Explore Chicago's Oldest House at Norwood Park's 140th Birthday Bash

By Justin Breen on July 24, 2014 5:41am 

Slideshow
 Norwood Park is celebrating its 140th birthday Saturday at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, the oldest house in Chicago. The house is home to the Norwood Park Historical Society, which has an exhibit called "Can You Dig It." The exhibit features artifacts found on the home's property.
Norwood Park 140th birthday
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NORWOOD PARK — Chicago's oldest dwelling features a living history above and below the ground.

The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, built in 1833, is home to the Norwood Park Historical Society, which is celebrating the neighborhood's 140th birthday with a big bash Saturday.

The society saved the house from demolition when it bought it in December 1987 and turned the home into a museum containing several exhibits, including the "Can You Dig It" room.

The exhibit features artifacts found on the property and just beneath its surface, from the oldest — a button from the late 1700s — to a Jane Byrne mayoral campaign button from the late 1970s.

"We describe it as cool stuff dug up from under our lawns," museum committee chairman Susan Kroll said.

Justin Breen details what they found underneath Chicago's oldest home, and how you can see the artifacts in person:

It also includes 418 coins, a cow's tooth, a curry comb used to groom horses, toys like lead soldiers and a Junior Police badge, plus a miniature cookie cutter, a compass and an item Kroll described as "something that looks like a Monopoly top hat."

Construction items like 100-plus-year-old square nails, screwdrivers and metal rings can be found, as can household products like electric fuses, lamp parts and pottery. There are a few toy guns and the remnants of a real gun, a 1917 Smith & Wesson revolver. There's even a 1954 rabies tag from the Niles Animal Hospital for some unknown reason.

The exhibit was supposed to be a temporary one when it was introduced in 1991, but was made permanent because people — especially children — loved seeing the artifacts, Kroll said.

"We found it is a useful learning tool for the kids," said Kroll, a Norwood Park resident who has master's degrees from Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University. "Most city kids have no idea about farming or early life anywhere, and this is a way to connect with early objects."

 Norwood Park's 140th birthday is being celebrated Saturday at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, the oldest home in Chicago.
Norwood Park's 140th birthday is being celebrated Saturday at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, the oldest home in Chicago.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

Archeologist Dan Melone conducts occasional digs on the property and finds all sorts of cool stuff, like chert flakes, which were used by Native Americans to make stone tools. The property, at 5624 N. Newark Ave., was built on a glacial moraine ridge within feet of what would have been the Lake Michigan shoreline during the Ice Age.

"When you have a ridge like that, you would have Native Americans living on those high, well-drained landforms," said Melone, a Dunning native.

Melone's favorite "Can You Dig It" artifacts are the exhibit's numerous keys because "you can't help but wonder what they unlocked," he said.

Melone stressed he craves visiting the house, where he also leads history lectures, because he considers it a "time capsule."

The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House was built more than four decades before Norwood Park was incorporated as an official village on July 25, 1874. The neighborhood became part of Chicago in 1893.

"The fact that this house survived in its original location with a good amount of open space around it, to me that is amazing," Melone said. "That is literally a large chunk of history saved."

For more information on Saturday's 140th birthday celebration, click here.

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