Double Prairie House on Ridge

This article was published on June 20, 2022 on the Evanston Roundtable, one of our series “Evanston Dimensions | Ask the historians”

by Kris Hartzell and Jenny Thompson, PhD                         

1313 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, June 2022. The year 2022 marks the 125th anniversary of the house’s construction. The house was converted into a single family house c. 2010. Today, its address is 1313 Ridge Ave. The house’s original address was 1307-1309 Ridge Ave. (Photograph by Jenny Thompson.)

Double Prairie House on the Ridge

For more than a century, the house at 1307 Ridge Avenue (now 1313 Ridge) was, in fact, a “double house.” Two large and separate residences comprised the structure. It was completed in 1897 and designated with two separate street addresses: 1307 and 1309 Ridge Ave. The double house was built for Evanston resident Catharine M. White (1833 –1899) and designed by Evanston architect Myron Hunt (1868-1952).

Postcard, Ridge Avenue, c. 1907. The fence and entry to James A. Patten’s mansion, built in 1901, is pictured on the left. Patten was nicknamed the “Wheat King” after he cornered the wheat, corn, oats, and cotton markets and made a fortune. (Image from the Evanston History Center.)

On the Ridge

Wealthier families built their mansions on the ridge. Not that they did not appreciate the beauties of the lake, but in a day when tuberculosis was so common, they feared the harmful effects of the lake air.

  • Margery Blair Perkins, author of Evanston: A Tour of the City’s History

Ridge Avenue is so named because it lies along a geological ridge left by the retreating glacial Lake Chicago, today’s Lake Michigan. One either side of the ridge were low-lying wetlands, making the high ground of the ridge a natural travel route and settlement site for Indigenous Peoples. The earliest white residents on Ridge, the Mulfords, named their property Ridgeville, and that name was also given to the community that predated the founding of Evanston.

By the time the house at 1307-1309 Ridge Avenue was built in 1897, wealthy, white Evanston residents had been constructing large homes for themselves along the portion of Ridge Avenue that extends south from Emerson Street for decades. The earliest homes on the ridge had been modest structures, but these were soon replaced by elaborate houses and mansions, designed by some of the area’s most prominent architects.

In 1890, Evanston city officials passed an ordinance to have Ridge Avenue paved. In 1901, after receiving a petition from 2/3 of the landowners along Ridge, they designated the street a “pleasure drive” and pledged funds to “improve and maintain” it as such. (Part of the designation meant that thereafter, the avenue was strictly for pleasure driving and “no omnibus, wagon, cart, dray, truck or other vehicle carrying goods, merchandise or wares” were allowed to use the avenue.[1])

The large homes on Ridge were built on expansive lots and were set back from the street, affording large and lush natural settings surrounding them. By the turn of the 20th century, Ridge Avenue became known as “the aristocratic street of the north shore suburb.”[2] Some of the city’s most powerful residents chose to live there.

Patten house, 1426 Ridge Ave, Evanston, n.d. (Photo from Evanston History Center.)

The Rew family, for example, built their house at 1128 Ridge Ave (still extant) after moving to Evanston from Chicago’s fashionable Prairie Ave in 1897. Others on the ridge included James A. Patten (1852-1928), director of the Chicago Board of Trade, Evanston mayor, and self-described “capitalist.” His half-million dollar mansion was located at 1426 Ridge and completed just four years after White’s double house was finished. (The Patten house is no longer extant, but the iron and stone fence remains and is a designated landmark.)

The long and wide lawns of Ridge Avenue. The avenue was often referred to as “Ridge Boulevard” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Looking north on Ridge from Davis Street, 1887. Photograph by Alexander Hesler.

The double house built for Catherine White on Ridge Avenue proved to be one in a long line of residences built by prosperous and powerful residents, beginning in Evanston’s earliest days.

Catherine White’s husband, Hugh Alexander White (1830-1894), was a successful lawyer who also served on Evanston’s board of trustees. The Whites established themselves on Ridge Ave right after the American Civil War and just a few years after Evanston had been incorporated. They purchased a sizable amount of land in Evanston, and in 1867, built an Italianate house at 1407 Ridge Ave where they lived for many years.

The Whites were actively involved in the “church, school, and charity circles of Evanston.” They were members and founders of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, located just blocks away from their own home at 1509 Ridge (completed in 1891). Catherine White was said to be “a firm friend of Northwestern University and did much for that institution.”[3]

1407 Ridge Ave in Evanston. The house was built in 1867 for Hugh and Catherine White. The Whites owned land on Ridge Ave bound by Ridge Ave, Oak Street, Greenwood Street, and Dempster Street. (Photo from Evanston History Center.)

When Hugh White died in 1894, he left his entire estate to his wife. Soon after, Catharine White’s two sisters, Maria Foster and Susannah Hurd, who both lived in Evanston, also died. Shortly after suffering so many losses, White, who was reportedly not in good health at the time, commissioned the construction of the double house on Ridge. The plan was that she would occupy one residence (1309 Ridge) and her late sister’s daughter and family would occupy the other (1307 Ridge).

Catherine’s sister Maria had been married to lumber magnate, Ambrose Foster, who also served as Evanston’s treasurer. They had built a large Italianate house on the southeast corner of Ridge Avenue and Lake Street (no longer extant). In 1897, Maria’s daughter, Alice Foster Zook, her husband David Zook, and their children soon took up residence in the new double home on Ridge Ave.

In making the plans for her new home, Catherine may have been inspired by her brother-in-law, Harvey.

Catherine White’s sister, Susannah, was married to Harvey Bostwick Hurd (1828-1906), a powerful judge and attorney who was well known in both Chicago and throughout Illinois. Hurd came to Illinois in 1846. He soon moved to Evanston and had a house constructed on Ridge Ave. In 1863, he was elected the first president of Evanston’s board of trustees. (He was also one of the founders of the Evanston Historical Society in 1898, now known as the Evanston History Center.)

Completed in 1855, this house on Ridge Avenue, located at the southwest corner of Davis Street, was the first Evanston home of Harvey Hurd. It was one of the early mansions to be built along Ridge Ave, and it would soon be followed by many more. (Photo from Evanston History Center.)

Hurd owned much of the land now defined by the Ridge Historic District. He and his descendants built many of the houses that contribute to the landmark designation. Hurd hired architect Myron Hunt, who lived in the district, to design three double houses on Ashland Ave for speculation. He sold three lots to World’s Columbian Exposition director Harlow Higginbotham, who also hired Hunt to design speculative houses. When Catherine White was ready to build a house on Ridge, she commissioned Hunt to design a double house for her.

1600-1602 Ashland Avenue, one of several Evanston houses commissioned by Harvey Hurd and designed by Myron Hunt. It was completed in 1896, the same year Hurd’s wife, (Catherine White’s sister) Susannah, died. (Photograph by Jenny Thompson.)

Catherine White died just two years after her new house was completed. Upon her death, the value of her estate was estimated at $500,000. She bequeathed portions of her wealth to Northwestern University and the University of Chicago to establish scholarships. To the Art Institute of Chicago, she left a number of art works from her private collection; money to establish scholarships; and real estate in Evanston and Chicago. She was buried at Rosehill cemetery in Chicago.[4]

Over the following years, new residents would occupy the double house, including two families whose dispute over the house’s driveway made headlines in 1915. (See below.)

1313 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, June 2022. (Photograph by Jenny Thompson.)

The Design of 1307-1309 Ridge Avenue

The distinctive house at 1313 Ridge Avenue represents the evolution of Prairie School architecture and the important contribution of a forgotten Evanston architect, Myron Hunt. This is Hunt’s most notable design, boldly demonstrating many of the style’s defining characteristics. It stands as a reminder of the many architects that helped create the progressive architecture that came to be known as the Prairie School.

Myron Hubbard Hunt, Architectural Record, February 1905.

Myron Hubbard Hunt (1868-1952) was raised in Lakeview, Illinois, and attended Northwestern University before transferring to MIT for a degree in architecture, graduating in 1893. He married Harriette Boardman and returned to Evanston to start his career. After a few years with Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, designers of the Chicago Art Institute and the Chicago Public Library buildings, he opened an independent practice. He joined his friend and fellow architect Dwight Perkins in the top floor studios at Steinway Hall, designed by Perkins, who also invited Robert Spencer and another young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The four architects shared a large drafting room and developed a collaborative fellowship that conceived a new, modern form of architecture.

The objective of these young architects was to depart from the elaborate designs of the popular Queen Anne style, to distill architecture down to a modern, elemental expression of the structure, without gratuitous ornamentation or references to historic classical traditions. The Arts & Crafts movement, with its emphasis on a return to medieval craftsmanship and empathy with nature, played an influential role in the emergence of the Prairie School. A primary objective was to have the building visually relate to the landscape, to harmonize with its site.

Hunt was active in Evanston and Chicago organizations. He was a member of the Chicago Architectural Club and he and Harriette were founding members of the Arts & Crafts Society. He connected with most of his clients through his many associations and designed nearly 30 buildings in Evanston. His first design was in 1895 for Charles Wightman, whom he had known from Northwestern University. He lived on Wesley, just one block from Harvey Hurd, who was developing the surrounding area just west of Ridge Avenue. Hunt’s career grew quickly as his Evanston designs began to appear.

This house at 1307- 1309 Ridge sits at the height of the long, horizontal line of the ridge. At the time it was built, Dempster Street ended at Ridge Avenue and picked up again at Asbury, leaving an open natural vista from the west. The lateral plan stretches along the site. The house is defined by the dominant hipped roof that spans the main mass with wide, slightly flared eaves extending out over the second floor windows. A limestone belt course wraps the house at the level of the second floor window sills which serves to visually compress the second floor between the course and the roof, minimizing the height of the second floor and enhancing the horizontality of the building.

The plan of the house follows the plan Hunt designed for his own house at 1627 Wesley, but here he paired it with a mirror image to form a double house. The open two-level loggia serves to connect the halves and is said to have been inspired by the noted Stoughton House by H. H. Richardson in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hunt unifies the exterior in a subtle variety of brick colors, giving it a consistent but textured appearance, another departure from the multiplicity of materials typical of the Queen Anne. Hunt often used the emphatic timber brackets, recalling medieval hand-hewn construction, and expressing the structure without being superfluous ornament. Other examples in Evanston are his apartment building at 1745 Orrington Ave. (1900) and the house at 429 Lee Street (1897).

429 Lee Street, Evanston. The house was designed by Myron Hunt and completed in 1897, the same year White’s double house was finished. (Photograph by Kris Hartzell.)

1627 Wesley Avenue, Evanston. Myron Hunt designed this house for his wife Harriette Boardman Hunt. (Photograph by Jenny Thompson.)

Myron, Harriette and their three children moved to Southern California in 1903 for Harriette’s health. There Hunt would go on to have an illustrious career designing hundreds of iconic buildings, including several college campuses, the Pasadena Public Library, the Huntington Mansion and Library, and the Rose Bowl stadium. He is credited with helping to establish the vernacular Spanish Mission style that came to dominate Southern California architecture. One cannot help but wonder what Evanston’s built environment and the ultimate culmination of the Prairie School would look like today had Hunt stayed and continued to create here. His early contribution is often overlooked in the legacy of the Prairie School, but this house stands as a reminder of his significant influence.

Myron Hunt, n.d. (Photo from Boys Republic.)

In 1907, a porch designed by architect Ernest Mayo was constructed at 1307 Ridge. (Photo from Evanston History Center.)

The house on Ridge, featured in The House Beautiful, May 1904.

A Double House and a Double Narrative

Over the years there have been, in a sense, two narratives attached to the double house on Ridge: One was a story related to the house’s architect and design. In numerous publications, including The House Beautiful, Hunt and his design were featured and praised. “In Evanston, the unannexable and aristocratic North Shore suburb of Chicago,” wrote an architectural critic in 1903, “Myron Hunt has done several notably good brick buildings, of these the most interesting and picturesque is the double house on Ridge Ave . . . Here, certainly, is a good house without architectural ornament, serving all the better as a foil for the drooping sprays from the flower boxes behind the balcony rail.”[5]

The second narrative related to some of the people who lived in the house over the years. As Ridge Avenue became well known as an area populated by wealthy and influential Evanston residents, the stories surrounding the lives of some of those residents captivated the public’s attention. Stories highlighting their grand social life – the banquets, weddings, parties, charity events, lawn fetes, and recitals that were often hosted at their homes – appeared frequently in the press.

Also captivating to the public were stories of missteps, disputes, and other less glamorous happenings related to Ridge Avenue residents. When, in 1906, David Zook, resident of 1307 Ridge, appeared in an Evanston court charged with speeding, the story was recounted in the local papers. Zook, it turns out, was an attorney who had been “prominent” in fighting to keep Evanston’s speed limit at 12 miles per hour. In court, he pleaded guilty to traveling at a rate of 17 miles per hour and paid a 10 dollar fine.[6]

A few years later, the papers reported on a mini-drama taking place on Ridge Ave:

“The driveway at 1307-1309 Ridge Ave,” reported the Chicago Tribune in September 1915, “is arranged like this: You drive in on the prong of a horseshoe at 1307, follow the curve, transact your affairs, and drive out the other prong, which exits at 1309. That is to say, you would have done this sometime ago. But now when you arrive at the deep center of the horseshoe you stop. Why? Because there is an iron chain across the drive that prevents further progress.”[7]

The Double House Divided, 1307-1309 Ridge Ave. The arrow indicates the location of the chain. Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1915.

The chain had been drawn across the horseshoe driveway by Mabel Patterson (1309 Ridge) who reportedly did not want her neighbors, Charles E. Yerkes and family (1307 Ridge), driving their car straight through the drive. (Yerkes was the son of Chicago transportation tycoon, Charles T. Yerkes (1837-1905). As curious Evanston residents stopped by to view what became known as the “spite barricade,” rumors flew that the Pattersons had erected the barricade out of jealousy. The Pattersons did not have an automobile, as the Yerkes had, some said. Patterson issued a response: they did indeed have their own “machine” and they also employed a chauffeur. The Yerkes issued their response: they filed suit against the Pattersons to have the barricade removed.[8]

Close up of the cause of dispute: the chain across the driveway at 1307-1309 Ridge.

Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1915.

Detail of the 1921 zoning map, Evanston, Illinois. The Ridge Ave neighborhood described here (and designated by the white areas on the map) was zoned as an “A” residence district. Only single family dwellings, churches and temples, libraries, schools and colleges, and farming and truck gardening were allowed in an “A” district.[9] The areas zoned “A” were of lower density and had larger residential lots. The areas were also majority white neighborhoods.

In the first decades of the 20th century, Evanston was becoming sharply segregated by race. The Ridge Avenue neighborhood described here reflected the image of a city divided not only by race but also by class; the home owners and majority of residents in the Ridge Ave neighborhood described here were white and wealthy. Just after World War I, “help wanted” advertisements that appeared in local newspapers would begin to bar Black workers from some domestic jobs in the neighborhood, including those offered at 1307 Ridge and at the neighboring house at 1333 Ridge. By 1921, the city’s first zoning ordinance was adopted which reinforced and intensified racial segregation in Evanston.

Help Wanted, Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1925.

 Help Wanted, Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1919.

Over time, the large homes of the 19th century were seen by some as unfashionable and impractical; by World War II, many viewed them as dinosaurs and developers eyed their large lots with eagerness. Expensive to heat, difficult to maintain, many of the mansions went the way of the “wrecking ball,” as did James Patten’s mansion in 1938.  

A number of the 19th century mansions on Ridge Avenue are now gone. In some cases, lots have been subdivided and a number of new homes have been built on property that once only boasted a single house. Other kinds of structures also began to dot the avenue, now a busy thoroughfare through Evanston. Apartment houses, office buildings, and headquarters have now taken their place on the ridge.

Razing along the Ridge: Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1938.

In 1983, local residents successfully applied to have the Ridge Historic District added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (It is one of four national historic districts in Evanston. The others are the Northeast, Lakeshore and Oakton historic districts.) The Ridge Historic District (roughly) includes Ridge Avenue from Main Street on the south to Emerson Street on the north, and several surrounding streets. You can read more about the district and access the nomination form here: https://www.cityofevanston.org/government/departments/community-development/planning-zoning/historic-preservation                         


[1] In 1892 city council members voted to apply the “pleasure drive” designation to Ridge Avenue south of Crain Street. In 1901 an ordinance extended the designation to cover the portion of Ridge all the way north to Ridge’s “connection with Sheridan road.” Some exceptions were made to the pleasure drive ordinance, including allowing use of the avenue for construction and repair work along Ridge, and for “wagons and other vehicles carrying goods, merchandise or articles to and from any house or premises” along Ridge. But they were required to access Ridge by using the cross street closest to their destination. City Council of Evanston, The Evanston Code of 1915 (Evanston: Burns, et al, 1915), 1140-1142.

[2] Robert C. Spencer, Jr. “Brick Architecture In and About Chicago,” The Brickbuilder, November 1903.

[3] “Bequest for Art is $200,000,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1899.

[4] The Collector and Art Critic, Vol. 1, No. 5 (Jul. 1, 1899), 71-74; The Collections Illustrated: With a Historical Sketch and Description of the Museum (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1910), 31; “Property for the Art Institute,” The Inter Ocean, September 30, 1906.

[5] Robert C. Spencer, Jr. “Brick Architecture In and About Chicago,” The Brickbuilder, November 1903.

[6] “Speeder Makes Court Show Him; Pays Fine,” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1906.

[7] “All About Two Little Chains,” Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1915.

[8] “The Horseshoe Far From Lucky,” Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1915.

[9] City of Evanston, “Zoning Ordinance, Evanston, Illinois,” 1921, 4.