Conservatory fountain in the Dawes House Photo by Janet G. Messenger

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More than a hundred voices rang out from Dawes House the evening of Aug. 27. Party guests were singing “Happy Birthday, dear Charley” to the late but not forgotten Charles Gates Dawes on his 150th birthday.

The birthday party was the Evanston History Center’s (EHC) way of launching what it calls the “Year of Dawes,” saluting Gen. Dawes (1865-1951) as one of Evanston’s most illustrious residents. He was a banker, a businessman, a World War II general, a Nobel Prize winner and the U.S. vice president under Pres. Calvin Coolidge.

That same starlit evening in August, EHC also launched the public phase of its $4-million capital campaign – “Evanston’s history. Evanston’s house.” That house is the 28-room, lakefront mansion at 225 Greenwood St. where Gen. Dawes lived for more than 40 years.

The Evanston History Center has occupied it even longer. It has been a tenant at Dawes House since 1960, and in 2009, Northwestern University gave the house to EHC, which set about fixing up and updating the 120-year-old mansion after decades of deferred maintenance.

The campaign goal of $4 million will be allocated two ways: $3.2 million to spruce up Dawes House and $800,000 to build the EHC endowment.

EHC trustee emeritus J. Robert Barr, chair of the campaign committee, announced the campaign has already brought in $2.4 million in gifts and pledges and in August received $100,000 from the Tawani Foundation as a matching grant challenge. “We’re optimistic about reaching our goal,” he said, “because Evanstonians really care about this place.”

Mr. Barr has lived in Evanston since 1960 and knows about keeping up old houses. “But Dawes House,” he says, “is special.” To prospective donors, he boils down his pitch this way: “I tell them we have three main reasons this campaign is important. One, for decades, this house was the home of Charles Dawes, an American vice president and Nobel Prize winner. Two, the house is architecturally significant and is a National Historic Landmark. Three, the Evanston History Center occupies this incredible house; and its exhibits and collection of artifacts and archival documents make Evanston history available for anyone to explore and research.” In fact, he says, “Years and years ago, I first came to Dawes House to look up information on my own house.”

Already during the silent phase of the campaign, EHC accomplished several major bricks-and-mortar improvements, Mr. Barr said. First came sealing the building’s envelope, which translated into restoring masonry on the east side, rebuilding steps on the east-side terrace and repairing the foundation and replacing the floor of the former conservatory.

Except for installing ground lighting outside, he said, the second phase was all internal, overhauling the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as well as installing a geothermal system for heating and cooling. The third, and last, phase will repair masonry on the rest of the exterior, repair the sandstone terrace and fix the walls of the conservatory.

Also in the conservatory, two fountains will be restored to working order and named in honor of Carol Coolidge Albertson as a gift from her family. She is a former EHC trustee and used to volunteer as a Dawes House tour guide. “I always had a special love for the fountains,” she said, “and used to vow that, when my ship came in, I’d restore them.”

Other newly named places in Dawes House include:
• The Frank and Phoebe Foster Library in recognition of an early lead gift from the Frank B. Foster Charitable Trust directed by Tim and Joy Foster.
• The Marge Blair Perkins West Parlor in recognition of a gift from the Perkins and Grumman families honoring Evanston’s architectural historian.
• The Dawes Family East Parlor thanks to a gift from the Descendants of Williams Dawes Who Rode Association, a group saluting Charles Dawes’s great-great-grandfather, who rode with Paul Revere.
• The William N. Erickson Stained Glass Windows on the main staircase was named for the long-time president of the Cook County Board in recognition of a gift from son-in-law William Onderdonk.
• The Noyes Family Music Gallery, the delightful musician’s balcony in the dining room, named in recognition of a gift from Virginia Noyes.

Other naming opportunities still exist, Mr. Barr says, inviting anyone interested to come on over and see what’s happening at Dawes House.

“It’s thrilling,” says Eden Juron Pearlman, EHC executive director. “The house is really rounding into shape and the potential here is enormous. We are so happy to be able to keep open to the public this landmark house. Our exhibits used to concentrate more on the house and its famous resident, Vice President Dawes, but in recent years we have focused more on Evanston history. After all, Dawes House truly is Evanston’s house.”