Chicago’s Oldest House Was Once Hoisted Over the Green Line. The Latest Change: It Has a New Name

Bishop Louis Henry Ford and neighborhood children with the cupola of the Clarke House as the building was moved in 1977. (Courtesy of the Saint Paul Church of God's archives)Bishop Louis Henry Ford and neighborhood children with the cupola of the Clarke House as the building was moved in 1977. (Courtesy of the Saint Paul Church of God's archives)

What’s in a name?

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When it comes to Chicago’s oldest house, formerly known as the Clarke House, a change to Clarke-Ford House acknowledges that a building’s story doesn’t end with its construction.

Chicago’s City Council approved the new designation Wednesday. Technically, it’s now the Henry B. and Caroline Clarke/Bishop Louis Henry and Margaret Ford House, which provides a more complete history of the house, officials said.

Built in 1836 by Henry Clarke, maintained by his widow Caroline after his death, and ultimately rescued by the Fords in the 1940s, the Clarke-Ford House offers a glimpse into what life was like in Chicago before the Civil War. (There are homes within the city’s current boundaries that predate 1836, but at the time of their construction, their locations were not within Chicago’s limits.)

But the new name, which was proposed in September, also incorporates the story of the Fords’ stewardship into the modern era.   

“The renaming serves to tell a more complete history of Chicago’s oldest house that not only acknowledges its original owners, but also the significant contributions of Bishop Louis Henry and Margaret Ford in preserving its legacy for future generations to cherish,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement.

The Clarke-Ford House when it was situated next to the St. Paul Church of God in Christ. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ archives)  The Clarke-Ford House when it was situated next to the St. Paul Church of God in Christ. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ archives)

Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ built a church next to the house, with the stately home serving a variety of functions for the congregation, from offices to a parsonage.

In 1970, the house became one of the first buildings to earn Chicago landmark status. 

The church eventually sold the house to the city of Chicago, which coordinated the building’s move to its current location at 1827 S. Indiana Ave. in the Chicago Women’s Park, located in the Prairie Avenue Historic District. The move entailed a complicated hoisting of the house over the elevated Green Line tracks.

Thanks to the decades-long involvement of the National Society of the Colonial Dames in The State of Illinois, the house has been painstakingly restored to its 1860s appearance, a process that at times required chipping through as many as 27 layers of paint to determine the Clarkes’ original color scheme.

An undated photo of the Ford family at the Clarke-Ford House. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ archives)An undated photo of the Ford family at the Clarke-Ford House. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ archives)

The house is getting a bit of a glow-up to go along with its new name. Renovation work is underway, including exterior repairs, painting and the replacement of HVAC hardware, officials said. 

Tours of the house have been paused since Sept. 1 to accommodate the work. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events plans to hire a curator to “reimagine the house’s public programming,” officials said.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]


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