By Carol Flynn
The historic Ingersoll-Blackwelder House, 10910 S. Prospect Ave., will be the site of a special open house and exhibit on Sun., Sept. 25, 5 to 7 p.m. Selected artistic works by the late Jack Simmerling and artifacts he collected from the grand mansions of Chicago’s past, will be on display. The event is hosted by the Glessner House Museum, which is raising funds to establish a permanent home for Simmerling’s collection.
John J. “Jack” Simmerling (1935-2013) was well known and loved in Beverly/Morgan Park as a talented artist and the owner of the Heritage Gallery on 103rd Street. Simmerling was also an avid historian and preservationist. He became enthralled with the palatial homes in Chicago’s elite areas, especially the Prairie Avenue district. Prominent citizens such as Marshall Field and George Pullman built homes there in the late 1800s. As the area began to decline and the mansions fell to the wrecking ball, Simmerling began a quest to preserve as much as he could of these buildings via paintings and drawings, and salvaging architectural and internal design elements such as stained glass windows, lighting fixtures, wooden moldings and even furniture. As a teenager, Simmerling crafted miniature houses to recreate the facades and interiors of the historic homes. All of these items became part of Simmerling’s legacy to Chicago’s history.
The Glessner House, on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the few remaining historic properties in the Prairie Avenue district. Simmerling was a friend and benefactor to this house, and made arrangements for his collection of artifacts and paintings to transfer to Glessner House Museum upon his death.
“Jack assembled a unique and one-of-a-kind collection of artifacts exhibiting the fine craftsmanship of the many large mansions that once lined Prairie Avenue,” said William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator of Glessner House Museum. “A temporary gallery housing some of the collection was opened on Jack’s 79th birthday, Dec. 1, 2014. Funds are being raised so that the full collection can eventually be put on exhibit. The upcoming event will include paintings spanning more than six decades of Jack’s career, along with a variety of artifacts salvaged from the houses, plus a couple of his miniature houses.”
Besides viewing Simmerling’s collection, the Ingersoll-Blackwelder House itself is well worth the visit. One of Beverly/Morgan Park’s most historic homes, the Simmerling family owned it for many years. The house eventually took on the aura of a museum when Simmerling displayed many of the items he had rescued.
Today the house is owned by Sandra Biedron and Stephen Milton, particle accelerator scientists who are Professors of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Colorado State University and spend much time at both Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab on their collaborations. They also find the time to preserve historic homes. The Ingersoll-Blackwelder House has its own website at www.ingersoll- blackwelderhouse.com.
“This home is a living part of history,” said Biedron. “The Ingersoll-Blackwelder House is important not only because of its age and unique architecture, but because of the people who lived there, including Jack Simmerling. Today we are debating many rights and freedoms. Well, Gertrude Blackwelder was the first woman to vote in Cook County after a law was passed in 1913 allowing women to vote for more than school officials. You can imagine the discussions that went on in this house!”
Biedron is happy to help host the Sept. 25 event. Wine and cheese will be served, as well as craft beers donated by Horse Thief Hollow. There will be desirable items available as part of the fund-raising, including a wine package from Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, and an item donated from the Heritage Gallery.
The cost of the event is $50 per attendee; $40 for Glessner House Museum members. Reservations are required, and can be made online at www.glessnerhouse.org or 312-326-1480.