Connecting Houses to Water Networks
Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, there were clear geographic patterns to the availability of indoor plumbing. Initially, these systems were available only in the inner core of the nation's largest cities. Perhaps at no time before or after was the contrast between urban and rural living so dramatic. More and more urban families enjoyed modern bathrooms and kitchens with running water and sewer hook-ups, while their rural counterparts generally had to make do with cisterns, wells, and privies. Commuters and manufacturers who moved out from Chicago along the rail lines brought with them knowledge of new urban services which were radically changing urban homes. When commuters moved out to new suburban rail towns, they were confronted with the fact that fittings for indoor plumbing were of no use unless the building they were in was located adjacent to infrastructure systems to which it could connect. Over the course of the nineteenth century suburban governments emerged which met the demands of outlying residents for services such as water, sewers, and street improvements.
Henry and Caroline Palmer Clarke arrived in Chicago from upstate New York in 1835. Henry Clarke made a quick fortune selling hardware to Chicagoans as they built the city. The Clarkes built a Greek-revival style house on a twenty-acre lot near Michigan Avenue and Sixteenth Street (at what is today 1700 S. Michigan Avenue.)
Caroline Palmer Clarke letter, 1 November 1835
While Henry Clarke engaged in business in Chicago, Caroline Palmer Clarke set about making a home. In this letter to her sister-in-law back in New York, Caroline Clarke describes the new town she is living in. She is most concerned with housing, churches, schools, water, and the weather. In the sixth paragraph of the letter she describes water from Lake Michigan as “good tasting.” This water was sold by the barrel to households in Chicago, including the Clarkes when they moved into their new house the following year.
Prairie Avenue, 1853
The Clarke House was originally sited well beyond the built-up area of the settlement at Chicago in 1835 and remained isolated for some time.
Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, 5624 N. Newark Avenue
The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House in the Norwood Park neighborhood on Chicago's northwest side is the oldest extant building in Chicago. The Noble family built the southern single-storied part of the structure in 1833 with long windows in the building's main room. Like the Clarkes, the Nobles had to find their own water supply, most likely a nearby well.
See also: Norwood Park
Norwood Park, 1851
The Mark Noble family arrived in Chicago in 1831 from England. They lived at the Fort Dearborn settlement for a year. In 1833, the Nobles bought land in what would be Norwood Township and built a one-story frame house. The Noble house was set on property owned by the family, identified near the middle of this map. The land was miles beyond the built-up settlement at Chicago and was used mostly for farms, pasture, and lumber.
The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
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