What might you be able to tell about the origin and history about the house in Evanston at 239 Greenwood [Street], just two doors down from your History Center at the Dawes House?

Over the years, I’ve done many searches from all the usual reliable sources and have always come up empty handed. It seems all information about the house itself has been scrubbed from the internet.

I have turned up that it was probably built around 1879, and that people named F. S. James and Charles H. Rowe lived there at different times about a century ago.

Photos attached show intriguing architectural elements that lead to speculation I will refrain from just now.

I would greatly appreciate anything you could tell me.  

George Young

The house at 239 Greenwood St., as it appears today.

The picturesque house on the northeast corner of Greenwood Street and Forest Avenue was built for Lucy Jane Rowe in 1892. This Queen Anne-style house typified the genre with its abundance of architectural elements and variety of colors and textures. Like most older homes, it has been renovated and altered over the years. However, this house has a few atypical alterations that draw particular attention to its design.

(Evanston History Center photo files)

Even in its original state, it garnered notice and accolades. A 1904 Evanston newspaper article devoted to the house observed: “It is quite unlike any of its neighbors. Shingles and boulders have been successfully used in its composition. The tower rooms which rise from its roof give distinctive prettiness … and it is altogether quite worthy of its place among the prettiest homes in Evanston.” (“Evanston Homes X. Mrs. Lucy Rowe,” The Evanston Index, Oct. 29, 1904, p. 6.)

The Owners

Lucy Jane Davis Rowe, known as Jennie, hired architect John Neal Tilton Sr. to design the house for her family on this property. The open lot had been part of the extensive Arthur Ducat estate that stretched from Forest Avenue to the lake. Robert and Virginia Sheppard purchased the estate in 1888 and moved Ducat’s 1868 Gothic cottage to another part of Evanston. They built a new house at 225 Greenwood Ave., now known as the Dawes House and home of the Evanston History Center, then subdivided the western section of the property into two lots in 1891.

Jennie came from an early Chicago family. Her father, Samuel Nicholas Davis (1815-1849), arrived here from New Hampshire sometime between 1835 and 1840. He was one of many people who came to Chicago at the time of the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The canal connected the south branch of the Chicago River with the Des Plaines River and eventually the Mississippi, creating the important inland waterway that was the catalyst for the creation and growth of Chicago.

Davis leased land from the Canal Commission and operated a stone quarry and lime manufacturing business. In 1845 he married Emily Ann, who had recently come to Chicago from Ohio. They purchased several lots in the growing town, one on the southeast corner of Clark and Randolph. They reportedly paid $500 for another lot on the northeast corner of State and Adams, which was, according to one account, “at that time on the outskirts of Chicago.” (“Another Pioneer is Dead”, The Inter Ocean, Jan. 22, 1908, p. 3)

Jennie was born in a house on the State and Adams property in 1847. A year later, her father died at the age of 34. However, the purchase of these properties would mean she was assured of a steady and generous income for the rest of her life.

In 1853, Jennie’s mother, Emily Ann, married widower Samuel McCarty. He and his brother had come from Elmira, New York, in 1834. They built a dam on the Fox River and opened a sawmill there, founding the town of Aurora. Jennie grew up in Aurora with a large family of half-siblings.

In 1871, Jennie married Charles H. Rowe (1837-1892). Born in Massachusetts, Rowe had come to Aurora in 1868. A few years after their marriage, the couple moved to a home on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Charles started a jewelry business with his brother James, and a friend, James Hamilton. The firm was initially known as Hamilton, Rowe & Co. and had a store on State Street.

Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 16, 1877, p. 5

“It is hardly necessary to state the above-named firm is one of the three leading jewelry firms of Chicago, for their elegant establishment on State Street, southwest corner of Washington, has long been one of the most attractive sights on that thoroughfare. Their stock comprises one of the handsomest collections of jewelry and precious stones ever brought to this country. The interior of their store is a glittering display of all that is most beautiful. …” (“Twixt Fire and Water: A Trip Down State Street From the River To …”, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 25, 1875. p. 5)

The firm continued to grow and change, becoming Traske, Rowe & Co. and then in 1882, Rowe Brothers. In 1886, James Rowe bought out his brother Charles’ interests, and Charles retired a wealthy man at the age of 49.

Charles and Jennie and their four children, Edgar, Emily, Susan and Samuel, first appear in Evanston city directories in 1891, living on the 1800 block of Chicago Avenue. Sadly, Charles died there in February of 1892.

Jennie and her children became active in their neighborhood and the Evanston community. Jennie joined many philanthropic organizations. She maintained her membership in the Chicago Women’s Club and, according to one account, she also joined the Woman’s Club of Evanston. She served on the board of Northwestern’s University Guild and sat on the building committee. She was also one of the first members of the Northwestern University Settlement Association, founded in 1891 and modeled after Jane Addams’ Hull House. Rowe was a “lifetime donor” and supporter of the Evanston Emergency Hospital Association (Evanston Hospital), founded in 1893. In the early 1900s, she was elected to two terms on Northwestern University’s Board of Trustees. She was also a member of First Methodist Church and on the board of its Women’s Home Missionary Society.

Both Emily and Susan held wedding celebrations in the house in 1896. In a quiet ceremony at home, Susan married Evanston native Benjamin W. Lord (1871-1938). He was the son of wealthy drug company owner Thomas Lord, who had a large house designed by Daniel Burnham on Ridge Avenue. They were married in the house on Greenwood Street at 7:30 in the evening on Oct. 8, 1896. Her sister Emily was maid of honor and Benjamin’s sister Annie was a bridesmaid. Alvin McCord, soon to be brother-in-law, was best man. The new couple lived at 1625 Ashland upon return from their honeymoon.

Emily, the eldest, married Alvin McCord two months later, in a gala December wedding described in all the local newspapers. The Chicago Chronicle wrote: “The wedding was one of the largest and most brilliant held in Evanston this season. The church was decorated with palms, flowers and white roses. … Twelve hundred invitations were issued for the wedding. At 8 o’clock a reception was given at the house, for which 500 invitations were issued.” (Chicago Chronicle, Dec. 23, 1896)

The Evanston Index wrote: “The bride is the daughter of Mrs. Charles H. Rowe, 239 Greenwood boulevard, a young woman of rare personal charms and accomplishments, who has been a great favorite in Evanston society. … There were twelve hundred invitations issued to the church, and apparently all of them were accepted. The church was elaborately decorated in holly and mistletoe at the windows and along the altar rails and the chancel was banked with holly, evergreen and palms. The whole was relieved with a profusion of white roses, the color scheme being entirely white and green.” (“Caught in Hymen’s Noose,” The Evanston Index, undated clipping) After the wedding, the McCords lived at 239 Greenwood with Emily’s mother and two brothers. 

Jennie’s older son, Edgar, graduated from Princeton University in 1903. He married Katherine Livingston Andrew from Lafayette, Indiana, in 1907. Their wedding invitation is in the Evanston History Center’s archival collection. The newlyweds returned to live at 239 Greenwood. 

The following year, both Jennie and her mother passed away. Emily Davis McCarty continued to live in Aurora until her death in January 1908 at the age of 88. Jennie died only a few months later, in April, at the age of 61. The trustees of Northwestern University published an honorarium, noting her service and her style, calling Jennie “a winsome, gracious woman” and an “interested and faithful patron of the University.” (“Bulletin of Northwestern University,” Volume VIII, No. 5, November 1908, p. 7)

According to the Chicago newspapers, she left to her children an estate valued at $770,000; $500,000 of which was real estate and included the two lots her father had purchased in Chicago seventy years earlier. An 1888 article about the value of the latest improvements to the property had stated it was, “certainly marvelous and should convince the most skeptical that an investment in Chicago property is the best use to which men of capital can put their means.” (The Chicago Inter Ocean, Feb. 19, 1888, p. 10)

Samuel, Lucy’s youngest son, was also attending Princeton, and graduated a few years later in 1910. In 1911, he married the girl next door. Elizabeth Eddy, the daughter of Morris and Clara Hall Eddy who lived across the street at 1332 Forest. The Eddys’ nephew was Evanston architect Thomas Eddy Talmadge, who grew up just behind 239 Greenwood at 212 Lake St. 

Samuel and Elizabeth lived in Chicago after their marriage. But Edgar and Katherine continued to live at 239 Greenwood until 1914. They moved to 1414 Davis St., a house built by Ben’s brother George Sterling Lord and his wife Eda Hurd Lord, who developed much of the Ridge Historic District.

Following the Rowe family, Fred S. and Loretta James moved into 239 Greenwood and lived there for seven years. 

Frederick Sinclair James (1849-1927) started as an office boy in his brother’s Chicago insurance company shortly before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the fire, Fred opened his own firm. It started with fire insurance coverage and expanded into general brokerage. It went public in the 1970s and by 1985 it was the sixth-largest insurance brokerage company in the United States, when it was bought by an even larger conglomerate.

Charles George (1874-1957) and Myra Wilson Little (1879-1967) were the next owners of 239 Greenwood. They had both grown up in Evanston in notable local families. Little’s father, Charles J., was a prominent Methodist minister and president of Garrett Theological Institute and LIttle had grown up at 1818 Sheridan Road. Myra was the daughter of Hugh Wilson, one of the Wilson brothers who were wealthy entrepreneurs and huge supporters of Northwestern University.

Myra had grown up in a large stone mansion a few blocks away at the southwest corner of Davis and Forest. Designed for her father by Burnham & Root in 1886, it was demolished in 1937. Charles G. Little was an attorney and a professor at Northwestern. Charles and Myra were married in 1900 and lived in a house across the street at 1418 Forest for many years before moving to this house in 1921. They hired Daniel Burnham’s nephew, Evanston architect Ernest Woodyatt, to design some alterations to the house. Ernest and his wife Ruth Crandon Woodyatt, also lived across the street at 1414 Forest.

After Charles passed away, Myra put the house on the market in 1957. The house is still owned by the family who purchased it from the Littles, though it is currently on the market.

(Evanston History Center photo files)

The Architect

This is one of the few, if not the only, houses in Evanston designed by architect John Neal Tilton Sr. (1860-1921). J. Neal Tilton was born in Rome, the son of noted artist John Rollin Tilton (1828-1888) and his wife Catherine Town Stebbins (1823-1903), an author and translator. Catherine’s sister Emma Stebbins (1815-1882) was a celebrated sculptor, part of a group of renowned women sculptors in Italy. As a child, John Neal was the model for several of her notable neoclassical works. For decades, the household was a gathering place for artists, travelers and expatriots, including John Ruskin and Henry James. Tilton grew up in this intensely artistic milieu, which undoubtedly influenced his work as an architect.

Tilton returned to the United States to attend Cornell University. He graduated in 1880 with a degree in architecture. He moved to Chicago and established his architectural practice. In 1886, he married Emily Wood Larabee, and the couple moved to LaGrange, where he built a house on Kensington Avenue. One of their sons, J. Neal Tilton Jr., would also attend Cornell and become a well-known architect in LaGrange.

Tilton Sr. maintained his office in downtown Chicago. He is best known for designing several stone schools and houses in LaGrange and Brookfield, where he often worked for local stonemason and builder Conrad Schneider. The AIA Guide to Chicago notes that Tilton, along with Joseph Lyman Silsbee and George Washington Maher, designed houses in Edgewater for developer John Cochran. Built from 1886 to 1895, they are contributing houses in what is now the Lakewood-Balmoral Historic District. In 1899 he gave a speech to the Chicago Architectural Club on the extraordinary art and architecture of the Barberini palace in his hometown, Rome. 

In an interesting anecdote, Tilton took over one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s bootleg commissions in 1893. LaGrange residents Robert Emmond, Peter Goan and son Orrian S. Goan hired Wright to design houses for them on Eighth Avenue. The Emmond and Peter Goan houses were constructed, the O.S. Goan house was not. According to one source, Wright refused to make changes requested by Goan and his wife, so they canceled the contract and hired John Neal Tilton instead. The house Tilton designed for Peter Goan was a simple rectangle with flared eaves and intimations of the pared-down Prairie Style just emerging.

Robert Emmond House, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1893. (Photo from Realtor.com)

Ironically, Wright’s Emmond house bears design similarities to Tilton’s Rowe House, particularly with the two corner bays. One analysis of Wright’s design stated that it was influenced by the work of his former employer, Joseph Lyman Silsbee and the Shingle style, which could be said of Tilton’s design of the Rowe House as well.

(Evanston History Center photo files)

The House

The Queen Anne style is typified by a balance of assorted asymmetrical components. The Rowe house is essentially a symmetrical mass anchored by the two corner towers. However, several disruptive elements, such as one round and one polygonal tower, the front porch that wraps around only one corner of the house, and the base of stone emerging up to the second story of the opposite tower, create the style’s hallmark asymmetry. 

Among the many alterations over time are the modification of the first floor rounded bay on the west facade, the removal of the balcony and railing over the front entrance, the alteration of the windows leading to the balcony and the large dormer on the southern roof. Close examination shows the two eyebrow dormers on the south and west roof are still in place.

Citations in the building file show that the exterior of the house needed some repairs by the 1950s. The aluminum siding was added in 1968. There are no records in the file for when the narrow cone and church steeple were added to the roofs of the turrets. However, they are not in evidence in a 1970 photograph of the house in the EHC files. Neither are the stone posts at each corner of the lot.  The house is not an Evanston landmark, which is likely due to these alterations to the original design of the building.

The coach house was built a year after the main house. Designed by a different architect, it had a high stone foundation and steeply pitched hip roof with dormers in keeping with the design of the main house. Records show there was a fire on the second story of the “barn”  in 1936 and Charles Little made some repairs. This may have been when it was remodeled into a full second story. 

Building with stone became popular as the Queen Anne style evolved, expressing more and more massive combinations of stone foundations, porte-cocheres and wide verandas. By the end of the 19th century railroads and transportation developments made it economically feasible to ship heavy stone from the quarries to destinations like the sandy beaches of Evanston. On this block, a grouping of stone houses was built from 1889 to 1892. Architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee designed a house for Arthur Orr at 202 Greenwood in 1889 that has a stone foundation similar to the Rowe house. 

A long wall of the same stone spans most of the south side of the block. The house at 214 Greenwood has a chimney constructed of the same stone. Silsbee also designed a large stone house on the southeast corner of Forest and Greenwood for millionaire grain merchant William H. Bartlett in 1891. It was demolished in 1962, but the coach house, constructed with the same stone foundation, remains at 1315 Forest.

An 1894 article in Scientific American: Architects and Builders Edition describes the stone on the Bartlett House as “rock faced granite of a soft, delicate, grayish blue color.” Perhaps the stone posts on the Rowe property were built of stone salvaged from the Bartlett demolition. The stone on the Rowe and Orr houses includes this gray blue color, but has additional tones of rose and gray, which combine to create a tapestry of hues. Perhaps Jennie was influenced by these nearby houses in her decision to use stone in the construction of her house. Perhaps she was recalling her pioneering father, the stonemason.

The Evanston History Center is happy to partner with the Evanston RoundTable to share the insights that our expansive collection of Evanston history provides. Public records, newspapers, letters, maps, photographs, and artifacts all carry messages from the past to inform our lives today. The differences and changes can be compelling, disconcerting, educational, but always fascinating and often downright funny.

Since history looks at the past but also influences the future, and today will be history tomorrow, we have titled this column “Dimensions.”  We are living in a historic time, and you can help us tell future generations what it was like. We are located in the National Historic Landmark Charles Gates Dawes House at 225 Greenwood St. Please visit our website, evanstonhistorycenter.org, to learn more about how you can participate and contribute to the collection. 

What are you curious about in Evanston history? Let us know what you’ve wondered about! Send your queries to info@evanstonhistorycenter.org.

Thank you,
Eden Juron Pearlman, Executive Director

2 replies on “Evanston Dimension | Ask the Historians”

  1. Great story!! Personally, I think the house looked much better as originally conceived: I dislike those silly turrets, think the 2nd story windows over the front door are garish, and loved the element of a railing along that balcony. Also, the original shingled siding was much more in keeping with the organic look of the stone. I hope its next owner restores its original design.

  2. All I can say is wow, just wow! Am I ever glad that I finally got around to asking you this question. Thank you for such an exhaustive effort containing answers to every last aspect that I wanted to know about.
    So, the family that currently owns the house and that now has it up for sale is the same that had to have been responsible for the addition since 1970 of the church-like cone and steeple that largely shape its current character. It would additionally so interesting to ferret out the story behind those most recent alterations.

Comments are closed.