History of the Clarke House Museum

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Clarke House Museum, 1977 condition and restoration1977 Clarke House Restoration

Shortly before the house was moved in 1977, a fire from the basement furnace swept through the house. The woodwork was deeply charred and might have been wholly destroyed had it not been for the multiple layers of paint that protected the wood. Other rooms, particularly those at the northeast corner, also suffered serious damage.

In addition to repairing the fire damage, grafting the house to its new foundation, and recreating its early decor, restorers also had to retrofit the house with the requirements of a public museum. Steel reinforcements were added to floors and to the staircase. Air conditioning and security equipment were concealed in walls and fireplace flues. An elevator was added in former closet space. The basement was designed to include offices, restrooms, and a museum gallery. Daniel Majewski, Assistant City Architect, was in charge of all phases of the restoration of the Clarke House.

The house was restored to its 1850 1860 state rather than its 1836 form because that was when Mrs. Clarke had the resources to fulfill and update the plans she and Mr. Clarke had made for their home.

All of the original Clarke family furnishings had long since disappeared. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Illinois (NSCDA IL) undertook the refurnishing of the house as part of the organization’s national historic houses program. Furniture from the period when Clarke House was built, and 1860 when Caroline Clarke died, was donated by several members of the organization. Other objects were also purchased by the organization.

Robert A. Furhoff, consultant to the NSCDA IL and to the City of Chicago, studied the evidence of original paint colors and wallpapers, bits of which were found under the woodwork. His exacting research — sometimes through as many as twenty-seven layers of paint — revealed a rich original color scheme and made possible an accurate recreation of the interiors as they appeared between 1836–1860. Based on the paint analysis, two sections of the parlor ceiling, divided by a band of beading, were painted two shades of gold. Stronger colors were used on the band of ornament at the top of the walls and on the ceiling medallion from which an elaborate brass chandelier was suspended. The floral elements of the medallion were painted in intense but muted shades of blue, green, pink, gray, and brown, highlighted with touches of gold and encircled by gold leaves. The fireplace surrounds and mantels in both parlors are finished in hand grained black and white imitation marble.


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