Glessner House, completed in 1887 and celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2012, is a Chicago and National Historic Landmark. It is featured in almost every significant book on American architecture and is regarded as one of the most important residences designed in the U.S. during the 19th century. And, lucky for us, it has been open to the public as a museum since 1971 and welcomes thousands of visitors each year from around the world.
Here are 10 things you (probably) didn't know about Glessner House:
- The design of the house was very controversial in its day, and it was not readily accepted by the neighbors. George Pullman, who lived across the street, was quoted as saying "I don't know what I ever did in my life to deserve having to look at that thing every day when I walk out my front door."
- The house contains approximately 35 rooms including eight bedrooms for live-in staff, and a total of 17,411 square feet including the coach house which could accommodate six horses.
- The house was very modern in terms of technology and featured a central heating system (plus eleven fireplaces), six bathrooms, and a main panel which controlled all the gas lights in the house. The building was wired for electricity at the time of construction, but a central electric system did not come to the neighborhood until five years later.
- Frances Glessner hosted the Monday Morning Reading Class in her home for over 35 years, inviting her Prairie Avenue neighbors and wives of the professors at the University of Chicago. She was also a fine needle worker, a talented silversmith and jewelry maker, an accomplished pianist, and an active beekeeper.
- Many of the pieces of furniture in the house, in addition to a large collection of unique picture frames, were made for the Glessners by their good friend Isaac Scott. A talented wood carver and designer, his pieces are excellent examples of the Eastlake, Aesthetic, and Modern Gothic styles and several of the objects have been loaned to museums around the country for exhibits.
- Glessner House is one of just seven mansions that survive today on Prairie Avenue, which in the late 19th century was the most exclusive residential street in Chicago. Known as the "sunny street that held the sifted few," it was home to department store owner Marshall Field, the "Palace Car Prince" George Pullman, meatpacker Philip D. Armour, piano maker William Kimball, and more than 70 other millionaires.
- The architect of the house, Henry Hobson Richardson, was generally regarded as America's first important architect and the style of the house - Richardsonian Romanesque - was named for him. Based in Boston, he designed over 80 buildings in his brief lifetime (he died at the age of 48), and of his four buildings in Chicago, only Glessner House remains.
- After the Glessners died in the 1930s, the house served as classrooms for Armour Institute (the forerunner to the Illinois Institute of Technology) and later as the headquarters for the Lithographic Technical Foundation which installed printing presses in many of the rooms. When the building was threatened with demolition in 1966, a group of preservationists purchased it for just $35,000.
- John Glessner made his fortune in the farm machinery business. In 1902, his company and four others merged to form International Harvester, one of the largest corporations in the world at the time. He was made vice president and chairman of the executive committee. He remained active with the company until his death at the age of 92.
- The Glessners' daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, was a pioneer in the field of legal medicine (homicide investigation) from the 1930s until her death in 1962. She created a series of miniature death scenes known as the "Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" which were studied by police captains from around the country to hone their investigative skills. As a result of her work, she was appointed the first female state police captain in the country.
In addition to numerous programs including lectures, book signings, and exhibits, a number of spaces in the house are available as a rental venue for weddings, parties, and corporate events, including the large private courtyard and restored coach house. For more information on Glessner House, click here.
(Source: William Tyre, Executive Director and Curator, Glessner House Museum)