Docent-led tours of the Clarke House Museum in the Prairie Avenue Historic District give visitors a glimpse into Chicago’s proud history as it evolved from a frontier outpost into a thriving 19th-century city. Built in 1836 by hardware salesman Henry B. Clarke, this Greek Revival-style home is Chicago’s oldest surviving residence.
Clarke constructed his timber house on 20 acres alongside an Indian path that would eventually become South Michigan Avenue. A native upstate New Yorker, Clark moved here banking on the completion of the Illinois-Michigan Canal to usher in a building boom and his financial gain. His instincts proved correct. After Clarke died of cholera in 1849, his widow, Caroline, managed to keep possession of the house by selling off its surrounding acreage.
Restored to its original appearance with help from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, the home’s decor reflects typical tastes of the Victorian Era through details like faux marble, a Chickering piano in the parlor, a convertible rocker-cradle, flow blue china, a what-not cabinet and a spool bed. The rooftop’s Italianate-style belvedere tower overlooks a park where neighborhood residents stroll, and historical exhibits in the basement detail Chicago’s frontier family life, the period’s lakefront geography, and the city’s 19th-century urban growth. The museum also hosts year-round public events, including family days, holiday candlelight tours and Edgar Allen Poe readings.