Village saw return on 'lending the country'

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 33

Hinsdale is a community that gives back, and that spirit can be traced to the village's early years.

In the late 19th century, residents established the Fresh Air Association to give Chicago's under-resourced women and youth a therapeutic retreat from their hardscrabble urban landscape by hosting them in more pastoral environs.

Entries in a publication of that era, "The Hinsdale Beacon," detail the founding and flourishing of the outreach effort.

"In the spring of 1888, Rev. W.C. Gannett, then pastor of the Unitarian Church at Hinsdale, proposed to his congregation to take into their homes children of the needy and deserving poor of Chicago, to be cared for one week," the paper reported. "Mr. Gannett called it 'lending the country for one week to those who knew so little of it.' The plan was to be named the 'Children's Country Week.' "

The vision was refined to "take an unoccupied house and fit it up for the reception during the summer for working girls and needy children."

Alfred Payne offered his farmhouse on what is now the southeast corner of Lincoln Street and Ogden Avenue for the cause, and the Fresh Air Association was officially formed in 1889. Local women ensured the lodging had all the necessary bedding and furnishings, along with a daily delivery of cooked food for the guests and money for incidentals. Annual so-called "Pound Parties" raised supplies with the price of admission a pound of canned goods or groceries for the home. Village physicians donated their services when health needs arose.

"From July 10 to Sept. 17, 1892, inclusive, 96 guests were received," another Beacon article stated. "Of this number, 39 were women - nearly all mothers with children; 25 girls and 32 boys."

Timothy Bakken in his book "Hinsdale" records that over 32 years, the Fresh Air Home hosted more than 4,000 guests. Augusta Loeb who worked as the matron of the facility is quoted on the salutary effects she witnessed.

"Pale and sunken cheeks become rounded and rosy. Sad and care-worn faces ... grow ... bright and cheerful with proper nourishment, pure air and additional clothing," Loeb said.

It continued to operate until about 1920. Hugh Dugan, in his retrospective "Village on the County Line," surmised that the home ultimately was discontinued because living standards "had risen to the point where the need of the particular facilities offered by the association was no longer urgent."

He praises the effort as one whose "record stands high among those of Hinsdale's useful organizations."

A portion of the house, which originally belonged to early Fullersburg settler Marvin Fox, survives as a residence today.

"Eternity alone can reveal what a blessing to poor and needy children this home has been," Loeb said.