Legacy on Lincoln on trove of treasures

Craftsman residence was on leading edge of Hinsdale's expansion in early 20th century

Series: Hinsdale legacies | Story 9

What lay beneath the stairs at 510 N. Lincoln St.?

No beasts, thankfully. But when workers replaced the front and side outdoor steps of the 1911 Craftsman home last December, the excavation yielded beer bottles and a shriveled piece of leather that turned out to be a shoe. Such clues to a bygone era only serve to augment features like the cross-gabled roof, radiator-adorned rooms and rich, well-preserved millwork that stoke owner Katie Gjeldum's passion for vintage properties.

"I just love old homes mainly because they're so unique," she said. "They just have so much character, and nobody else has this house." She and husband Dan bought the home 10 years ago, leaving behind a 1906 Victorian in Chicago to raise their family in Hinsdale. Builders eager to redevelop the lot were already circling by the time the Gjeldums submitted their offer.

"I just knew that I loved the house, and I really, really wanted it," said Katie, who assured the sellers it wouldn't be torn down. "They picked us because they wanted to save the house."

A welcoming porch that spans the facade greets visitors. Original jade-green and rust hexagon tiles in the front entry offer more evidence that this is a special specimen.

The house was built for Ezra and Elizabeth Herr on land once owned by farmer Anson Ayres, who was instrumental in the village's incorporation. As photos from the era indicate, it was the first house on the block. Ezra Herr worked for the Thiel Detective Service in Chicago. Perhaps that explains the 1920 policeman's badge found in the home's walls during a renovation that predated the Gjeldums' arrival.

Craftsman was having a moment in the early part of the 20th century, and this architecture reflects the solid brick version of the style. Inside, Katie points to the windows to illustrate the sturdy, three-brick-thick construction.

"If you look at the windowsills, they're really deep," she said. "There are steel beams running the length of the house, which is very unusual. It's a solid, solid house."

Pocket doors on the first floor contribute to the house's old-world feel, as does the picture molding that remains in a couple of the rooms. But it took some elbow grease to reawaken that heritage, ripping the carpet off the hardwood floor and removing the paint off the staircase to the second floor.

"For a good two weeks, I would put my kids to bed in Chicago and I would come out here and start stripping the stairs myself," Katie said. "I would do that until about 3 o'clock in the morning. Then I would go back home, be with the kids, put them to bed, and come back here and strip."

An addition was put on the back to enlarge the kitchen and living room areas, and the staircase was reworked to access added second-floor space. That modification revealed another set of stairs that led to a small room with stained glass windows.

"There was no bathroom attached to it, but it was a little room," she said. "We're thinking that may have been servant's quarters."

Upstairs are the primary bedroom and the bedrooms for the couple's two boys and two girls: Jack, 18, Charlie, 16, Leila, 14, and Gabby, 13. Walls were moved, doorways relocated and living space added to better accommodate their needs.

"We just did a little reconfiguring in the house to make it more modern-day friendly," Katie said.

The large basement is ideal for entertaining, with surprisingly high ceilings for the era. An old root cellar is the perfect antidote for hot summer days.

Back to those unearthed bottles. Local architect Frank Gonzales, a specialist in brick and concrete masonry who oversaw the work on the Gjeldums' steps, did a some research on the bottles' origin story. Labeled "table beer," they bore the mark of the Schoenhofen Brewing Co., co-founded by Prussian immigrant Peter Schoenhofen at Canalport Avenue and 18th Street in Chicago in the early 1860s. In 1867, Schoenhofen bought out his partner, and the company

"These guys were drinking as they built the homes," Gonzales said. "All these old homes, they have a fortune to be found. If you're delicate, you'll find stuff."

And those weren't the only buried treasures. Son Charlie, with the help of his metal detector, discovered an old dumping ground the corner of the backyard.

"He started digging, and the next thing you know his hole was so big we couldn't see him in there," Katie recounted, showing off some of the collection. "He found plates, milk bottles, all kinds of weird stuff."

She said her children have grown to appreciate the uniqueness of their abode, and people who visit regularly comment on the 4,800 square feet of coziness.

"The one that I hear a lot is that it feels so warm," she said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean