Monday, August 2, 2021

Chicago's Oldest House Debate.

The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House vs. The Henry Brown Clarke House; Which house is really the oldest in Chicago? Well, it all depends on what you mean by "the oldest house IN CHICAGO."

There appears to be no contest:

Mark Noble, an English immigrant, built his farmhouse in 1833 (today, 5622-24 North Newark Avenue).

Henry Clarke settled in what was then Jefferson Township from New York in 1836. Clarke's frame house was constructed on the 1600 block of South Michigan Boulevard. 

It seems to me like the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House wins because Henry Clarke built his farmhouse three years later. 

FACT: The nomadic Henry Brown Clarke House was moved twice, giving it three different Chicago addresses:
  • From 1836 to 1871 / Between 16th and 17th Streets on Michigan Boulevard
  • From 1871 to 1977 / 45th Street and Wabash Avenue
  • From 1977 to Present / 1827 South Indiana Avenue
Noble's farmhouse was originally built in an area called Norwood. When it was discovered that another town in Illinois was named Norwood, they chose Norwood Park. 

In 1874 Norwood Park was incorporated as the Village of Norwood Park, then Chicago annexed the village in 1893. 

Mark Noble was English by birth. Along with his family, he arrived at the little settlement near the mouth of the Chicago River in 1831. He operated a sawmill and helped organize a Methodist congregation. 

In 1833 Noble homesteaded on 150 acres of land, 12 miles northwest of downtown. He built a small frame house on Waukegan Road and moved into the life of a gentleman farmer. 

Mark Noble died in 1839. His widow Margaret sold the property in 1846. The house was sold several times. 

Thomas Seymour bought it in 1868. He worked for the company developing the area, which included the new village of Norwood Park. Mr. Seymour had a large family, thus a two-story addition. Seymour, a 'country farmer,' planted an orchard with over a thousand apple and cherry trees. He planted and nurtured a fairly large vineyard.

Chicago annexed Norwood Park in 1893. Waukegan Road became Newark Avenue. Thomas Seymour died in 1915. The northwestern one-quarter of the property was subdivided and sold. 

The house was sold again. The new owner was concert pianist Stuart Crippen. He added electricity and indoor plumbing, converting the house into a year-round residence. It remained in the Crippen family for over 70 years. As the children grew up and got married, the house was divided into separate flats.

In 1987 the Crippens put the old homestead up for sale. Developers had their eyes on the 1.7-acre property, but the Norwood Park Historical Society beat them out. The purchase price was $285,000.

During the restoration project, the original provenance was confirmed. It was confirmed that the southern section of the house dated from 1833, making it the oldest building within the Chicago city limits. 

The house was awarded Chicago Landmark status in 1988. In 2000 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Henry B. Clarke House is a Greek Revival-style house in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Henry Brown Clarke was a native of New York State who had come to Chicago in 1833 with his wife, Caroline Palmer Clarke, and his family. He entered into the hardware business with William Jones and Byram King, establishing King, Jones, and Company, and provided building materials to the growing Chicago populace. The house was built circa 1836 by a local contractor, probably John Rye, who later married the Clarkes' housemaid, Betsy.

Built initially near Michigan Avenue and 17th Street, it has been moved twice, most recently in 1977 to Indiana Avenue and 18th Street, near its original location. Its current location in a park and gardens is part of the Prairie Avenue Historic District in the Near South Side community area, and the house is now a museum.

The Clarke house is often described as the oldest surviving house in Chicago, although the Mark Noble House, built-in 1833, is in today's Norwood Park community. However, Norwood Park's annexation by Chicago occurred in 1893. The Clarke House was designated a Chicago Landmark on October 14, 1970, and added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 6, 1971.

Clarke built a frame house on 20 acres of land. It was near Michigan Boulevard between 16th and 17th Streets (today 1827 South Indiana, near its original location). Clarke's decision to build south of the River made him the first wealthy Chicagoan to build there. Clarke suffered severe financial setbacks during the Panic of 1837 and used the surrounding land for farming and hunting. This setback resulted in a delay in the completion of the south rooms of his house.

Clarke died in 1849 after being stricken with cholera. Caroline Palmer Clarke lived there until 1860, and it was during this time that the house was known as the "Widow Clarke's House." After her husband's death, Caroline Clarke established "Clarke's addition to Chicago" by selling all but 3 acres of the house's original land. She used this money to support her family and renovate her house, adding an elaborate back portico with Doric columns, much like the original portico facing the lake. The new porch faced the newly gaslit Michigan Avenue. At the same time, she added an Italianate cupola and decorated her dining room and front parlor, which remained unfinished from the time of the family's financial setbacks.

In 1871 John Chrimes, a prominent Chicago tailor, purchased the house and moved it farther south to 45th Street and Wabash Avenue into the township of Hyde Park. While the house was in transit, many old letters were discovered. Clarke buried it while building the house. The packet contained a memorial to President Martin Van Buren recommending Henry Clarke for a job, tax receipts, newspapers of the day, and a statement in Henry Clarke's handwriting, stating, "I, Henry B. Clarke, am an ardent Democrat." While on the new site, the building housed the St. Paul Church of God in Christ for more than thirty years. As the parsonage and community hall of this church, the Clarke House was Bishop Louis Henry Ford's working home, the man whom the Bishop Ford Freeway would be named.

In 1977, the City of Chicago purchased the house and moved it to its current location, which included lifting the entire building over the L tracks on the Englewood-Jackson Park line. It was a cold December night, and the hydraulic equipment responsible for supporting the house froze. The house sat adjacent to the 'L' tracks for two weeks until they could move it to its current location at 1827 South Indiana.

The Clarke House Museum manages this Historical Museum for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. see it moved!

  2. This is absolutely breathtaking. I was sitting at the edge of my seat while watching. I wonder where the signed brick and board are today.


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