Historical societies perform a balancing act between preserving a community's past while connecting the threads to the current social fabric. This is the second in our two-part series on historical societies in Chicago and the suburbs.
Ridge Historical Society
On the far south end of Chicago, Ridge Historical Society works to preserve the history of the Beverly Hills, Mount Greenwood, Morgan Park and Washington Heights neighborhoods, which themselves contain four historic districts, including the Ridge Historic District, one of the largest urban districts in the National Register of Historic Places.
Housed in the picturesque hilltop 1922 Graver-Driscoll House, designed by architect John Todd Hetherington for the Graver family and donated in 1972 by James Driscoll, the Ridge Historical Society maintains archives and a research room as well as ongoing exhibits and public programs. The society also provides maps and guide booklets that will take you up and down "the Ridge," which, thanks to ancient glaciers, rises 30-60 feet above the rest of the city.
Edris Hoover, president of the Ridge Historical Society, notes that it's not just the classic homes and vintage train stations in the area that draw interest; it's the story of who moved in and when, particularly in Morgan Park, which has long had large concentrations of African-American and Irish-American residents.
"One of the topics that seems to be very popular with college students is the growth and transition of this community during the 1960s and '70s and what steps were taken to make this a diverse and stable community," Hoover says.
10621 S. Seeley Ave.; 773-881-1675 or ridgehistoricalsociety.org. Open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. or by appointment.
Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest
Architectural gems from Frank Lloyd Wright and the boyhood home of Ernest Hemingway draw the largest share of attention in the sister communities of Oak Park and River Forest, but Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, notes that the towns have been at the crossroads of several social changes.
Housed in the historic Pleasant Home — though plans are afoot to relocate to an expanded facility — the society's collection, according to Lipo, includes such disparate items as banners from a protest against discriminatory housing policies (Oak Park passed a fair housing ordinance in 1968) to the less-honorable charter and records of the Walosas Club, a women's chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Oak Park founded in part to protest the influx of Catholics.
Aside from Wright and Hemingway, Lipo calls attention to other prominent residents, including "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. But famous folks aren't the only people who matter to Lipo.
"Community is the overlapping layers of history," he says. "It's not just the treaty dates or the traditionally great men or women. It's about the range of things that people do with their lives."
217 Home Ave., Oak Park; 708-848-6755 or oprfhistory.org. Tours Thursday to Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., research hours by appointment.
Norwood Park Historical Society
Quick: What is the oldest standing building in the city of Chicago? If you answered the Clarke House (built in 1836 as part of the historic Prairie Avenue district), you'd be close — but wrong. In fact, it's the Noble-Seymour-Crippen house on Newark Avenue in the northwest community of Norwood Park, which now houses the Norwood Park Historical Society. (Clarke House may win on a technicality, since Norwood Park wasn't annexed to Chicago until 1893.)
Society historian Anne Lunde notes that the house was built in 1833 by Mark Noble, who lived for a time in the cabin of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the first non-Native American resident of Chicago. The house, like the Ridge Historic District, occupies a rise created by an old glacial moraine, and each of the residents whose names grace the building reflects a particular chapter in local history, from early farming to a separate community to part of Chicago itself.
In addition to exhibits in the historic home, Lunde says the society also offers public programs, including a "House History and Renovator Resource Day" on April 27.
5624 N. Newark Ave.; 773-631-4633 or norwoodparkhistoricalsociety.org. Tours Saturday noon-4 p.m. or by appointment.
Arlington Heights Historical Society
Society coordinator Teri Ozawa says that Arlington Heights Historical Society, housed in five buildings near downtown at Vail and Fremont, is "one of those hidden treasures in open view." The buildings all connect to the family of soda entrepreneur F.W. Muller, who was also, according to Ozawa, instrumental in bringing the railroad to Arlington Park racetrack, "which in turn promoted the growth of Arlington Heights to the size it is today."
However, it's the large collection of antique dolls — more than 1,000 donated by early resident Martha Mills — that draws a lot of out-of-town interest. (The museum's collection will be featured in an exhibit opening May 25, "A Kid at Heart: Looking at Childhood Play.") And though the Muller compound offers plenty of vintage charm of its own, the society also presents an annual House Walk and Tea featuring other notable Arlington Heights home; this year it's scheduled for June 9.
110 W. Fremont St., Arlington Heights; 847-255-1225 or ahmuseum.org. Museum tours Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. or by appointment for groups.