Early Hinsdale thrives in Robbins Park

Neighborhood retains the charm that first attracted residents to town 150 years ago

Series: Quintessential Hinsdale | Story 5

The picturesque neighborhood known as Robbins Park has been part of Hinsdale since the beginning and remains home to some of the village's most historically significant homes, three of which have been owned by preservation enthusiast Mimi Collins.

"I've restored them all," Collins said of the trio of houses, all of which were among the 139 homes considered "significant" in the village's efforts to have the neighborhood declared a National Register Historic District in 2007. Along with the downtown area, Robbins Park is one of two areas of the village to earn the national recognition.

Bordered by Garfield Street on the west, County Line Road on the east, Eighth Street on the South and the railroad tracks to the north, Robbins Park consists of 475 homes, about 300 of which were built more than 65 years ago. Many date back to the mid to late 1800s. Within the historic neighborhood are two properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Seven Robbins Park homes have received Hinsdale Historic Landmark Designation.

After restoring and living in the homes at 518 S. Garfield and 46 S. County Line Road, Collins said she purchased her current house at 420 S. Park in 2021. After nearly two years of work, she only recently moved in.

"It's kind of the grand old lady," Collins said of the French eclectic designed by architect Alfred Foster Pashley. Built in the 1920s, the home replaced the original house, which fell to a fire.

With each of her homes, Collins said she takes care to preserve the building's historical character and significance while making it functional in today's world with up-to-date kitchens and workable floor plans.

"A lot of people didn't see the potential," Collins said of her home on Park, which was on the market for several years before she purchased the house.

She will open the doors to her newly restored home for a Hinsdale Historical Society fundraiser in October, in hopes of showing people what can be done to preserve the village's most historic homes.

"I want to encourage preservation in our town. It's what makes Hinsdale so special," Collins said.

Hinsdalean John Bohnen has lived in the village since 1947 and has owned two homes in the area known as Robbins Park. The first, which he purchased and sold after its restoration was complete, was at 5th and Garfield.

"I was looking for another property when we came upon this one," Bohnen said of the home at 230 E. First Street. Built in 1898, it's among the oldest in the neighborhood and includes a large main residence and 1,800-square-foot carriage house. The home was built by Frank Butler, father of Oak Brook founder Paul Butler, Bohnen said.

Bohnen said work on the home began soon after he purchased it in 1975. His latest project was finished just weeks ago.

"I'm not done," Bohnen said, noting that with large, old houses, there's always something in need of repair, maintenance or updating.

Bohnen's commitment to preserving the village's historically significant homes blossomed beyond home ownership about 30 years ago, when developers and homeowners began tearing down houses, some of which had historical value, to make room for new builds.

"We had limited ability to slow down the teardown phenomenon through legislation," Bohnen said. That led him to get involved with local government and the Historic Preservation Commission.

The Commission helped to redesign the zoning code to protect historic properties like those in Robbins Park and to offer "a cornucopia of incentives" for homeowners to repair and restore rather than tear down and replace, Bohnen said.

"It's been received overwhelmingly by the village," he said. In the last two months alone, between 60 and 70 homeowners have applied for incentives designed to protect Hinsdale's oldest homes, Bohnen said.

"I think we may have turned a corner when tradition is being valued again," he said.

As one of the oldest neighborhoods in town, Robbins Park also offers some of the village's largest lots and the few remaining brick streets.

Among the historically significant homes in the neighborhood is the one that was once home to Williams Robbins himself. Robbins is credited with founding the village and designing the curving streets and tree-lined medians that are still part of Robbins Park today. The house at 425 E. Sixth was built in 1864 and was nicknamed "Woodside," according to author Sandy Williams' account in "Images of America - Hinsdale."

Prior to Robbins' vision for the neighborhood now named in his honor, the area south of Sixth Street was largely an orchard, Bohnen said. Later, it was covered in greenhouses used to grow cut flowers.

"You still to this day will find chards of glass from those greenhouses in peoples' yards," Bohnen said.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean