Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Older Can Be Nice

I have always loved seeing different styles of architecture. I, especially, like styles that age well. (This may be a subconscious desire that "older is better"....most outward signs of aging are reaching out to bitch-slap that theory.)

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and went back to our farm for a week.  Our farm is in a rural area about an hour south of Chicago, IL.  The nearest cities of any size are Kankakee, Bourbonnais, and Bradley.  Those three communities are joined to form one urban area that lie just a short distance from south Chicago. 

How  we came to be connected to the area around Kankakee goes back several generations. My husband's maternal and paternal grandparents were among the  Dutch immigrants that settled on farms just south of Kankakee.  Even today, there are about 6 Dutch surnames that seem to appear around every corner...and in one way or another they are  all my husband's cousins.

My family was more complicated.  My maternal grandparents were born and raised Chicagoans.  I had relatives all through the Kankakee and Chicago area as well.  I was born in Chicago but my parents were more transient.  I didn't always live in the area but we moved in and out of the area as if we were homing pigeons returning to our roost.

My grandfather managed the produce department of the Big Bear Grocery store for a number of years. As a little girl,  he would let me go with him early in the morning before anything  else was open to pick out the produce at farmer's markets around southern Chicago. I have dear memories of my maternal grandparents.  They had a bit of land on the Kankakee River that they kept for the sole purpose of gathering all the family every Sunday afternoon.  The men would play horseshoes and drink Schlitz beer, the kids would play while the women set up a picnic lunch.  It was a family reunion every Sunday.

On the bank of the Kankakee River

Thought Number One -  Perceptions

Most of you might be familiar with the name Kankakee  from the Arlo Guthrie song City of New Orleans. The song tells the story of a train ride traveling out of Kankakee going to New Orleans. I especially love that the train would have traveled over tracks that I would have crossed every day on my way to grade school.

Riding on the City of New Orleans, 
Illinois Central Monday morning rail 
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail. 
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields. 
Passin' trains that have no names, 
Freight yards full of old black men 
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

The town also got some unflattering notoriety from The David Letterman Show.  In November of 1999, Kankakee was ranked 354th in The Places Rated Almanac. David Letterman delivered an ongoing gag consisting of shows that seemed intent on making fun  of Kankakee.  He sent 2 small prefab gazebos and suggested that Kankakee should market itself as the Home of the Twin Gazebos.  While Letterman's intent  more in the vein of getting laughs, Kankakee played along.  The gazebos still stand.  One is located to the north of the Kankakee train station.

I don't believe for a second that Kankakee, Illinois was the worst town in America to live in 1999. In fact, just to make a point...a huge point actually...in 1999 there were 6 murders per 100,000 residents in Kankakee.  Washington DC was named as the 2nd best place in the nation to live, right behind the winner Salt Lake City, according to The Places Rated Almanac.  That year  DC had 241 murders per 100,000. I guess it was a better place to live if you weren't murdered.

Thought Number Two - Kankakee has some interesting history and architecture.

As a kid, I always thought this firehouse was so neat.  I drive by occasionally when I am in the area just to see it. The building was built around 1930 and no longer houses fire equipment.

During the era of Firehouse #2 the one and only fire fighter ever
to die on the scene of a fire in Kankakee died.

Hickox House

Built in 1901, the Hickox House is noted for being one of the two homes in the Riverview Historic District designed by world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The "Prairie Style" is so named because Wright worked with his clients to develop architectural spaces that were inspired by the natural plant forms of the tallgrass prairie that surrounded Kankakee. Eighty-two of the Bradley House's original ninety  art glass windows survive. Ironically, much of the Bradley family fortune used to build and fit out the house had come from the implements used to plow up the prairie sod that is celebrated by the house

The Prairie style structure still stands at 687 South Harrison Avenue. The original owner was Warren R. Hickox, Jr., who ran his father's abstract, real estate and loan business. In the winter of 1900, Hickox went to Oak Park, Illinois to consult with Mr. Wright about designing homes for he and his sister, Anna Hickox Bradley and land inherited from their father Warren Hickox, Sr. Wright visited Kankakee to look over the ground. He not only designed the houses which became the first designed in the Prairie Style of architecture, but also the furnishings for the houses including tables, chairs, carpets and drapes. Today the Hickox House remains a private home.

Bradley House

Bradley House at 701 South Harrison Ave. is the other Riverview home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was built in 1901 for B. Harley Bradley. The Bradley House later became known as Yesteryear, a popular restaurant that did business there for over 30 years. It was
 being renovated by Stephen B. Small in 1986. The house entered one of the darkest chapters of Kankakee’s history when kidnappers called Small at his home posing as Kankakee City Police. The criminals claimed the Bradley House had been vandalized, luring Small out into the open where he was kidnapped and subsequently murdered. The house remained a private residence until 2010 when it was acquired by a local not-for-profit with a mission to open it to the public as an arts/education center.  The house opened in June of 2010 as a public museum.

llinois, is widely acknowledged as Frank Lloyd Wright's first Prairie design. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places individually and as part of the Riverview Historic District.

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Kimberly Wyatt said...

Love the Frank Lloyd Wright houses! From where we live in KY, we can easily drive to several in our tri-state area. Actually, my advisor just moved into a house on the same street as one of them! Such amazing architecture.

Chubby Chatterbox said...

Your photos show a charming place, and I'd visit if only to see those tqwo Frank Lloyd houses. Can't get enough of those.

Cheryl P. said...

I loved the fact the the Praire style name came from Kankakee grass. A lot of nice things originated around that part of Illinois but that might be among the nicest.

Cheryl P. said...

My husband and I were trying to remember if we ever paid any attention to these houses when we were teenagers. My father-in-law lived on River St. just a couple of blocks away but I don't remember noticing those houses. As an adult I think they are wonderful and there are several more homes in that area that are now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Liggybee said...

Isn't it so cool to have personal experiences or have lived in areas so rich in history? Actually, on second thought, every place is rich in history but it is really up to us to learn more about it...and when we do, it's just so interesting!!!

Liggybee said...

By the way, excellent post!!! Clicks!!! :)

Cheryl P. said...

You are so right..every place has some interesting history attached to it but to seek out the details sometimes just doesn't happened. When I was looking around for information about the 2 Wright houses, I found out a few things I didn't know. I, also found a couple of blogs written by people in the Kankakee area.

Nicky said...

What an interesting history, from architecture to kidnapping and murder! I love that they kept the gazebos Letterman sent them. Nice post, Cheryl. I always enjoy your little travelogs.

Wendy said...

Loved reading about both the memories and the history here. I prefer the older architecture.

Cheryl P. said...

Thank you, Liggy!

Cheryl P. said...

Thank you, Nicky! I think Letterman was having a lot of fun making jokes about Kankakee but the the people that lived there were good sports. Like all towns they have had their problems.

Cheryl P. said...

Me too. I usually live in newer construction because of the big closets, and lot's of bathrooms but the charm and character of the older buildings is much nicer. Hard to replicate.

Katrina Grothe said...

I LOVE older architecture! The Frank Lloyd Wright home and the Green and Green homes are so very intriguing to me. Everything is so thought out and not all slammed together like today's houses. You never see a row of Green and Green homes that look all the same but are different colors. Back then they thought out every detail and made it to last. They cared and wanted their work to house people for generations, that was the way of the time... unlike now where everything is disposable.

Thank you for the picture and the history of these home, one day I've got to come out and see them.


PS: I fixed my captcha issue, sorry :)

Wolfbernz said...

Hi Cheryl

Love the photos, Trina and I really like to go to towns that have great architecture and history.
I could just picture all of the family along the river having some food and a few cool ones each Sunday, What a good memory.

Have a great week, Clicks

oldereyes said...

Hi, Cheryl - I love this post ... the family history and the spirit of the place. I thought I had never heard of Kanakee until you mentioned Arlo Guthrie, at which point, the tune and lyrics began playing in my head. One thing I miss in most of the LA Basin is the availability of buildings with unique architecture. We're mostly frame and stucco, although a few of the older suburbs like Pasadena have interesting homes. My family was Pennsylvania Dutch on my maternal grandfather's side.


Cheryl P. said...

You, my friend are a wealth of information. I hadn't heard of Green and Green so of course...GOOGLE. I can't believe that I hadn't heard of them as they grew up in St. Louis and went to Wash U. (I called St. Louis home for 13 years and was a Realtor there) You would think that somewhere in all the talk about archictectural styles that would of popped up.
Are there Green and Green homes anywhere other than Pasadena?
The next time I visit Kankakee I will go over to the Bradley House and take some interior pics for you. I suspect I won't go back until around the holidays.
I will be watching the updates for the pumpkins on Facebook.

Cheryl P. said...

Are you finding that the older you get the more nostolgic you get? I hadn't thought too much about those Sunday afternoons until I took a couple of pictures of the river for the post. I hope my grandkids grow up to have sweet memories of me. The son that moved to TN, is he the one that has your little grandson?

Cheryl P. said...

I was going to post a video of that song that contained the train leaving Kankakee going south through the little towns (most of which I have lived in at one time or another) but it made me so sad, I had to quit watching. Crazy that after 41 years away that I still get terribly homesick.
Trina was just talking about the Green and Green homes with the most famous being the Gamble house in Pasadena. I hadn't ever heard of Green and Green but I had heard of the house. I love the arts and craft architecture. Didn't you do a post about a Wright house at one time?
Kansas City has beatiful older neighborhoods with glorious old estate homes. You could drive around town for days and never get tired of looking. Of course, I live out here in Johnson County the epitome of urban sprawl. Lots of beautiful homes but each one looks like the one 3 doors down.
I could tell you a whole bunch of stories with my dealings with the Dutch. While I love my husband's family beyond reason, some of them didn't make it easy for a little 18 year old Irish girl to marry into their clan. They said I could walk into the Dutch Reformed Church but I couldn't hold my children in the sanctuary. Wayne had to.
They have progressed. Now I even have a plot waiting in their cemetary. Talk about inclusion.

momto8blog said...

how interesting!! so much history...makes me wonder about my home town..except I will be singing that song in my head all night...

GenePoolDiva said...

Now I want to visit Kankakee. What a beautiful town. I don't know where I'd start, the firehouse or Bradley House.

Cheryl P. said...

Where ever your hometown is, I would bet there are some fascinating things that happened there. You are so right about that song. I guess you should thank me though, because the other song that talks about Kankakee is Groucho Marx's song Lydia the Tattooed Lady and I would have put the You Tube video with that one. You'd be having visions of Groucho going through your head all night.

Cheryl P. said...

Unfortunately, you would have to do what every one else does that visits Kankakee...drive 35 minutes north on the highway and visit all the better things in Chicago like the museums, the Gold Coast and the Loop. Unless you have local family members there or have a fascination with watching corn grow (I kind of do) you might get bored.

Bodaciousboomer said...

You're lucky to have such cool things nearby. Houston is soooo boring. Usually as soon as something starts to show it's age here, it's torn down.

MOV said...

Great post! Loved this part:
"That year DC had 241 murders per 100,000. I guess it was a better place to live if you weren't murdered."
(uhhhhh, Cheryl, I live in DC.)
My sister lives in Oakland, CA and is always bragging about how great it is. I think next to NY, it is the murder capital of the world. I always want to ask her what part of Oakland is so great, the part where you lock your 3 deadbolts across your door each night?

Cheryl P. said...

Ohhhh, MOV, I am so happy that you survived 1999! I was in your beautiful city not so long ago. Gosh, if I had known you were close at hand, I could of stalked you. I guess it is fair to concede that perhaps DC fairs better on things like education although there is something to be said for being "street smart". And there are all those beautiful landmarks in your city that Kankakee wouldn't have. Time prevents me from telling you about the TWO historical markers that I am aware of. You have more politicians by count but Illinois gives you some of the most interesting ***translation...corupt*** ...oh wait...that probably didn't work in our favor. What the hell...I live in Kansas City now and I have no idea how that scored anyway. As far as Oakland, I am nearly tempted to buy the book to see how they scored. Mind you the book only came out in 1999 and wasn't repeated so it must of been a huge sucess.