By Bob Uphues
On Tuesday in its online real estate section, Chicago Magazine featured a Riverside listing — the H.F. Jennison House, which stands on the corner where Bartram and Michaux roads intersect.
Although the house has been altered pretty dramatically since it was built, it's still a pretty grand affair; it ought to be with a listing price of $1.5 million. The online piece has lots of great photos of the interior (the adjoining two-story pool house replete with its own cinema is an eye-opener), descriptions of the rooms and a story connecting the home to the creation of Oprah's Book Club.
That's all well and good, but we're more interested in the history of the home, which dates to 1871 and was one of the first homes built in the village.
The house appears, along with a description of it, in the pamphlet "Riverside in 1871, With a Description of its Improvements Together with Some Engravings of Views and Buildings," which was the Riverside Improvement Company's marketing brochure to attract Chicago swells to build their country estates there.
In a reproduction of the pamphlet published by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society in 1974 and again in 1981, a picture of the house as it originally appeared is on page 43.
"The plan is so arranged that from all rooms a delightful view can be had, as it commands the approach of two roads," the description in the pamphlet reads. "The grounds are tastefully laid out, and ornamented with rustic grape arbor and fence, while a fountain of rare beauty attracts the attention of all."
The Jennison House was on the village's original list of 60 local landmark structures (it's No. 53 on the list) and is identified as the first house in Riverside to be constructed of brick. It's actually the second house to stand on the lot. The 1870 original, which was made of wood, burned down and was rebuilt in brick in 1871.
So it's unclear whether the home shown in the "Riverside in 1871" pamphlet is the wood or brick home. It looks very different than the present home either way.
By the way, the home was designed by architect John C. Cochrane, who also designed the Iowa State Capitol.
Now, about the home's original owner. Who was H.F. Jennison?
Mr. Jennison was involved in the insurance business. In the 1874 "Annual Report of the Board of Trade of the City of Chicago," Jennison is listed as an employee of the Equitable Life Assurance Company.
Interestingly, Jennison is also referenced in a not-so-flattering fashion in "The National Quarterly Review," published in 1875. Specifically, he's cited during a discussion of insurance companies, in the author's words, "whose paramount object is to enrich themselves, and who, while throwing over their own employees the shield with which they profess to screen the widow and the orphan — witness the sham group of statuary which decorates the front of the Equitable building — are remorseless in the pursuit of any unfortunate outsider who incurs any liability to them."
Jennison's employer, Equitable, sued Jennison's bondsmen to recover $12,000 found deficient in Jennison's accounts. One of the bondsmen countersued, saying Jennison used the company funds to build his home (presumably the one in Riverside) and that the company gave Jennison a mortgage to cover the deficit — a mortgage the company made no attempt to recover.
"Should these averments be proven, we shall have a state of affairs to which the history of insurance companies presents no parallel," the book states.
Unfortunately, we couldn't find any information online pertaining to the resolution of the dispute.
We did find, however, that in 1886, according to a weekly national sports newspaper called The Sporting Life, a man named H.F. Jennison, of Chicago, was appointed as an umpire for the Northwestern League, a professional, B-level baseball minor league with teams scattered throughout the upper Midwest.
The league folded in 1887.