In August 1833, when Chicago was organized (but not yet incorporated), it had a population of only about 200.
Three years later, Henry B. Clarke moved there from Utica, New York. He quickly found success selling hardware and building supplies—and within a year he built what is today the oldest surviving house in the city limits.
One year later, in 1837, Chicago was incorporated and for several decades(!) it was the world’s fastest growing city. So not only did Henry Clarke have exquisite taste in architecture but he was blessed with tremendous business acumen.
His house, which was originally on 20 areas of open land at the corner of Michigan Ave. and 16th, has survived (there’s no other word for it) for nearly two centuries. It is now Chicago’s oldest surviving house and a spectacular example of Greek Revival Architecture, not to mention a window into city life in the years before the Civil War.
Over time, the house has survived being moved—Twice! Once while also being stuck suspended in the air for two weeks—and a fire. It was a parish house for Church of God in Christ when led by Bishop Louis Henry Ford, a prominent civil rights leader. Today, the house is located in the Chicago Women’s Park in the Prairie Avenue Historic District and is operated as a museum—and part of our Greek Revival group of treasures.
As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, Greek Revival is also known as Greek Temple because the elements of a Greek Temple are brought down to a residential scale. That’s especially true of the Clarke House with its grand staircase entrance beneath a pediment resting on four substantial columns.
Like so many Greek Revival homes, this house also features wooden clapboard siding that’s been whitewashed to make it look like marble. And like so many homes of its era, Clarke’s house has a substantial timber frame that not only gives it shape, but the durability to endure its multiple moves—and also be available for viewing for countless years to come.