The home at 434 N. East Ave. in Oak Park has stood there since before street addresses were a thing and it was referred to simply as “the old Carter place.” But its appearance has changed quite a bit over the years since its construction in 1874. The photo on the left shows the original design ­— that’s the building’s original owner Michael Carter, in a rocking chair with daughter May sitting on the steps and two grandchildren at his feet. At right, is how the home appears today. (The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest/

Today, most people label homes based on their house numbers, but in the days when families tended to stay in a home for more than one generation, homes often had more colorful monikers. 

The home at 434 N. East Ave. in Oak Park is no exception. Built in the 1870s, the house was known for generations as “the old Carter place” in honor of the first family to live there. 

Frank Lipo, executive director of the Oak Park and River Forest Historical Society, says the house and the family who lived there are an important part of Oak Park’s history. While the home certainly looks historic today, he says it is a great example of how older homes evolved. 

“Although it looks like an old house to the average person,” he states, “This shows you how a lot of times, a house here can be deceiving. It had a much different appearance.” 

Michael Carter was born in Nova Scotia in 1827 and moved to Oak Park following the Civil War in 1865. At the time he moved to the area, Henry Austin owned 200 acres of land, one mile wide from Oak Park Avenue to Austin Boulevard. The only improvement on all of that acreage was a farmhouse at what is today Fair Oaks Avenue and Iowa Street. Austin owned the farm, and Carter worked the farm for years with his sons, James and George. 

Before adjacent lots were sold off to build other homes, the Carter property included the family farm. A note on the back of the photo above, which was taken in 1896, described the scene as a “watermelon party.” | The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest

In 1874, after Austin sold his land in what was called the Fair Oaks subdivision, Carter built a new home at the intersection of East and Chicago avenues for his family, which included at least three sons and a few daughters. 

Local lore says that the road was curved to allow an ancient oak tree in to remain. Lipo notes that the area was then part of Cicero Township, for which building permits do not exist for this time, but says, “This date puts it in that really early generation of houses” in Oak Park. 

The Carters farmed the land around the house and raised their family in the home. When Michael Carter died in 1902, his obituary stated, “The whole neighborhood felt stricken.” 

His son, James Carter was a local coal and ice merchant. A founding member of St. Edmund Church, he lived most of his life in Oak Park, save for a few years when he moved to South Dakota.

James Carter attended Lowell School and was a graduate of Oak Park High School in 1884. When he died at age 68 in 1933, his obituary noted he was “born on the knoll in Fair Oaks” and that “most of his life was lived in the white house at East Avenue and Chicago.” 

The Carters were also associated with the Cicero Fire House building on Lake Street, which houses the Oak Park River Forest History Museum today. It was built in 1898, when James Carter was the chief of the Ridgeland Fire Association. One of James Carter’s sons, Donald Carter was born in 1926, and lived in the East Avenue house as a boy.  

Don Carter was quoted in an oral history, recalling that he grew up in the house on East Avenue, with his parents, his brother Jimmy and his school teacher aunts, Annie and Mary. 

The home’s newly remodeled kitchen. |

He remembered that the house had a front kitchen and a back kitchen. He fought in World War II and was known for years for driving his old Ford Model T in village parades. 

Don Carter died in 2019. 

“Essentially, Carter men lived here [in Oak Park] a very long time, from 1866 to 2019,” Lipo said. 

After James Carter’s death, the family listed the house for sale for $12,500. It sold to the Petersen family in 1937, and they embarked on a series of changes to the home. 

When it was constructed, the home was an Italianate-style farmhouse with a gabled front roof, ornate trim on its wide front porch. 

The front porch has been removed, and the windows and roof have been altered. The elaborate gingerbread trim is no longer in evidence. Additions over the years have elongated the house. What were once fields for melons have become separate lots for new houses to the south. 

Today, the house is listed for sale for $999,988. The original sweeping staircase remains, but a new gourmet kitchen and renovated bathrooms offer a bit more comfort than the 1874 farmhouse originals.  

Lipo says that the home’s history in the village is important, notwithstanding some of the changes it has undergone. 

“These things are living, breathing,” Lipo said. “Every generation does something to a house. This is a really good example of how a house can be historic and have many changes, and some of those changes themselves can become historic.”

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