By SUSAN O’CONNOR DAVIS
Leaving the city pavements at Twelfth Street, we struck across the prairie, with its velvety turf roads, and following the curve of the shore of Lake Michigan came to the enchanting ground of gravel ridges with deep loam hollows between which tell of receding waters. All of the ridges were decorated with oak trees and wild fruit trees and vines, with wild roses and hazel shrubbery beneath. . . . All the low land had a variety of willows, and every kind of flower that loves to have its feet in water, while the grass fields that stretched between the ridges were blue with violets.
—Annie McClure Hitchcock, “Reminiscences of Kenwood in 1859”
In 1922, Annie McClure Hitchcock was buried alongside her husband in Oak Woods Cemetery. As she left her home for the last time, the neighborhood bid a final goodbye to a woman, who for sixty years had been a force for good in the community. She was one of the last of the old pioneers of the area, and her homestead was one of the few early residences that remained relatively unchanged.
Mrs. Hitchcock had a love of the written word. The passage above, and others throughout this article, is taken from a sheaf of remembrances of her early days in Hyde Park. Her passion for recording the passage of time was no doubt instilled by her father James McClure, a builder and one of the earliest settlers in Illinois. In 1837 he brought his family, and a multitude of books, to the woods of northern Illinois by way of the Erie Canal. They were enticed to join the steady stream of western migration after learning of the “invigorating climate” of the area.
McClure constructed a two-story frame house at the edge of the woods where the prairie began, west of today’s Waukegan. Near the ten-acre farm Annie recalled a wide running river in the spring that became narrow and shallow in the fall. Wildlife abounded, hardwoods were plentiful and the wolves howled every night. There were no roads, but Indians returning on trails from Chicago where there sold their furs would ask to sleep by the kitchen fire of their hilltop home.
“There was the ploughing and sowing of the fields the building of fences, the cutting and hauling of firewood, the care of cattle and the long journeys to Chicago for every pound of flour, or sugar, or other necessity of life for the father,” Anne wrote. Her mother “made candles, cured hams, braided rugs, wove rag carpets and made and mended the clothing of the children…” As to that invigorating climate, it was fickle: “its fierce heats, its piecing winds, the deep snows often over the fence tops, the mud embargoes of the spring, the long journeys over forty miles for every comfort, from a paper of pins to a barrel of flour.”
The hardships of a lonely frontier life worsened her father’s already precarious health condition and after four years of toiling he died in 1841, leaving his wife Julia and five children. Not once had he a good harvest for all the work. Two years later the farm was put up for sale and Annie recalled, “We fled away from the tangible and intangible terrors of western frontier life, to try those of a frontier town.”
The McClure family moved their belongings and books to a cottage at the corner of Jackson and Sherman Streets where they lived until the land was sold for construction of the Michigan Southern Railroad terminal. Today the Board of Trade stands on the site. The McClure’s then settled on the near west side, a block away from the city’s first high school where Annie continued her education.
At this very time, Charles Hitchcock was opening his law practice in the young city. How Annie met the dashing man twelve years her senior is not known. Harvard educated, Charles arrived in Chicago in 1854, attracted by the opportunities found I the burgeoning city. But we do know this; it was in the company of Charles and her childhood friend Marion Heald (and Marion’s future husband, attorney Marland Leslie Perkins) that Hitchcock first laid eyes upon the land she would occupy until her death.
It was a glorious afternoon in 1859 when Annie McClure’s close friends, all busily planning their futures, rode southward out of the city. Annie recalled that afternoon Charles pointed out “in a most casual and modest way, the roof of a wooden house, rising above a thick grove of oaks as the only house and land he owned, but it was too far from business.”
On July 10th of the following year, they were married in Chicago’s Second Presbyterian Church. Not long after the wedding, the Hitchcock’s gave up their city residence and came to live in Kenwood, on three acres of land south of 47th Street at Greenwood Avenue. Just to the north they owned an additional five acres used for growing cabbage and potatoes. Their country home, with riding and carriage horses, two cows, and a chicken house “afforded Mr. Hitchcock all of the joys of a farmer in his leisure hours.” Hitchcock “trimmed the oaks so that the finest trees would have room to grow” and he “laid out a walk with such substantial asphalt that it has not been repaired to this day.”
There were few neighbors nearby, as each house was set on many acres. Kenwood’s very first settler, Dr. Jonathan Kennicott, divided his time between dentistry and his beautiful gardens on Dorchester and 48th. Judge Williams had a house similar to the Hitchcocks on “eight or ten” acres on 46th Street between Woodlawn and Lake Street. Lawyer Pennoyer Sherman and his wife Louisa, had “undisputed sway over the corner of Lake and Forty-seventh, and possessed clear right to old Lake Michigan with its sunrises and sunsets, its bathing and fishing, only hindered by the two Illinois Central Railroad tracks and its infrequent trains.”
After the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, General Ulysses Grant came to Kenwood. The neighborhood greeted the triumphant Grant with a magnificent event, welcoming him at the home of Norman Judd, the manager of Lincoln’s 1860 campaign. Mrs. Hitchcock recalled being of great assistance to Judd on the receiving line that day, providing the name, occupation, and place of residence of each unfamiliar guest.
Annie Hitchcock broadened her involvement in many neighborhood activities well beyond the political spectrum. A forceful, childless woman with a lifelong passion for the printed word, she started a reading room in a Hyde Park storefront. Her early work culminated in the establishment of the present branch system of the Chicago Public Library.
“The years passed on and changes with them,” she wistfully recalled. The Hitchcocks added a library wing to the house where, she recalled, the details and the maps for the Park System of Chicago were drawn up. Outdoors they decided to have only lawn and trees and a fountain on the homestead. In spite of the abundance of groundwater, there was not enough spring water on the land, so the fountain was supplied via pipes from an iron spring in Washington Park, several blocks west. A “pretty house” by the French architect Lemonier was built across the street. The five-acre cabbage patch was divided and sold, but Charles left his mark in the “stately row of elms” along the entire front of 47th Street between Greenwood and Woodlawn.
In 1871, when the great fire destroyed a major part of the city, Annie worked diligently to help alleviate the suffering it had brought to many. Unhappy that many of the funds were not reaching the needy, she undertook her own relief efforts. The story is also told that she went to the destroyed Crosby’s Opera House to rescue the allegorical statues that graced the Washington Street façade—these could be seen on her Kenwood grounds well into the 1950s. The fire brought other changes locally, with an influx of people moving away from the city center and “each new neighbor who came to Kenwood was welcomed as a family friend.”
After Charles became ill with heart disease, his death at their home on May 6, 1881 did not come as a great surprise to his friends and family. Mrs. Benjamin Ayer, a Hyde Park resident and friend, remembered Hitchcock as a “lawyer of great ability and a gentleman of culture and dignity.” After her husband’s death, Annie expanded her humanitarian and philanthropic work. She was one of the founders of the Chicago Women’s Club and a charter member of the Fortnightly Club. Continuing many of these activities for the rest of her life, she remarked that they “made less lonesome the advancing years.”
Always forceful, Hitchcock saw the city swallow her homestead and was quite clear on her feelings about the 1889 annexation. She later spoke of “the disastrous day when Hyde Park Village voted itself part of Chicago, so selling its birthright.” She saw firsthand the transformation of the prairie into a small town – witnessing the Columbian Exposition and the founding of the university. As the larger city encroached on the beautiful landscape she had first seen on that sunny afternoon in 1859, Hitchcock always relied on her home as the center of influence.
Today it is hard to imagine the gracious estate that once occupied this land. Here were held many social events, at all times of the year. One cold winter morning Annie Hitchcock had more than one hundred guests for a musicale and breakfast, bringing spring to Kenwood a bit early. At the table in the dining room she served coffee and chocolate. The ice cream she had blocked into guitars, mandolins, violins and music books. The mantel in the reception hall was banked with primrose, hyacinth and ferns, while tulips, daffodils, and roses were used in profusion in all the rooms.
Mrs. Hitchcock was also a generous supporter of the University of Chicago, and she may have given the trustees more than they anticipated. In 1899, she pledged a substantial donation for the construction of the residence hall in memory of her late husband. When the university selected the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, she let her feelings be known to president William Rainey Harper according to university documents. “I am not content,” Hitchcock wrote, “that the building should be put up as my expression of an adequate memorial to my husband, and as my ideal of what a boy’s dormitory should be, when I have not been consulted at all.” She lobbied for the commission to be awarded to rising young architect Dwight Heald Perkins, the son of her good friend Marion Perkins.
Hitchcock prevailed and donated her one-half interest in the building located downtown at the northwest corner of Madison and LaSalle Streets to the university. When Hitchcock Hall was completed in 1902, its traditional Gothic exterior contrasted with the interior. Within, elements of the Arts & Crafts movement and the Prairie School focused on craftsmanship, simplicity and a rectilinear style. Hitchcock personally selected and donated the furnishings (many of them designed by Gustav Stickley) while Perkins and sculptor Richard Bock collaborated on an elaborate frieze for the library. Mrs. Hitchcock would no doubt be pleased to know that Hitchcock Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the summer prior to the dedication of the residence hall, a tea was held on the Greenwood house lawn. “With the wide lawns that surround the stately Kenwood homes, the lawn tea is one of the most successful ways of entertaining on the midsummer days in town,” noted the society pages. Those gracious summer days did not last forever, and after fifty-five years Hitchcock transferred her interests in what remained of the Kenwood property. In 1916 the Tribune noted, “The old frame residence at the northeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and 48th Street, west front 145 ? 298 feet on the north and 208 feet on the south, has been transferred by Annie Hitchcock to the First Trust and Savings bank.”
By the arrangement she continued to live in the house, alone except for a cook, housekeeper and an Irish groundskeeper. Annie McClure Hitchcock died on June 29, 1922, in Berea, Kentucky.