LOST MANSIONS OF THE GOLD COAST, PART 5: THE DeKOVEN BOWEN HOUSE & THE ROBERT TODD LINCOLN HOUSE

JOSEPH T. & LOUISE DeKOVEN BOWEN HOUSE

Joseph Tilton Bowen was a local manufacturer and banker.  It’s his activist wife, Louise DeKoven Bowen, however who is the interesting partner in this coupling.  Mrs. Bowen’s history in Chicago goes back to the beginning of the city.  Her mother was born within the palisades of Fort Dearborn.  DeKoven Street, infamous due to its association with the origin of the Chicago Fire, was named after her father, John DeKoven, founder of the Northern trust Co. and the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. Louise was born in Chicago just before the Civil War and she married Joseph Bowen in 1886.

Mrs. Bowen’s list of accomplishments is impressive.  To name just a few, she was a major supporter of Hull-House and a lifelong friend of Jane Adams.  She helped establish the first juvenile court in the city, and as president of the Juvenile Court Committee she convinced the city to build the first juvenile court building and detention home.  Louise Bowen was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and in 1912 led a march of 5,000 women to the Republican National Convention at the Chicago Coliseum to demand voting privileges for women.  She helped create the Progressive Party, lobbied for better working conditions for women, and took up the cause of children’s health and morality in the urban industrial environment.

In 1912 she established the Bowen Country Club in Waukegan, named in honor of her late husband, as a place where underprivileged children could experience a healthy environment.  After Jane Adam’s death in 1935, she became the President of the Hull-House Association.  Mrs. Bowen was the first woman to receive the Rotary Club of Chicago gold medal in 1941.  She resided in her home at 1430 N. Astor Street and remained socially and politically active until her death at the age of 94.

BURLING & WHITEHOUSE

The Bowen’s 1891 home was to become the scene of many social and political gatherings. For its design they selected the architectural firm of Burling and Whitehouse.  14 years earlier Edward Burling had designed a home on north Dearborn Street for John DeKoven, Louise’s father.  Burling arrived in Chicago in 1843 at the age of 24 when the population of the city was just over 5,000.  Within a few years he had an established reputation and worked directly for William Ogden, first Mayor of the city and a self-made real estate tycoon.  Unfortunately almost all of Burling’s early work was destroyed in the Chicago Fire in 1871.

In the post fire aftermath he formed a partnership with Dankmar Adler who was later to join forces with Louis Sullivan.  The firm of Burling and Adler lasted only until 1878 after which Burling took on his final partner, Francis M. Whitehouse.  Together they built such well known buildings as the Samuel Nickerson Residence, the Church of the Epiphany on Ashland and Adams, and the Casino as well as the entry gates for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

HAUNTED HOUSE

The home designed by Burling & Whitehouse was later described by the columnist John Drury as, “suitable to their station but in no way ostentatious.”  In an interview with Mrs. Bowen given late in her life she indicated that, “The site of our house was an old graveyard from which most of the bodies had been removed.  In digging the foundations of our house, however, workmen found numerous bones.  At first we had great difficulty in getting servants because they feared our house was haunted…We insisted on very plain architecture, similar to the Colonial Style.  As this was in contrast to the more pretentious French style then ‘the rage,’ our friends at first thought our house too plain.”

After Mrs. Bowen’s death in 1953 the house was replaced by an apartment building.

ROBERT TODD LINCOLN HOUSE

Robert Todd Lincoln was the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.  He came to Chicago with his mother and youngest brother in 1865 shortly after the assignation of his father.  After completing his studies at the University of Chicago, Robert became a lawyer in 1867, married, and continued to practice in Chicago where he began to establish connections with the Pullman Company.

He was appointed Secretary of War by President Garfield and served in that capacity from 1881 to 1885.  Ironically and tragically he was an eyewitness to the assassination of President Garfield in 1881.

In 1887 he worked with his friend Oscar Dudley to establish the Illinois Industrial Training School for Boys, which is now known as the Glenwood Academy.  In 1889 Robert accepted another political appointment, this time from Benjamin Harrison, as U.S. Minister to the United Kingdom.  After completing his service in 1893 he returned to Chicago and built a house at 1234 N. Lake Shore Drive which he and his family occupied for the next 18 years.

SOLON S. BEMAN

Upon his return to Chicago in 1893, Robert developed an even closer relationship with the Pullman Company and upon the death of George Pullman in 1897 Robert became the President of the company, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1906 whereupon he became the chairman of the board.  It should come as no surprise that Robert chose Solon S. Beman as the architect for his new three-story brick and brownstone home.  (For a brief history of Beman see Blog 3)

Notwithstanding his public service, Robert was a reticent man and eschewed a public life.  The house was described as “plain but dignified” which suited his temperament.  It was demolished in 1959.