William McCormick Blair House
[William McCormick Blair House (1916) Arthur Heun, architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
This rather unassuming, sedate, Georgian/Federal style single family home may not look like much from the outside but the builder's family had a long history in Chicago, from its beginnings as a remote fort outpost to its transformation into a major metropolis. The marriage of William McCormick Blair and Helen Hadduck Bowen joined two pioneer families into one union, and one house, on the Gold Coast's mansion-lined Astor Street. Designed by Arthur Heun in 1916, the 14,000 square foot house saw over 10,000 supporters of Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson come to its doorstep on the night of July 26, 1952, where the Democrat made a short speech from the front steps of the mansion before heading off to the Chicago Amphitheater to accept his party's nomination for President of the United States. Helen and William called 1416 Astor "home" until her death in 1972, and his demise in 1982 at the age of 97. But we cannot just tell you the story of this house with talking a little bit about Helen's mother Louise de Koven Bowen, who had the McCormick Blair house built, and who also happened to live next door.
[William McCormick Blair House, 1416 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Louise de Koven mother's Helen Hadduck was born inside the timber walls of the original Fort Dearborn - which stood at today's intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive - before there was a city, town or even a village called Chicago. Louise's father John de Koven had come to the young city of Chicago in 1856, married Helen, and became a rich and well connected businessman. Louise herself went on to marry Joseph T. Bowen a wealthy businessman like her father, and in 1891 built one of the first houses to rise on Astor Street. This prime section of the Gold Coast had once been part of the old Catholic Cemetery, and when the Church relocated the graves and began to develop the land into residential lots the Bowens were one of the first to sign on the dotted line.
[William McCormick Blair House /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The wall you can still see today running along the Blair side yard was once the connecting line between the two houses. When the Bowen's daughter Helen married the young William McCormick Blair of the McCormick reaper family, Louise and Joseph built the a house next door to theirs for the newlyweds, separated by a shared yard and concealed behind a conjoining brick wall. After Louise's death in 1953 at the age of 94, her children sold her house to a developer who intended to demolish the Bowen mansion and build a multi-story apartment building on the site. It took almost 20 years for that to happen, but in 1972 a large, hulking concrete mass of a structure rose-up over the McCormick Blair's yard, casting it forever into deep shadow. Just 3 years later, in 1975, Astor Street became a historic district - a designation that might have prevented the Bowen house from being torn down.
See the first house built on the grounds of the former Catholic Cemetery at: It's Good to be Cardinal.