Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Chicago’s Only Castle: The History of Givins’ Irish Castle and Its Keepers, 10244 S. Longwood Dr. Chicago, Illinois.

The Givins' Irish Castle was built in 1886-87 by Robert C. Givins, a highly successful real estate developer and Renaissance Man. According to legend, Givins sketched an ivy-covered medieval castle situated on the River Dee, between Dublin and Belfast, in his ancestral Ireland.
A 1909 Photograph.

On a ridge, the highest elevation in Chicago, overlooking Longwood Drive, the three-story Castle, with its three crenelated towers, was built of limestone from quarries near Joliet on about 3½ acres. The fifteen beautifully furnished rooms were decorated with rich tapestries, elegant chandeliers, and big copper gaslights; they were warmed with tiled fireplaces and were lit with stained glass windows. An exceptional window on the second floor, which bears the motto Dum Spiro Spero, or "While I breathe, I hope," was dedicated to the Rev. Saltern Givins, Robert C. Givins' father. The original carriage house for the Castle lies just northwest, by Seeley Avenue, although its exterior and interior have been extensively remodeled.
Aerial view from a hot air balloon. c.1895
There were five important Castle keepers: the Givins family, the Chicago Female College, the Burdett family, the Siemens family, and Beverly Unitarian Church.

The Givins family lived there on and off from 1887 to 1909. The Chicago Female College, a prestigious high school for girls, rented the Castle from 1895 to 1897. The Burdett family lived in the Castle from 1909 to 1921. John B. Burdett, a manufacturer, and his wife Jessie had the Castle wired for electricity, installed additional radiators, and added an elegant porte-cochere onto its north side. Dr. Miroslaw Siemens, a prominent physician, and wife Bonnie purchased the Castle in 1921. Dr. Siemens founded the Ukrainian National Museum and led the committee establishing the Ukrainian Pavilion of the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-34. The Siemens family lived in the Castle from 1921 to 1942 when the Castle was purchased by Beverly Unitarian Fellowship.
Beverly Unitarian Fellowship purchased the Castle for $14,000 plus an additional $3,500 later for what is now the parking lot. In October 1941, the Fellowship began in Clara and Edward Nieburger's home at 10718 S. Seeley in Beverly-Morgan Park as an outpost of People's Liberal Church in Englewood. The first minister of People's Liberal Church was Rev. Florence E. Kollock, who in 1878 gave services to about 15 Universalists and Unitarians in a Masonic temple in Englewood. Under Rev. Kollock's leadership, that congregation grew large enough to build a second church in 1889, what would eventually become known as People's Liberal Church. She filled the pews every Sunday, and Clarence Darrow was a congregation member. When Rev. Kollock, the beloved minister of the Church who preached character above creed, decided to resign her ministry in 1892 to visit the Holy Land and study abroad, the congregation asked her to select a successor.

Rev. Florence Kollock's successor was Dr. Rufus A. White, who quickly became known for his oratory. Dr. White, who also preached character above creed, was a member of the Chicago Board of Education for five years; and he was a founder of the Chicago Bureau of Charities, which combined several charities into one. He started the Penny Savings Society, where children could save pennies, nickels, and dimes in a bank. He achieved the highest honorary degree of a Master Mason, the 33rd degree; he gave travelogues of his worldwide trips using a stereopticon in Medinah Temple for at least 14 years to thousands of people in the audience at a time. In the 1920s, he gave sermons on the radio from People's Liberal Church; he was a founder of Oakhaven Old People's Home and was responsible for it becoming Washington and Jane Smith Home, which is now Smith Village, one of the premier senior living facilities in the nation.

Dr. White moved from Englewood to Beverly-Morgan Park in 1922, likely to oversee the building of Oakhaven. He died in 1937 after serving over 44 years as minister of the People's Liberal Church.
After Dr. White's death, his friend, Dr. Preston Bradley, a Unitarian minister whose sermons were also broadcast on the radio, built his own Church on the North Side, calling it People's Church. He was a longtime member of the Chicago Library Board. Dr. Bradley encouraged the Church to join the Chicago and national Unitarian groups, which the congregation did in 1939 and 1940.

He served as honorary chairman of the Campaign for the Castle begun by Clara Nieburger to seek funds to purchase the Castle. The Fellowship moved into the Castle in the spring of 1942. Dr. Bradley, one of the nation's most prominent ministers and was celebrated as such in a 1937 article that appeared in Time, gave a talk on the Castle lawn in June 1942 in honor of Clara and Edward Nieburger. In 1951 People's Liberal Church merged with Beverly Unitarian Fellowship, and 1957 the name was changed to Beverly Unitarian Church.

Presently, the Irish Castle, also known as the Givins Castle, is a landmark building recognized by the Chicago Landmarks Commission as part of the Longwood Drive District. It is also part of the Ridge Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. I would love to see this castle!

  2. I was there one time for a wedding, but I did not get to see much of the building. A shame.

  3. My grandfather worked at the Castle. He told me he saw the smoke from the Chicago fire.

  4. Thanks, Neil. Very interesting. My mother grew up around the corner on Seeley.

  5. Such rich history our city has I’ll bet not a lot of people know about.


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