Vine Street home winds back the clock

Once owned by a local grocer, the unassuming 19th-century treasure stocks up on charm

Series: Hinsdale legacies | Story 11

In Hinsdale's early days, residents regularly bought their groceries during trips to Chicago because of limited options in the fledgling village. "But that was just before the Fox & Davis store opened its doors (in 1892) and began selling flour at $3.40 a barrel, butter for 24 cents a pound, and three boxes of Frazer's axle grease for 21 cents," chronicles Hugh Dugan in his book "Village on the County Line."

The store was located on the southwest corner of Washington and Hinsdale streets and, after locking up for the night and bidding farewell to partner Heman Fox, Edgar Davis had only about a 10-minute walk to his home at 132 N. Vine St.

The cozy farmhouse still stands where it was built in 1882 by O.J. Stough, a real estate speculator responsible for developing much of the village's northwest section. Edgar's wife Alice purchased it in 1887. More than 130 years later, Kate Schwendener and John Pienta have made it their domicile, enchanted by the vintage character and proximity to downtown.

The couple was living in Chicago and had just signed a lease on a La Grange apartment in late 2021 when Schwendener saw the for sale sign driving home from, fittingly, a grocery run at Kramer Foods.

"I pulled over and was just like, "That's a beautiful house - we need it!' "

Pienta sensed from Schwendener that this was worth pursuing.

"Well, we're breaking that (lease)," he quipped of his reaction. "Just to be so close to town, that was a deal sealer for us."

They learned that the sellers had received an offer to tear it down.

"We didn't want that to happen," Schwendener said. "We had a saver."

Next door is another vestige from the past setting up a tantalizing scenario for redevelopment.

"Our big concern was that the two houses would get knocked down and they'd make another super-home," Pienta remarked.

Walking up to the house, one notices the decorative roof line, a hallmark of that era. A half-porch greets visitors, along with a stunning stained glass window framing the house number in the front door, designed with old world craftsmanship. Inside, the front living room exudes warmth with well-preserved hardwood floors, classic molding around the doorways and a fireplace as the focal piece.

"This is an old-school mudroom," Pienta said, walking across the hall. A powder room is tucked on the other side. Upstairs are three bedrooms and a full bath, which was likely the home's only bathroom before a reconfiguring in the 1960s.

The archives at the Hinsdale Historical Society reveal that the home originally had no front porch and that the front door was located south of its present location. But otherwise it retains much of its heritage.

"I just like that it's small and quaint," Schwendener said of the home. "It's the perfect size for the two of us."

Davis was part of the Fuller family tree, which reached back to the area's earliest settlement, and a grandson of Sam Davis, the mason responsible for the Graue Mill brickwork. A grocer by trade, he actually was from Minnesota, as historian Mary Sterling notes in her book "Hinsdale's Historic Homes."

His venture with Fox was officially named the Hinsdale Cash Store, but patrons called it "Fox & Davis" after the proprietors.

The store specialized in goods catering to the town's growing German immigrant community, according to Timothy Bakken in his book "Hinsdale," stocking "such nostril-tickling delicacies as herring, limberger (sic) cheese and cabbage, foods that necessarily wouldn't have been found in an other Hinsdale store."

He also was apparently known for his thriftiness.

"Edgar knew how to handle a dollar, too, and in his years of association with Heman had earned a nickname which punned on their partnership - 'Foxy Davis.' " Bakken records.

After the duo sold the store in 1911, Davis got a job in the clerical department of the CB&Q Railroad. His year of death isn't clear, but Alice Davis continued to own the home until her death in 1940. It passed to their step-grandson, Edgar Berlin and his wife, and subsequently to Edgar and Alice Davis' daughter Mabel, who died in 1970.

The low positioning of doorknobs show how average heights have risen over the centuries, and the cellar's low ceilings suggest it was never meant to be finished.

Schwendener and Pienta enjoy gardening and pouring fresh energy into this gem of yesteryear. They're gratified when neighbors express appreciation that the home lives on.

"It has a lot of personality," Pienta said. "We're honored to be the caretakers."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean