Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New apartment, Old house

The apartment we live in now was built in 1887. The page on Trulia says 1889 but I'm pretty sure I found a record from 1887. When it was built, the neighborhood we are in now wasn't part of Chicago, but it's own town, Lakeview. Lakeview was annexed to Chicago in 1889 so maybe that's where the incorrect record came from? Chicago, always thinking nothing exists until they acknowledge it. So bossy.

Anyway I did a good bit of research into the history of the house, back in March when I realized I'd be moving in here, and recently as we've attempted some home improvements.  So this picture is from March, sorry about the view of the nasty snow. I am not happy about winter coming. You can kinda see our Scottish flag on the front porch -- it's blue and white.

Our apartment is actually a condo, it's us on the first floor, the upstairs people have the 2nd and 3rd floors, and another couple lives in the coach house. According to census records of 1900, there were about 17 people living on this lot which was laid out the same exact way it is now, including a lot of children, so I think it was even then divided into 3 family homes. I found a really interesting old fire insurance map from 1894 and the whole block was basically laid out in the same way it is now, lots of small narrow houses with coach houses in the back. Fun fact, in 1909, Chicago decided to just renumber a lot of streets. So I had to keep that in mind when looking up early records.

Lakeview was basically farmland from when the first white settler, Conrad Sulzer, arrived in 1837. Some brickyards provided jobs starting in 1863 and really hit their stride as Chicago had to rebuild after the Great Fire in 1871. Settlers arrived from Germany, Scotland, and Scandinavia. Around 1865 or so, land started getting sold off in big packages to developers who divided it into neat tiny lots, instead of plots getting sold here and there to individual small farmers and homeowners. Our house is on one of these subdivided plots. Around the time that this house was built, the transformation was basically complete from farmland/small town to densely inhabited housing for workers at the new industrial plants, factories, and other businesses. Some people still worked at vegetable farms near what is now Western Ave. A lot of the new immigrants opened small businesses, some of which are still in operation. It was pretty middle-class for the time. Some people who lived in this building between 1887 and 1900 were a carpenter (possibly the original builder??), a tailor who lived in the rear apartment, an iron worker, and a "filer." 

Our house is built on the model of the "worker's cottage" which was a common type of modest home, but was usually one-story while ours is basically 2 1/2 stories. A lot of these workers cottages were built in various parts of the city but most have been torn down, as they are tiny and Chicagoans in these fancy northside neighborhoods are terrible and hate history and want big new homes. Anyway ours was always a 2-flat, as far as I can tell which is fascinating because people often assume it was once a single-family home. Some research says that the 2-flats were often occupied by the owner on the first floor and renters on the top floors. But the floor plan follows that of the typical worker's cottage, which had steps going up to the front door, a front parlor often with a bay window, a hall or kitchen behind that, and two little tiny bedrooms off to the side usually with small closets. You'll note there is no bathroom included in the typical worker's cottage plan. I also read in some places there wasn't really a kitchen, but it was just like a shed off the back with a stove. I believe they used outhouses, even in the winter, which, ugh. This would explain why our bathroom is raised several inches higher than the rest of the floors and is poorly insulated, like it was kinda tacked on the back later. The kitchen is also clearly a late remodel so it's really hard to know how it was originally laid out, if it was part of the house at all.

I've been making myself crazy trying to find an image I remember from my early research. I was trying to figure out the style and general age of the house, and I came across a floor plan of a worker's cottage and it was identical to our floor plan. Then I was confused because actually we are in a two-flat, I think that was just a typical layout for the narrow subdivided lots of that time period. I have seen over and over that this type of building went up in that 1870-1900 time period. However, I can't find one with the same bathroom and kitchen layout that I'm expecting! They all have a bathroom in the middle of the house, which I guess could be possible? But I think it's more likely there was no bathroom at all originally. Where did people bathe though? More research is needed.

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