By Brian Marchetti
From the sprawling mansions that rest upon the summit of Longwood Drive to the businesses that have served the community for generations, each building has a unique past and the Ridge Historical Society (RHS) can help local residents uncover the stories of their own homes.
Tim Blackburn, a home research specialist, has partnered with RHS to share his love and knowledge of the rich architecture found in many houses and structures throughout the area. Curiosity about his own home led him to discover its connection to a storied family of architects, the Hetheringtons.
“Hetherington buildings are really well designed,” Blackburn said. “They’re typical revival style using Tudor and French Colonial. There’s not a lot of ornamentation and they’re still livable.”
The Hetherington legacy spans three generations and eight decades. “There are over 100 Hetherington homes in the Ridge area and another 100 throughout Chicago. More were built in Wisconsin, the suburbs, and the west side.”
In addition to the many homes, the Hetheringtons constructed some of Ridge’s most notable landmarks. They include Original Rainbow Cone, originally called the Rainbow Lodge, the original Beverly Arts Center, and the Graver-Driscoll House, the current home of RHS.
Last spring, Blackburn helped BAPA by researching Hetherington-designed homes that were featured on the 2022 Home Tour, and also for an exhibit called the Hetherington Design Dynasty at RHS. Blackburn’s research features contributions from local area experts, historic photographs, and Google Earth. Through his own research, Blackburn discovered that his current home was designed by the Hetheringtons, and he uncovered the history of its former residents.
“The original owners were William and Bertha McClellan. William was a real estate man who had an office in Bronzeville.” Blackburn said. McClellan, who lived in Englewood in 1922, sold a house to an African American family on what is now Martin Luther King Drive. Tensions from the 1919 race riots remained high and his house was bombed. Six years later, the McClellans moved to Morgan Park into Blackburn’s current residence.
Other Ridge residents have discovered some compelling histories, including connections to book publisher Elsberry Reynolds, who printed the works of Harold Bell Wright, a best-selling fiction writer in the early 20th century and even some possible ties to Al Capone. This is Chicago after all.
Last fall year, Blackburn presented a lecture on how to discover your home’s history at RHS. The presentation sold out, as did a reprised presentation in January. Clearly, people in Beverly/Morgan Park are eager to learn more about their homes’ histories. Blackburn will present the lecture again Fri., Apr. 14, 7 p.m., at RHS, 10621 S. Seeley Ave. The cost is $10 for RHS members and $15 for non-members, and reservations are required at bit.ly/home-reserach or 773-881-1675.
“The lecture will focus on how to do a deep dive into your own home’s history by finding building permits, records of previous owners, and old drawings to see if your home has changed over the years with additions,” Blackburn said. “The U.S. census can help you find out who lived in your house, including servants and in-laws.”
While Blackburn admits that there’s a lot of work involved in putting the lecture and the exhibit together, it’s a labor of love. He hopes that the effort he has put into his presentations and the information he passes on through his talks will inspire others to look into their past. You never know what you might discover.
Blackburn is also one of the researchers for the RHS Architectural Resource Center which helps to identify facts about neighborhood homes for homeowners. To learn more about research services, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Through the RHS Historic Plaque Program, the owners of eligible homes in the Ridge Historic District can apply for a permanent bronze plaque. RHS and BAPA also co-convene the Historic Buildings Committee to help protect significant local architecture.
To learn more about the RHS and research resources, call 773-881-1675 or stop in during regular open hours, Tuesdays and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m.