Double prairie house on the Ridge
Reader’s Question: What can you tell me about the house at 1307 Ridge Ave., Evanston, Illinois 60201? Chris Swanson
Thank you for your question, Chris. We always enjoy digging into the history behind a specific house and this one was no exception!
For more than a century, the house at 1307 Ridge Ave. (now 1313 Ridge Ave.) was, in fact, a “double house.” Two large and separate residences comprised the structure. It was completed in 1897 and designated with two separate street addresses: 1307 and 1309 Ridge Ave. The double house was built for Evanston resident Catharine M. White (1833 –1899) and designed by Evanston architect Myron Hunt (1868-1952).
On the Ridge
Wealthier families built their mansions on the ridge. Not that they did not appreciate the beauties of the lake, but in a day when tuberculosis was so common, they feared the harmful effects of the lake air.
- Margery Blair Perkins, author of Evanston: A Tour of the City’s History
Ridge Avenue is so named because it lies along a geological ridge left by the retreating glacial Lake Chicago, today’s Lake Michigan. One either side of the ridge were low-lying wetlands, making the high ground of the ridge a natural travel route and settlement site for Indigenous Peoples.
The earliest white residents on Ridge Avenue, the Mulfords, named their property Ridgeville, and that name was also given to the community that predated the founding of Evanston.
By the time the house at 1307-1309 Ridge Avenue was built in 1897, wealthy, white Evanston residents had been constructing large homes for themselves along the portion of Ridge Avenue that extends south from Emerson Street for decades.
The earliest homes on the ridge had been modest structures, but these were soon replaced by elaborate houses and mansions, designed by some of the area’s most prominent architects.
In 1890, Evanston city officials passed an ordinance to have Ridge Avenue paved. In 1901, after receiving a petition from 2/3rds of the landowners along Ridge, they designated the street to be a “pleasure drive” and pledged funds to “improve and maintain” it as such.
(Part of the designation meant that thereafter, the avenue was strictly for pleasure driving and “no omnibus, wagon, cart, dray, truck or other vehicle carrying goods, merchandise or wares” were allowed to use it.)
The large homes on Ridge Avenue were built on expansive lots and were set back from the street, affording large and lush natural settings surrounding them. By the turn of the 20th century, Ridge Avenue became known as “the aristocratic street of the north shore suburb.” Some of the city’s most powerful residents chose to live there.
The Rew family, for example, built their house at 1128 Ridge Ave., which is no longer here, after moving to Evanston from Chicago’s fashionable Prairie Avenue in 1897.
Others on the Ridge (Avenue) included James A. Patten (1852-1928), director of the Chicago Board of Trade, Evanston mayor, and self-described “capitalist.” His half-million dollar mansion was located at 1426 Ridge and completed just four years after White’s double house was finished. (The Patten house is no longer standing, but the iron and stone fence remains and is a designated landmark.)
The double house built for Catherine White on Ridge Avenue proved to be one in a long line of residences built by prosperous and powerful residents, beginning in Evanston’s earliest days.
Catherine White’s husband, Hugh Alexander White (1830-1894), was a successful lawyer who also served on Evanston’s board of trustees.
The Whites established themselves on Ridge Ave right after the American Civil War and just a few years after Evanston had been incorporated. They purchased a sizable amount of land in Evanston, and in 1867, built an Italianate house at 1407 Ridge Ave where they lived for many years.
The Whites were actively involved in the “church, school, and charity circles of Evanston.” They were members and founders of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, just blocks away from their own home at 1509 Ridge Avenue (completed in 1891). Catherine White was said to be “a firm friend of Northwestern University and did much for that institution.”
When Hugh White died in 1894, he left his entire estate to his wife.
Soon after, Catharine White’s two sisters, Maria Foster and Susannah Hurd, who both lived in Evanston, also died. Shortly after suffering so many losses, White, who was reportedly not in good health at the time, commissioned the construction of the double house on Ridge. The plan was that she would occupy one residence (1309 Ridge Ave.) and her late sister’s daughter and family would occupy the other (1307 Ridge Ave.)
Catherine’s sister Maria had been married to lumber magnate, Ambrose Foster, who also served as Evanston’s treasurer. They had built a large Italianate house on the southeast corner of Ridge Avenue and Lake Street (no longer there).
In 1897, Maria’s daughter, Alice Foster Zook, her husband David Zook, and their children went to live in the new double home on Ridge Avenue.
In making the plans for her new home, Catherine may have been inspired by her brother-in-law, Harvey.
Catherine White’s sister, Susannah, was married to Harvey Bostwick Hurd (1828-1906), a powerful judge and attorney who was well known in both Chicago and throughout Illinois.
Hurd came to Illinois in 1846 and moved to Evanston. He constructed a house on Ridge Avenue. In 1863, he was elected the first president of Evanston’s board of trustees. (He was also one of the founders of the Evanston Historical Society in 1898, now known as the Evanston History Center.)
Hurd owned much of the land now defined by the Ridge Historic District. He and his descendants built many of the houses that contribute to the landmark designation.
Hurd hired architect Myron Hunt, who lived in the district, to design three double houses on Ashland Avenue for speculation. He sold three lots to World’s Columbian Exposition director Harlow Higginbotham, who also hired Hunt to design speculative houses. When Catherine White was ready to build a house on Ridge Avenue, she commissioned Hunt to design a double house as well.
Catherine White died just two years after her new house was completed.
Upon her death, the value of her estate was estimated at $500,000. She bequeathed portions of her wealth to Northwestern University and the University of Chicago to establish scholarships.
To the Art Institute of Chicago, she left a number of art works from her private collection; money to establish scholarships, and real estate in Evanston and Chicago. She was buried at Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago.
Over the following years, new residents would occupy the double house, including two families whose dispute over the house’s driveway made headlines in 1915. (See below.)
The Design of 1307-1309 Ridge Avenue
The distinctive house at 1313 Ridge Avenue represents the evolution of Prairie School architecture and the important contribution of a forgotten Evanston architect, Myron Hunt.
This is Hunt’s most notable design, boldly demonstrating many of the style’s defining characteristics.
It stands as a reminder of the many architects that helped create the progressive architecture that came to be known as the Prairie School.
Myron Hubbard Hunt (1868-1952) was raised in Lakeview, Illinois, and attended Northwestern University before transferring to MIT for a degree in architecture, graduating in 1893. He married Harriette Boardman and returned to Evanston to start his career. After a few years with Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, designers of the Chicago Art Institute and the Chicago Public Library buildings, he opened an independent practice.
He joined his friend and fellow architect Dwight Perkins in the top floor studios at Steinway Hall, designed by Perkins, who also invited Robert Spencer and another young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The four architects shared a large drafting room and developed a collaborative fellowship that conceived a new, modern form of architecture.
The objective of these young architects was to depart from the elaborate designs of the popular Queen Anne style, to distill architecture down to a modern, elemental expression of the structure, without gratuitous ornamentation or references to historic classical traditions.
The Arts & Crafts movement, with its emphasis on a return to medieval craftsmanship and empathy with nature, played an influential role in the emergence of the Prairie School. A primary objective was to have the building visually relate to the landscape, to harmonize with its site.
Hunt was active in Evanston and Chicago organizations. He was a member of the Chicago Architectural Club. He and Harriette were founding members of the Arts & Crafts Society.
He connected with most of his clients through his many associations and designed nearly 30 buildings in Evanston. His first design was in 1895 for Charles Wightman, whom he had known from Northwestern University. He lived on Wesley, just one block from Harvey Hurd, who was developing the surrounding area just west of Ridge Avenue. Hunt’s career grew quickly as his Evanston designs began to appear.
This house at 1307- 1309 Ridge sits at the height of the long, horizontal line of the ridge. At the time it was built, Dempster Street ended at Ridge Avenue and picked up again at Asbury Avenue, leaving an open natural vista from the west.
The lateral plan stretches along the site. The house is defined by the dominant hipped roof that spans the main mass with wide, slightly flared eaves extending out over the second floor windows.
A limestone belt course wraps the house at the level of the second floor window sills which serves to visually compress the second floor between the course and the roof, minimizing the height of the second floor and enhancing the horizontality of the building.
The plan of the house follows the plan Hunt designed for his own house at 1627 Wesley Ave., but here he paired it with a mirror image to form a double house.
The open two-level loggia serves to connect the halves and is said to have been inspired by the noted Stoughton House by H. H. Richardson in Cambridge, Mass.
Hunt unifies the exterior in a subtle variety of brick colors, giving it a consistent but textured appearance, another departure from the multiplicity of materials typical of the Queen Anne. Hunt often used the emphatic timber brackets, recalling medieval hand-hewn construction, and expressing the structure without being superfluous ornament. Other examples in Evanston are his apartment building at 1745 Orrington Ave. (1900) and the house at 429 Lee Street (1897).
Myron, Harriette and their three children moved to Southern California in 1903 for Harriette’s health.
There, Hunt would go on to have an illustrious career designing hundreds of iconic buildings, including several college campuses, the Pasadena Public Library, the Huntington Mansion and Library, and the Rose Bowl Stadium.
He is credited with helping to establish the vernacular Spanish Mission style that came to dominate Southern California architecture. One cannot help but wonder what Evanston’s built environment and the ultimate culmination of the Prairie School would look like today had Hunt stayed and continued to create here. His early contribution is often overlooked in the legacy of the Prairie School, but this house stands as a reminder of his significant influence.
Double house, double narrative
Over the years there have been, in a sense, two narratives attached to the double house on Ridge Avenue: One was a story related to the house’s architect and design. In numerous publications, including The House Beautiful, Hunt and his design were featured and praised.
“In Evanston, the unannexable and aristocratic North Shore suburb of Chicago,” wrote an architectural critic in 1903, “Myron Hunt has done several notably good brick buildings, of these the most interesting and picturesque is the double house on Ridge Avenue. …
“Here, certainly, is a good house without architectural ornament, serving all the better as a foil for the drooping sprays from the flower boxes behind the balcony rail.”
The second narrative related to some of the people who lived in the house over the years.
As Ridge Avenue became well known as an area populated by wealthy and influential Evanston residents, the stories surrounding the lives of some of those residents captivated the public’s attention. Stories highlighting their grand social life – the banquets, weddings, parties, charity events, lawn fetes and recitals that were often hosted at their homes – appeared frequently in the press.
Also captivating to the public were stories of missteps, disputes and other less glamorous happenings related to Ridge Avenue residents.
When, in 1906, David Zook, resident of 1307 Ridge Ave., appeared in an Evanston court charged with speeding, the story was recounted in the local papers.
Zook, it turns out, was an attorney who had been “prominent” in fighting to keep Evanston’s speed limit at 12 miles per hour. In court, he pleaded guilty to traveling at a rate of 17 miles per hour and paid a $10 fine.
Mini-drama on Ridge Avenue
“The driveway at 1307-1309 Ridge Ave,” reported the Chicago Tribune in September 1915, “is arranged like this: You drive in on the prong of a horseshoe at 1307, follow the curve, transact your affairs, and drive out the other prong, which exits at 1309. That is to say, you would have done this sometime ago. But now when you arrive at the deep center of the horseshoe you stop. Why? Because there is an iron chain across the drive that prevents further progress.”
The chain had been drawn across the horseshoe driveway by Mabel Patterson (1309 Ridge Ave.) who reportedly did not want her neighbors, Charles E. Yerkes and family (1307 Ridge Ave.), driving their car straight through the drive. (Yerkes was the son of Chicago transportation tycoon, Charles T. Yerkes (1837-1905).
As curious Evanston residents stopped by to view what became known as the “spite barricade,” rumors flew that the Pattersons had erected the barricade out of jealousy. The Pattersons did not have an automobile, but the Yerkes did.
Patterson responsed: they did indeed have their own “machine” and they also employed a chauffeur. The Yerkes issued their response by filing suit against the Pattersons to have the barricade removed.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Evanston was becoming sharply segregated by race. The Ridge Avenue neighborhood described here reflected the image of a city divided not only by race but also by class; the home owners and majority of residents in the Ridge Ave neighborhood described here were white and wealthy. Just after World War I, “help wanted” advertisements that appeared in local newspapers would begin to bar Black workers from some domestic jobs in the neighborhood, including those offered at 1307 Ridge and at the neighboring house at 1333 Ridge. By 1921, the city’s first zoning ordinance was adopted which reinforced and intensified racial segregation in Evanston.
Over time, the large homes of the 19th century were seen by some as unfashionable and impractical; by World War II, many viewed them as dinosaurs and developers eyed their large lots with eagerness. Expensive to heat, difficult to maintain, many of the mansions went the way of the “wrecking ball,” as did James Patten’s mansion in 1938.
A number of the 19th century mansions on Ridge Avenue are now gone.
In some cases, lots have been subdivided and a number of new homes have been built on property that once only boasted a single house. Other kinds of structures also began to dot the avenue, now a busy thoroughfare through Evanston. Apartment houses, office buildings and headquarters have now taken their place on the ridge.
In 1983, local residents successfully applied to have the Ridge Historic District added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (It is one of four national historic districts in Evanston. The others are the Northeast, Lakeshore and Oakton historic districts.) The Ridge Historic District (roughly) includes Ridge Avenue from Main Street on the south to Emerson Street on the north, and several surrounding streets.
You can read more about the district and access the nomination form here.
- In 1892 city council members voted to apply the “pleasure drive” designation to Ridge Avenue south of Crain Street. In 1901 an ordinance extended the designation to cover the portion of Ridge all the way north to Ridge’s “connection with Sheridan road.” Some exceptions were made to the pleasure drive ordinance, including allowing use of the avenue for construction and repair work along Ridge, and for “wagons and other vehicles carrying goods, merchandise or articles to and from any house or premises” along Ridge. But they were required to access Ridge by using the cross street closest to their destination. City Council of Evanston, The Evanston Code of 1915 (Evanston: Burns, et al, 1915), 1140-1142.
- Robert C. Spencer, Jr. “Brick Architecture In and About Chicago,” The Brickbuilder, November 1903.
- “Bequest for Art is $200,000,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1899.
- The Collector and Art Critic, Vol. 1, No. 5 (Jul. 1, 1899), 71-74; The Collections Illustrated: With a Historical Sketch and Description of the Museum (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1910), 31; “Property for the Art Institute,” The Inter Ocean, Sept. 30, 1906.
- Robert C. Spencer, Jr. “Brick Architecture In and About Chicago,” The Brickbuilder, November 1903.
- “Speeder Makes Court Show Him; Pays Fine,” Chicago Tribune, Sept.14, 1906.
- “All About Two Little Chains,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 13, 1915.
- “The Horseshoe Far From Lucky,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 12, 1915.
- City of Evanston, “Zoning Ordinance, Evanston, Illinois,” 1921, 4.