McCormick Row House District - Phase One
by: chicago designslinger
[McCormick Row House District - Phase One (1883-1889) A.M.F. Colton, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
It takes money to operate a school. Whether in the public or private sector, or anything in between, finding enough money to keep the enterprise of education running smoothly always seems to be a challenge. Harvard just announced a capital campaign to raise $6 billion by 2018, and wealthy donors have stepped-up their educational giving recently with individual gifts in the $50 to $200 million range. When the man who changed farming forever with his mechanical reaper gave a Presbyterian theological seminary a nice chunk of change in 1859, it helped motivate the organization to relocate from Indiana to Chicago, and after their arrival in his hometown, Cyrus McCormick continued his monetarily motivated gift giving until his death 25 years later.
[McCormick Row House District - Phase One, 832-858 W. Belden Avenue, 833-927 W. Fullerton Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
McCormick's father actually invented the reaper, but the son is the one who made a fortune manufacturing and selling them. McCormick and his wife Nettie were devout Presbyterians, and after giving the seminary $100,000 in the late 1850s, the school moved to the city where the McCormick money-making machine was based. The seminary hadn't been in town too long before the city's first mayor William Ogden, and a fellow landowner named Joseph Sheffield offered the institution a 20-acre plot of land where the Presbyterians could build a campus. The gift came with the stipulation that at least one substantial structure had to be erected within a year or the gift would be withdrawn. Unfortunately the money wasn't forthcoming, and as the clock ticked toward its withdrawal date the trustees got an extension from Ogden and Sheffield, McCormick ponied-up with the cash they needed to get that first building built, and the new campus of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest was ready for occupancy in 1864. Two more buildings followed in 1872 and 1876 as enrollment increased, as the McCormick money continued to flow.
[McCormick Row House District - Phase One, Sheffield National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the late 1870s the trustees were managing a comfortable endowment garnering an annual rate of return of between 8 and 10 percent. However, given the vagaries of the market, when the rate fell to 6 percent the board came-up with a scheme that would hopefully generate a more reliable and controllable rate by investing in real estate. They were sitting on a 20-acre piece of land occupied by a small cluster of classroom and dormitory buildings facing Halsted Street at the plot's eastern edge, so why not turn some of that vacant acreage into a cash-generating proposition. On April 23, 1883 the Chicago Tribune announced that the seminary would build 60 new houses in the vicinity of their Halsted Street location and had hired prominent Chicago architect William Le Baron Jenney to draw-up plans. In turn, architect Alexander M.F. Colton would be credited with the design of a group of row houses that would face the campus' southern border along Belden Avenue, and its northern edge along Fullerton. Colton's 3-story, red brick row of conjoined homes began just west of and behind the existing Halsted Street facing structures. An initial group of five houses were built on Belden and on Fullerton, in 1881. Then over the next eight years clusters of attached houses with slight variations in rooflines and decorative ornamentation marched westward along both avenues, until the school had a total of forty-eight, income-generating rental units.
[McCormick Row House District - Phase One, Belden & Fullerton Avenues, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The trustees rented their endowment funding rows to upper-middle-class Presbyterian families - along with select members of other Protestant denominations - generating enough income to effect an annual rate of return on their investment in the ten percentile range, yet still McCormick kept on giving. After his death at the age of 75 in 1884 the trustees changed the name of their institution to the McCormick Theological Presbyterian Seminary in honor of their primary benefactor. Another group of row houses were built in the center of the campus in 1890, and starting in the mid-1960s the original school buildings facing Halsted Street were demolished along with twelve of the Belden Avenue row houses, to make way for modern, contemporary structures. By the early 1970s, the row house income could no longer help sustain an ever increasing budget deficit and the school began looking for a new partnership to keep their institution up and running. When rental residents got wind of the seminary's plans they formed the not-for-profit Seminary Townhouse Association and purchased the entire group of 54 townhouses, plus two professor's residences, for $3 million. The theologists eventually sold the remainder of the campus to DePaul University, and the McCormick Theological Seminary relocated to the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago, in a cluster of other theologically related institution.