Friday, February 20, 2015

William J. Chalmers House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [William J. Chalmers House (1885) Treat & Foltz, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When I was a kid, we used to spend a part of our summer vacation on our grandparent's farm in Kansas. They were weeks of fun-filled, action-packed adventures that were quite different from the typical, summer routine of our big city neighborhood. One year, when I was maybe 11-years-old, I got to drive my Grandfather's tractor in the big, gravel driveway out in front of the barn. It made a huge impression. The tractor had been there year after year, it's orange color faded and worn, with "Allis-Chalmers" painted in big, black letters along it's long, front engine cover. It's a two-word combination that for some reason has stuck with me. I'll never forget it.

  [William J. Chalmers House, 315 S. Ashland Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago desingnslinger]

The man who built this imposing, rough-hewned, brown stone house was William J. Chalmers, the Chalmers in Allis. His father Thomas was a pioneer Chicagoan who owned a large manufacturing plant in Chicago that made mining machinery and boilers. In the mid-1880s when William built the house, Fraser & Thomas was one of the largest machine manufacturers in the world, and one of Chicago's largest employers. In 1901, Fraser & Chalmers merged with Edward P. Allis & Co. of Milwaukee, and Allis-Chalmers was born.

  [William J. Chalmers House, West Jackson Boulevard National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architects Treat & Foltz's 15-room mansion, with a ballroom on the third floor, fit perfectly into what was then a very fashionable Chicago neighborhood. Mayor Carter H. Harrison, Sr. lived in a large home directly across the street, and William's wife Joan, daughter of detective agency owner Allan Pinkerton, grew up in a big house up the street. Ashland Boulevard was a many-mansion lined avenue back in those days. Apparently Thomas Chalmers was so impressed with his son's house that in 1887 he hired the architects to design a substantial home for himself, which looked a lot like William's, half-a-block away. William Chalmers sold his house in 1897, and today is the sole survivor of that many-roomed, servant filled, ballroom dancing era. 

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