, the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society is including a condominium on its housewalk, and Boyaris says the Prairie-style building has quite a history.
Originally a single-family home, 152 N. Scoville Ave. was an 18-room Victorian mansion when it was built in 1889. The first owner made his fortune in the iron industry, and at the time he built his Oak Park manse, local papers noted that he was one of nine millionaires within a half mile radius.
The second owners of the home, Charles and Jenny Westcott, rented out a few rooms and then planned to turn the home into an apartment building. Jenny was inspired by a new apartment building designed by architect John Van Bergen at Ontario and Linden, and asked the architect to redesign the home, resulting in the Prairie Style building that today houses four condominiums.
The only other home on the walk dating to the 1800s is 309 Linden Ave., which has also had several different remodels. William and Hazel Kimball bought the land from James Scoville in 1892 and built the house, staying only six years.
Later owners George and Maude Baldwin raised their three children there and lived there from 1906 to 1922. Maude’s sister Marion and her husband Frederick were passengers on the Titanic. Marion survived the sinking, but her husband did not.
George Baldwin used his newspaper syndicate connections when he wrote a newspaper story for the Oak Leaves about the devastation he witnessed when he was dispatched to pick up his sister-in-law from the rescue ship Carpathia.
Other homes on the walk include homes designed by well-known architects Tallmadge and Watson, as well as Charles White.
Boyaris notes that several were built by contractors Guy & McClintock and says that researchers were excited to discover that Guy’s own house is one of the homes featured on Scoville Avenue.
“The architecture, you can’t get away from it, and it’s fabulous, but our focus is always on the stories of the people who lived in the homes,” Boyaris said.
For a period, the area was known as the Sears Estates for the large number of Sears executives living in the area, and civic and community pillars made their homes here was well.
The people who lived in the homes founded and served on boards of organizations such as the Nineteenth Century Club, Hephzibah and West Suburban Hospital.
“There were many people who helped build Oak Park,” Boyaris said.
Before you go
The Oak Park River Forest Historical Society’s Tales Our Houses Tell Housewalk will run from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 7.
Advanced tickets can be purchased for $30 by calling the OPRF Museum at 708-848-6755, at the OPRF Museum gift shop at 129 Lake St. in Oak Park or online oprfmuseum.org/events/tales-our-houses-tell-annual-housewalk.
Tickets and program booklets will be available at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St. Pick up program booklets between 1 and 4 p.m. the day of the walk. Tickets purchased the day of the walk will cost $35.