Chicago’s Oldest House Renamed in Honor of Bishop Ford

By The Chicago Times Magazine

November 18, 2022

In September 2022, Alderman Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events introduced an ordinance to the City Council to rename Chicago’s oldest house.  On November 16, the City Council passed the proposed ordinance changing the Chicago landmark’s name from the Henry B. Clarke House to the Henry B. and Caroline Clarke/Bishop Louis Henry and Margaret Ford House, which will be referred to as the Clarke-Ford House.  The ordinance is an effort to recognize the contributions of Henry B. and Caroline Palmer Clarke, and the historic efforts of Bishop Louis Henry and Margaret Ford in preserving the house for future generations.  The House’s new website address is ClarkeFordHouse.org

“We are grateful to the many individuals — including the Ford family, neighborhood residents, dedicated volunteers — and community organizations who have cared for the Clarke House and advocated for its importance over so many years,” said Alderman Dowell. 

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events plans to hire a professional curator in the coming months to develop the landmark’s public programming and the Department of Assets, Information, and Services will oversee $1 million in renovations to the building’s interior and exterior, including an upgrade to the HVAC system.

The Clarke/Ford House was built in 1836 for Henry and Caroline Clarke and captures how families lived during the early days of Chicago before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  The house was declared a Chicago landmark on October 14, 1970 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 6, 1971.  Currently located at 1827 S. Indiana Avenue, the house was originally built on 20 acres of land near Michigan Avenue between 16th and 17th Street.   In 1849, after the death of her husband, Mrs. Clarke, known as the “Widow Clarke” sold 3 acres of land that originally came with the house to complete renovations.  The Widow Clarke added an elaborate back portico with Greek Doric columns that faced Lake Michigan and a new front porch to complement the newly gaslit Michigan Avenue.  By 1871, John Chrimes, a local tailor, purchased the house and moved it to 4526 S. Wabash Avenue.

In 1941, Bishop Henry Louis Ford purchased the house and would spend the next four decades renovating the residence.  Without the care and preservation provided by the Ford family, the structure would most likely have been lost to history.  The City of Chicago purchased the house in 1977 and moved it to its current Indiana Avenue location.  Nothing too difficult for Chicago, the historic house was lifted and moved over L tracks on the Englewood-Jackson Park line over a two week period.

Having survived the Great Fire of 1871 and the sands of time, the newly minted Clarke/Ford House is currently operated as a historic museum by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.  However, since September 1, 2022, house tours have been temporarily halted due to construction and public programming development.