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These Frozen-In-Time Logan Square Homes Could Be Marked As Historic

By Paul Biasco | February 17, 2016 8:34am
 Preservationists are pushing to create a Kimbell Farm Historic District in the area where the first settler of Logan Square lived.
Kimbell Farm Historic District
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LOGAN SQUARE — A two-block stretch of wood-frame homes in Logan Square dating back to the founding of the neighborhood could soon be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The homes, developed by the first settler of the area, have been described as a "frozen-in-amber" relic of the early 20th century.

In 1836, a 24-year-old named Martin Kimbell rode from New York to the prairies surrounding Chicago via covered wagon.

The young pioneer claimed 160 acres in what is now Logan Square and lived in a farmhouse at what is now the northwest corner of Kimball Avenue and Altgeld Street.

Yes, Kimball Avenue was named for him, but the spelling was messed up somewhere along the way.

The Kimbell family developed much of the neighborhood surrounding their home, specifically stretches of the west side of Kimball and Bernard Street.

Bernard in particular has retained its charm and historic vibes from the era when nearly all the homes on the block were built of wood between 1900 and 1910 with large front porches and ornate, colorful detailing.


A home in the 2500 block of North Bernard Street that would be included in the Kimbell Farm Historic District. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

Due to a series of historic events, including the city annexing parts of what is now Logan Square in 1863 and 1889, three blocks of homes on the original development plot remain nearly identical to how they looked when built in the early 1900s.

Preservationists in Logan Square are now pushing to have those blocks placed on the National Register of Historic Places under a proposal to create the Kimbell Farm Historic District.

"There's really nothing like it in the neighborhood," said Elizabeth Blasius, a historian who is working on the historic register application. 

The area, including Bernard Street from Wrightwood to Fullerton and Kimball Avenue between Wrightwood and Altgeld, has been described as the heart of the early settlement of the area.

Bernard, when it was initially developed, was called Smalley Court, a nod to Kimbell's wife's maiden name.

The historic register process is in the very early stages, but if the district was created, it would allow owners to apply for tax credits for preserving historic characteristics of their homes among other tax incentives.

Being placed on the register would be an initial "tool for encouraging historic preservation," according to Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Preservation, the neighborhood preservation group behind the push.

"The two blocks of Bernard are almost a frozen-in-amber development in Logan Square," Schneider said. "You don't see anything else like that in the neighborhood. You certainly don't see it for a continuous two-block stretch. It's a standout part of the neighborhood."


A photo of the 2500 block of Kimball Avenue taken in 1906. [Logan Square Preservation]

The preservationists are not seeking a landmark designation, which would put restrictions on what homeowners can do to their homes in terms of renovations and demolition.

One of the reasons the blocks are so unique is that they were outside the city's fire limits, which were put in place following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Those limits banned the construction of wood frame houses.

The law required buildings be built from fireproof materials.

"That area [around the Kimbell farm] was once a fire line," Blasius said. "It divided where you could build wood frame structures and where you couldn't in Chicago."

Because of its proximity to the city limits and the ability to build with wood, a much cheaper material than brick or stone, which was the new city law, many immigrants constructed homes in the area, Blasius said.

"Logan Square has always been known as a neighborhood of immigrants," she said.

The preservation group has submitted a preliminary evaluation report to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency for review.

If the state agency agrees that the area should be eligible for the National Register, a more in-depth proposal will be drafted and submitted.

Logan Square Preservation is hosting a public meeting to discuss the National Register District nomination next week.

The designation would be purely honorary, according to the group, and would not restrict changes to buildings in the district.

The meeting will be held at Grace Church of Logan Square, 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave., at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25.

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