Historical Norwood Park home endures on Northwest Side as society readies to celebrate 50 years
by BRENDAN HENEGHAN
As the Norwood Park Historical Society celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, many in the neighborhood are putting a spotlight on the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, which has a long history and connection to the Northwest Side, and has been the society’s home since 1987.
“It’s a milestone. We are excited to explain to the community what we’ve done,” said society president Robert Kelly.
In 2022, Alderman Napolitano (41st) earmarked a $25,000 grant for improvements and preservation of the home at 5624 N. Newark Ave. Updates included a new furnace, fresh paint and lighting, according to several members of the society.
“This grant will help us overcome the lack of revenue during the pandemic and strengthen our finances for the upcoming year,” Kelly said last year when announcing the grant on social media.
“Few recognize the importance of the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House in the history of Chicago and that it is located right in the neighborhood. So glad to hear of the grant,” said resident Larry Rzewski on Facebook last year when the grant was announced.
Built in 1833, those who visit the home immerse themselves in a time warp. Old portraits of Stuart Crippen Sr. and Louisa Seymour hang from the walls in the living room. A mantle clock adorns the dresser left of the fireplace in the living room. Multiple fireplaces remind of an era that predates electricity.
The south wing exhibits mannequins dressed in attire from the mid-1800s. Displayed upstairs are photos of the old Norwood Park Grocery store in the 1870s and the original Norwood Park School from the 1880s. Artifacts on display include rusted rabies tags, jewelry, and a World War I era Smith & Wesson revolver.
A former barn in the yard contains an imitation sawmill and a gas pump, since gas stations were a luxury in the early 1900s. A banner for Gessner’s Training Kennels hangs from the opposite wall. Ludwig A. Gessner was a Norwood Park native who trained dogs for community service. Kelly explained that Gessner worked at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. When it ended, buildings caught fire, and people scrambled to take home pieces of history. Gessner secured a flagpole and donated it to the historical society in the late 1980s.
“People in the area put so much into the preservation of their property. If you had to sum it up in one word, it’s pride,” said Napolitano when asked why the Northwest Side needs historic places like the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House. “The home is a symbol of family.”
“Norwood Park’s history has three eras,” said museum curator Susan Kroll. “One being the farming era. The Nobles exemplify that. The village was formed in 1874, and then became a unique neighborhood in city limits in 1893.”
The Nobles arrived in what would become Chicago from England in 1831 during a time of bloodshed with the Natives. “The Nobles had a cattle ranch and fed people who hunkered down in (Fort Dearborn),” Kelly said. During the Black Hawk War of 1832, the Nobles helped to avert famine by helping those at Dearborn.
In the end, the bloodshed forced the Natives to cede their land allowing settlers like the Nobles to build a farm in what would become Norwood Park, using lumber from a family-owned sawmill. They were the first non-indigenous people to move into the area, according to the society.
According to Kelly, Chicago became a town in 1833, coinciding with the construction of the Seymour House — 4 years before Chicago became a city in 1837. The property originally stretched from its current location on Newark all the way to where Superdawg and the Caldwell Woods are.
Thomas and Louisa Seymour purchased the land in 1868 and added the Italianate wing of the home to make space for their family and servants. They raised cattle and planted apple and cherry trees, according to the society.
Chicago’s population exploded as the railroad rolled across the continent and flocks of people left the East Coast. The Norwood Land and Building Association divided land to build residential subdivisions bound by what is now Nagle, Harlem, and Bryan Mawr avenues, and St. Adalbert’s Cemetery. Seymour was a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and oversaw Norwood Park’s transformation from a village to an urban neighborhood. He died in 1915, and Louisa moved to the L.A. area, according to the society.
With Stuart and Charlotte Crippen came modernization. According to literature from the society, they bought the house as a summer home, but after installing electricity and plumbing, it became their permanent residence. Stuart played the piano and Charlotte was an actress and businesswoman, operating her late brother’s chemical manufacturing company. She opened a factory in 1927 on Bryn Mawr, which according to Kroll, employed many early Norwood Park residents.
The Crippens built the Norwood Park Baptist Church, located several blocks from the home at Raven Street and Newark Avenue and is now the Windy City Community Church.
During World War II, they held bond drives, and Kroll emphasized their campaign to raise $750,000 to build a medical airplane. In addition to the war effort, the Crippens funded reading programs at Taft High School, and brought Little League baseball to Norwood Park.
The Crippens sold their home to the society in 1987, and it became a designated City of Chicago landmark.
Several renovations since then have occurred, including the most recent ones although it’s hard to tell because the history is well preserved that the house bears striking similarity to its appearance during the early 1900s.
It is, after all, considered one of Chicago’s oldest homes by many.