Those Who Have Called the Pike House “Home” – Part 1 

By Carol Flynn 

Eugene S. Pike likely never imagined in 1894 that the gardener’s cottage he was building in the woods on the Blue Island Ridge would one day become the focus of a major preservation effort. It is reasonable to believe, however, that he would be pleased with current events. 

The gardener’s cottage, known today as the Eugene S. Pike House located at 1826 West 91st Street, on the edge of the Dan Ryan Woods Forest Preserve, celebrates its 130th anniversary this year, and begins the next chapter of its history. 

In January, it was announced that the Eugene S. Pike House Foundation and the Beverly Area Arts Alliance reached an agreement with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the owner of the Pike House, to move ahead with plans to restore the house and repurpose it as an arts facility for the community. 

That exciting news might seem an impressive undertaking for a building with humble origins, but the Pike House was never an ordinary gardener’s cottage. Designed in Tudor Revival/Norman style with the illusion of a castle’s round tower as one of its features, and built using natural materials such as red sandstone, wooden beams, and stucco, it was a fairy tale creation designed by architect H.H. Waterman to fit perfectly into its forest setting. The American Institute of Architects noted that visitors could “expect Hansel and Gretel to come tripping past this house set on the edge of the woods.” 

Some might consider the original cottage to be a rich man’s “folly,” that is, a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose. Adding follies to large gardens and parks was popular during the Victorian era. 

While this cottage was certainly designed to appeal to the eye, it did serve a practical purpose, also. It was used as a residence for 130 years. 

Reinventing the Pike House as an arts facility will begin a third “era” for the building. 

The first era was from 1894 to 1921, when the building was owned by the Pike family. During those years, it was referred to as the gardener’s cottage. Records show that two landscapers/gardeners lived there, and later, one of the Pike sons lived there. 

The second era started in 1921, when the Pike estate including the house was purchased by the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) and added to the Beverly Woods preserve, which was renamed the Dan Ryan Woods a few years later. The house was used as a supervisor’s headquarters and as a “watchman’s residence.” At least eight families have been identified as having lived there since the FPCC purchased the house, and there are more to be located. 

Although the emphasis now is on the future of the Pike House, few communities can boast of a house with such a unique history. Details from the house’s past help support preserving the house. 

Eugene S. Pike ultimately rose to fame as a real estate developer and the builder of “skyscrapers” in the new Chicago that rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. He also flourished in the banking industry and had an investment in the jewelry industry as well. When he died in 1916, he left an estate of almost $3.3 million, worth about $85.5 million today. 

However, in the 1850s, Pike got his start in a very different business. A life-long interest in that business probably resulted in his gardener’s cottage almost forty years later. 

Pike, descended from New England gentry, was born in Ohio in 1835. He grew up on a farm, and after graduating from college, he started his first business in the horticulture and landscaping field as a dealer in nursery stock. Soon he became an importer from France of fruit and ornamental trees, grape vines, roses, and other plants. He developed a thriving business dealing mostly with the Southern states, but that unfortunately ended in 1861 with the U.S. Civil War. At that point, he turned his attention to banking. 

In 1865, he and Mary Rockwell married, and in 1867, they moved to Chicago. They had three sons who lived to adulthood. 

Like many other businessmen during this time in Chicago, Pike’s main pursuit became real estate and land development. 

In December of 1888, Pike purchased more than 100 acres of “high, well wooded” land north of 95th Street along the Rock Island railroad line. The Chicago Tribune reported that he intended to work with other developers to create a “model suburb.” He re-plotted some of the land to sell, and kept about 30 acres for himself. 

The “model suburb” resulted in some of the oldest and most picturesque sections of today’s North Beverly. The land he kept for himself resulted in the Dan Ryan Woods and the gardener’s cottage. 

The next issue of the Villager will explore Pike’s influence in the development of Beverly and the earliest residents of the Pike House. 

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