Our House Was a Very Very Very Fine House

Historical research can be challenging, but the results can often be insightful, satisfying and, more than often, surprising. All of these sensations were experienced during the recent search conducted to find more information about the history of the house I grew up in, and those who lived in it prior to me in Winnetka. What started out as a personal search, soon turned into a more ample look into the development of a village neighborhood and recognition of those who helped to create it.

All of this came about during research on the ancestry of my family and where we all lived over the 176 years that my ancestors have been on U.S. soil. Added to my insatiable desire to learn their stories, I wanted to know where they lived and get a sense of their lives through their surroundings.

Of course, I also wanted to know the history of my own living environments, and this brought me to this current research project on the history of the house I lived in or returned to from birth, in 1951, until the house was sold and subsequently torn down in 2008. Up until that time, I had always considered the house as home. I was even married there. It held a lot of good memories.

The memories that house held were, however, not only my own, as there were several previous dwellers who I am sure created their own stories in the 1161 Chatfield Road residence. As my luck should have it, I have recently accepted a position on the board of the Winnetka Historical Society (WHS) and knew that, among other things, the “society” houses the records of almost all of the village homes since its founding 150 years ago. They also have historic directories of village residents, not only listed by name, but also by street. Added to this was my experiences with online research engines such as ancestry.com and newspapers.com which are treasure troves of information regarding our past. I also had a recollection of some family stories about past owners as told to me by my parents.

Some of the documents in the WHS preserve informed me that the 1161 Chatfield Road “brick colonial” house (top photo) was built in 1921. This house was an almost duplicate of the house next door at 1169 (lower photo). Both homes shared a driveway which led to two separate garages between the two backyards. These two houses were built and first owned by two brothers, Arthur J. (1880-1940) and Frank J. (1877-1947) Mitchell. The 1921 construction date was, however, questionable. Arthur and Frank’s U.S. World War I Draft Registration cards, both dated September 12, 1918, give their addresses respectfully as 1161 and 1169 Ashland – Hubbard Woods. Therefore, their homes must have been built prior to this date. By January of 1920, the year of the U.S. Census, the two brothers are at their respectful addresses but the name of the street has been changed from Ashland Avenue to Chatfield Road.

Advertisement for a housekeeping position placed by Arthur J. Mitchell at 1161 Chatfield.

Arthur, his wife, Eulalia (1886-1977), and their two sons, Donald (1918-1982) and Frederick (1914-1989), together with a servant, Monica Taylor, all live at 1161 while Frank and his wife, Anne, lived next door at 1169. In 1921 Arthur and Eulalia’s daughter, Jeanne, was born and it was in the years that followed, sometime before 1925, that the family sold the house and moved to a house at 220 Chestnut Street (as listed in the 1930 U.S. Census). Arthur and Frank, together with their older brother, Edward (1874-1937), owned Mitchell Brothers women’s clothing wholesale store in Chicago. By 1940 they had moved to 929 Michigan Avenue in Evanston and Arthur died that same year.

The next resident of 1161 Chatfield was Charles W. Popper and his family (wife, Amy, and daughters, Elinor and Marion) who I first found listed at this address in the Winnetka Householders’ Directory of the years 1927 and then again in 1931.

Adolf Drey and his wife, Ruth, are listed in the 1935 Winnetka City Directory at the 1161 residence. They came to Chicago from New Rochelle, New York and Adolf was at the time of his death, according to his 1948 obituary, the retail advertising manager of the Hearst Chicago Herald-American.

At some time between 1944 and 1949, John B. Conlan (a.k.a. “Jocko”) purchased the property and lived there for a few years. “Jocko” Conlan was a celebrity baseball umpire who worked for the National Baseball League from 1941 to 1965. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

On March 22nd, 1950 Conlan sold the 1161 Chatfield Road property to my parents, Leah and George Westerman. I was born on July 2, 1951 and was brought home to the new residence. Our house was loved. If its walls could have spoken, many tales of family life in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s would be worth repeating (well, maybe not ALL tales). My mother lived in the house until she turned 91 in 2007. A year or so later the house was torn down and another was built in its footprint, thankfully in a similar taste and style to the original.

Of course, my curiosity and interest didn’t cease here. I was equally interested in our “dead end” street and wondered how the grouping of homes came to be in the first place. Before others began to be torn down (as some of them had already been prior to 2007) I wanted to know what the original intent of the street had been and who were the first people to “settle” there.

Added to this was one particular childhood memory of the house which was directly in front of ours at 1160 Chatfield Road. The house was very particular. It was white stucco with a shingled thatched roof. It was very big and grandiose, at least according to the standards of the time. Aided by the Winnetka Historical Society curator, Meagan McChesney, records were found in the archive which include original floor plans and elevations of the “English country house” owned by Sylvanus George and Ruth Lee. These are all dated December 1, 1924 and the architect was Spencer Solon Beman (1887- 1952) who designed many important Winnetka and Northshore homes. (see more HERE)

On Monday January 14th 1963, as an article in the January 17th Winnetka Talk reported, a fire devastated the Lee home. I remember the fire, and subsequently seeing the gutted-out house iced over from top to bottom due to the artic freeze of the water that extinguished the flames. It was eerie, to say the least. The Winnetka Talk article reporting on the fire headlined: “Fire Ravages Home in Hubbard Woods. Valuable Antiques Saved as Fire Ravages Lee Home” and the images were as dramatic. 

Apparently, the house couldn’t be salvaged or restored, so it was leveled to the ground. What was rebuilt in its place was a typical 1960’s ranch style home which, for the neighborhood, didn’t quite fit in. It was really a shame. Other homes on the block, some larger than others, have survived. Some have been “upgraded” over the decades, for better or for worse. There have been a handful of “tear downs”, but the street has still maintained its charm.

The original developer(s) of the street must have had that “charm” in mind as the homes were being built. The Winnetka Historical Society preserves copies of the 1916 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps which give the layout and names of the streets in Winnetka and Hubbard Woods at that time. It is interesting that so many of the street names have been changed over the years to follow.

1916 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Winnetka (detail)

In fact, Ashland Avenue soon became Chatfield Road and it was wondered why. As it happens, another Winnetka map, also dated 1916, shows the area west of Gordon Terrace wedged between Ashland Avenue and Hamptondale Avenue was labelled “Chatfield’s Sub.” More research revealed that Chatfield Road was named after William Nash Chatfield (1868- 1916) who was, in 1912, a Winnetka resident (at 654 Cherry Street) and a real estate broker working in the Title and Trust Building on W. Washington Street, Chicago. It seems likely that Ashland Avenue was renamed Chatfield Road around the time of his death.

At the east end of the cul-du-sac are two stone “gate” or “entrance pillars” which must have been the original markers of the Chatfield subdivision. According to records found, the first homes built on Ashland Avenue were numbers 1140, 1141, 1151, 1155, 1159, 1189 and 1192. By 1922 numbers 1152, 1161, 1169, 1185 and 1200 were added. The house at 1160 was built in 1924. By 1933 there the additions of numbers 1170, 1176, 1182, 1197, 1198 and 1201. In all there were eighteen homes and, until recently, most of these addresses remained the same although 1151 no longer stands and there is no record of 1189 existing after 1917.

Upon learning more about the interesting development of this particular area of the village, it was intriguing to learn more not only about the physical houses but also about their residents over the years. By tracking down existent documents (census records, town directories, newspaper articles and obituaries) found online or in the WHS archive, an attempt has been made to piece together as much information as possible. 

Advertisement for Andrew Paulson’s business in the 1917 Winnetka directory.

One of the original subdivision owners was architect Andrew W. Paulson who lived in the house he built at 1151. Paulson is another architect of notoriety who designed several homes built in Winnetka (see more about Paulson HERE). What was not known, however, is that Andrew’s son, Herbert W. Paulson, lived in the house his father built right next door. Although the 1151 house was recently demolished, the 1155 property still stands. This house has an arts and crafts style to it which would have been quite modern and popular for the time it was built (see below). There used to be a lovely front yard pond with a walk bridge which the later owners stocked with large goldfish during the summer months.

Other homes on the street have that “old Winnetka” flavor and stateliness without being ostentatious. A few have been torn down and many have been remodeled over the years. Regardless, it is quite apparent that the homes in Winnetka hold an amazing wealth of historic information, not only of their construction, but also of their inhabitants. The 1161 Chatfield Road cul-du-sac story is only an example of what research, particularly in the archive of Winnetka Historical Society, can reveal. May many more other Winnetka histories be discovered. What follows is an overview of the 18 homes on the Chatfield Road cul-du-sac and the information found regarding each of their residents, including some interesting stories which reflect what was happening in Winnetka at their time. 

Recent Image of 1140 Chatfield

Image 2 of 37

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