The Clarke-Ford House
Welcome to the fascinating world of Henry B. Clarke House, a true gem of Chicago’s history. Recently renamed as the Clarke-Ford House, it is situated in the vibrant South Loop neighborhood; this Greek Revival style home offers a captivating glimpse into the city’s formative years before the Civil War. Built in 1836, it holds the distinction of being the oldest existing house in Chicago, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and curious explorers alike.
A Journey Back in Time
Oldest Surviving House in Chicago
The story of the Clarke-Ford House begins in the early 19th century when Henry Brown Clarke, a native of New York State, arrived in Chicago with his wife, Caroline Palmer Clarke, and their family in 1833. Clarke, along with his business partners William Jones and Byram King, established King, Jones, and Company, which supplied building materials to the growing city. This enterprise played a pivotal role in shaping the architectural landscape of Chicago.
The house itself was built around 1836 by a local contractor, possibly John Rye, who would later marry the Clarkes’ housemaid, Betsy. Originally situated on a spacious lot near Michigan Avenue and 17th Street, the house has a rich history of its own, having been relocated twice, with its most recent move in 1977 to Indiana Avenue and 18th Street, close to its original location.
Widow Clarke’s House
Following the passing of her husband, Caroline Palmer Clarke, affectionately known as the “Widow Clarke,” took charge of the family land and embarked on a venture that would contribute significantly to the neighborhood’s growth. During the 1850s, she developed the surrounding area, providing financial resources that enabled the completion of previously unfinished sections of the Clarke House. Her entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to her community left an indelible mark on the neighborhood’s history.
In addition to its fascinating history, the Clarke-Ford House has a unique distinction as being a survivor of Chicago’s ever-changing urban landscape. As the city continued to grow and evolve, the house faced the prospect of demolition. However, thanks to the efforts of preservationists and community leaders, it was rescued and relocated twice to ensure its preservation for future generations. Today, the Clarke-Ford House stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of those who sought to protect Chicago’s architectural heritage.
Renaming and the Clarke-Ford House Museum
In honor of its original owner, the house was officially named the Henry B. Clarke House. However, it has recently been renamed as the Clarke-Ford House due to its association with another prominent Chicago family. Louis Henry and Margaret Ford, who acquired the house in the late 19th century, added their own chapter to its rich history. Today, the Clarke-Ford House serves as a captivating museum, offering visitors an immersive experience into the lives of the families who called it home.
Exploring the Clarke-Ford House Museum
Stepping into the Past
A visit to the Clarke-Ford House Museum is like stepping into a time machine, transporting you to the early days of Chicago’s development. As you enter the meticulously restored rooms, you’ll be greeted by period furnishings and artifacts that provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the Clarke and Ford families. From the elegant parlors to the cozy bedrooms, each space tells a story of a bygone era.
The museum offers guided tours that provide a wealth of information about the house’s history and the families who resided within its walls. Knowledgeable docents lead visitors through the various rooms, sharing captivating anecdotes and insights into the daily routines and social customs of the time. The tour allows visitors to appreciate the architectural details, such as the Greek Revival style elements, that make the house a true architectural treasure.
Special Interest Tours
For those with a particular interest in specific aspects of history, the Clarke-Ford House Museum offers special interest tours. These tours delve deeper into topics such as architecture, interior design, and the social dynamics of the time. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply curious about life in the 19th century, these specialized tours provide a unique and immersive experience.
The Clarke-Ford House Museum welcomes visitors of all ages, and its family-friendly atmosphere makes it an excellent destination for educational outings. The average visit or tour length is approximately one to one and a half hours, allowing ample time to explore the various rooms and appreciate the museum’s extensive collection. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, with tours available at noon and 2 p.m.
Discovering Chicago’s Treasures
While exploring the Clarke-Ford House Museum, why not take the opportunity to discover the vibrant South Loop neighborhood? Known for its rich history and thriving cultural scene, this area offers a plethora of attractions, dining options, and entertainment venues. From the bustling Grant Park to the iconic Soldier Field sports stadium, the South Loop has something to delight every visitor.
Planning Your Visit
If you’re planning a trip to Chicago, be sure to include the Clarke-Ford House Museum in your itinerary. To make the most of your visit, consider exploring other nearby attractions, such as the iconic Art Institute of Chicago or taking a leisurely stroll along the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan. With its rich history and unique architectural charm, the Clarke-Ford House Museum is an essential stop for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Chicago’s past.
The Henry B. Clarke House, now known as the Clarke-Ford House Museum, stands as a testament to Chicago’s rich architectural and cultural heritage. With its status as the oldest surviving house in the city, it offers a captivating journey back in time to Chicago’s formative years. From the pioneering spirit of Henry B. Clarke to the perseverance of preservationists, the house’s story is one of resilience and appreciation for history. A visit to the Clarke-Ford House Museum is not only an opportunity to explore Chicago’s past but also a chance to pay homage to the individuals who shaped the city we know and love today.