Landscape Architecture, Vol. 2, Issue 4, Dec  2019, Pages 113-129; DOI: 10.31058/ 10.31058/

Conservation of Landscape Histories: Reinterpretation of Chicago’s Ecological past and Complexities Encountered While Searching for Its Original Native Landscape

, Vol. 2, Issue 4, Dec  2019, Pages 113-129.

DOI: 10.31058/

Daniel Joseph Whittaker 1*

1 Architecture Program, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, United States

Received: 11 July 2019; Accepted: 14 July 2019; Published: 9 September 2019

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This paper explores the contemporary routes that citizens of Chicago have access to historic natural landscape environments.  Two ecological nature preserves examined in this historical case study offer windows into an ecological past, equitable to the landscape which preceded the existence of Chicago.  One residential home, the Widow Clarke House, a Greek revival style homestead built in 1836, is a tangible remnant of Chicago’s early colonialist settlement.  Today it is a celebrated house museum possessing much architectural gravitas and civic pride, signifying supposed credence for foreign occupation of Native American Indian lands.  However, it could not have existed without the eight hectares of land which the Clarke’s used for agricultural farming to support themselves and their growing family.  This paper explores how the home’s historic landscape has been ignored, suppressed and eliminated from the conservation protocol, which instead primarily focuses on the repair of the home’s architectural fabric and interiors, in lieu of an interpretative restoration of the perimeter enveloping landscape. Furthermore, history surrounding an 1849 Cholera epidemic shall be linked to hardships Caroline’s home would eventually face over the next 122 years (1850~1972), before becoming developed into a bona fide house museum.  The difficult conservation narrative the Clarke home and its ‘lost’ landscape traverses will be critically examined in this paper.  Vignettes of the past will provide today’s reader with cautionary tales about the erasure of a cultural landscape, agrarian customs, and other traditions.  None of these factors have received appropriate consideration for landscape restoration and re-creation, due to too much focus upon architectural primacy—and its ill-assumed supremacy.  This paper shall provide plentiful reasons for landscape architects and design professionals to develop a more comprehensive set of criteria to rank and evaluate a wider array of contributing landscape elements worthy of conservation, including the original ecological environment.


Chicago House Museums, Historic Landscape Conservation, Freshwater Sand Dune Conservation, Urban Landscape Rehabilitation


© 2017 by the authors. Licensee International Technology and Science Press Limited. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


[1] Whittaker, Daniel Joseph. House Museums in Chicago: A Re-examination of Motives, Origins, and Transformation of the Institution. Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, USA, Defended September, 2018.

[2] Chicago History Timeline: Prior to 1850. Chicago Public Library. Available online: (accessed on 1 May, 2018).

[3] Grossman, Ron. Fifteen Historic Minutes. Chicago Tribune daily newspaper. 12 August, 2012. P.22.

[4] La Barre, Rebecca J. Clarke House: Chicago’s Oldest Building. Chicago, Illinois: City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. 2011. P.8. Note some accounts list the purchase price as $10,000 dollars. La Barre’s document states “$2,000” dollars.

[5] City of Chicago: History of the Clarke House Museum: Architecture and Design.

[6] M’Alpine, William J. Report made to the Water Commissioners of the City of Chicago, on Supplying the City with Water. Chicago, IL: Seaton & Peck, Printers. 26 September, 1851.

[7] Chicago Department of Public Works: Engineer’s Report. Tunnel and Crib Construction. Chicago, IL, 1898, 20, 15-18.

[8] Durkin Keating, Ann. Water Supply. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Historical Society and the Newberry Library, 2004.

[9] Joy to the world. Kirby’s Cholera Drops. Advertisement for Diarrhea, Dysentery, Cholera. Chicago Democrat newspaper. Chicago Historical Society Archives (ICHi-38007), 7 June, 1849.

[10] Kirby’s Cholera Drops, 1949. Ibid.

[11] Farnsworth, Kenneth B. and John A. Walthall: “Bottled In Illinois: Embossed Bottles and Bottled Products of Early Merchants from Chicago to Cairo, 1840-1880.” 2011. Ibid. P.30-31. Citation contained within this text: the newspaper: the Quincy Weekly Whig, 24 June, 1851. pp.3, Col.1.

[12] La Barre, Rebecca J. Clarke House: Chicago’s Oldest Building. 2001. Ibid.

[13] Aerial hand-drawn, hand-color-tinted Bird’s Eye view map of Chicago in 1868. On-line internet resource. Available online: (accessed on 1 December 2018).

[14] Henry Brown Clarke. (b. Unadilla Forks, Otsego, New York 2 January 1802 – Chicago, Illinois 23 July 1849).

[15] Mary Perkins Olmstead. Biographical Sketch. National Park Service. Available online: (accessed on 1 December 2018).

[16] City of Chicago: History of the Clarke House Museum. Architecture and Design.

[17] Wright, Gwendolyn. Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago: 1873-1913. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[18] Wright, Gwendolyn. Moralism and the Model Home. 1980. Ibid. P.31., citing: S.E. Gross and Co., advertising broadside. Chicago Historical Society. Undated, c.1880s.

[19] Vintage photo from: Clarke House Museum. Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens Advisory Council, 2 December, 1977.

[20] Housing Moving Part III: Clarke House, 1977. The Story of a House: Official Blog of Glessner House Museum. 18 August, 2014. The “El” is Chicago vernacular for the ‘elevated railway,’ the city’s mass-transit system; which at times is below ground, at grade, and raised above street level, depending upon location within the city. None the less, it is still called the “El.”

[21] Chicago Park District web site. Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens.

[22] Associated Press. Chicago prepares 50th birthday celebration for Hillary. Journal Gazette & Times-Courier. Mattoon, Illinois, 27 October 1997.

[23] Rubin, Bonnie Miller and Ginger Thompson. First Lady’s 50th: Cake, Pizza, Memories. Chicago Tribune. 28 October, 1997.

[24] Figliulo, Susan. Prairie Avenue Historic District: What’s Left. Chicago Reader. 12 April, 2001.

[25] Tyre, William H. “Images of America: Chicago’s Historic Prairie Avenue.” Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. 2008. P.121.

[26] UPI (United Press International): Chicago park drops Hillary’s name. 9 August, 2002. Washington, DC.

[27] McKay, Mimi. Landscape Architect. “Hillary Rodham Clinton Women’s Park and Gardens of Chicago.” For the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Chicago, Illinois: Tanys Langdon, Landscape Architect.

[28] National Veterans Art Museum. On-line resource. Referenced 2018. Old location starting in 1996 was 1801 South Indiana Avenue where it was called the ‘National Viet Nam Veterans Art Museum;’ new location, starting in 2003 is 4041 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. Thank you to Brad White of the Alphawood Foundation Chicago, for the additional background information.

[29] The first greenhouse in the present-day United States was built by Andrew Faneuil at Boston, is dated to 1737. Purvis, Thomas L. and Richard Balkin, General Editor. “Colonial America to 1763.” New York: Facts on File, Inc. 1999. p. 46.

[30] Indiana Dunes State Park. Educational signage posted and located within the State Park. Author’s site visit accompanied with Jiasen Gong. 8 May, 2017.

[31] Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. Educational signage posted and located within the Nature Preserve. Author’s site visit accompanied with Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) class led by Professor Ron Henderson, FASLA. 6 October, 2015.

[32] Camplin, Jeffery C., CSP, CPEA. “Why is Asbestos on the Illinois Shoreline?” and “Lake Michigan Shoreline Asbestos Contamination Continues, Not Known As The New ‘Libby East’.” 2003. Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society. Available online: (accessed on 1 December 2018).

[33] Camplin, Jeffery C. 2003. Ibid.

[34] Note this map is a hybrid map whose tri-color base was created with assistance by IIT architecture classmate Zheng Hu (Bob) using Adobe Illustrator software. Grayscale annexation dates, overlay with points, lines and labels were created in Adobe Photoshop, all by the author. This annexation date-overlay quadrant layer is based in part on a map included in the publication by: Alicia Mazur Berg under tenure of Mayor Richard M. Daley. “Your House Has A History: A Step-by-step Guide to Researching Your Property.” City of Chicago: Department of Planning and Development. Chicago, Illinois. 1988, rev. 2003. P.7.

[35] Walter S. Gurnee Dead. Obituary. New York Times. 18 April, 1903.

[36] Kuczka, Susan. Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis: 1918-2008. Chicago Tribune. 12 February, 2008.

[37] Engel, J. Ronald. Sacred Sands, the Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.

[38] Schantz, Orpheus Moyer. Indiana’s Unrivaled Sand-Dunes—A National Park Opportunity. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Magazine, 1919, 35(5), Available online: (accessed on 1 December 2018).

[39] Smith, Stephanie and Steve Mark. The Historical Roots of the Nature Conservancy in the Northwest Indiana/Chicagoland Region: From Science to Preservation. The South Shore Journal, 2009, 3, 1-10.