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Legend Behind 'Ostentatious'' Tinley Home May Not Be True

Legend Behind 'Ostentatious'' Tinley Home May Not Be True
Daily Southtown
May 2, 2003
Anne Bowhay

The only building in Tinley Park on the National Register of Historic Places was built to be a landmark: the showiest house in 19th century New Bremen.

It was no hotel, despite local legend. It is now believed to have been built as a plantation-style home in the mid-1860s, though listed 15 years ago on the register as from 1872. And though known as the Carl Vogt House, he is no longer believed to be the man who built it.

That's according to one of Tinley Park's foremost regional historians, Brad L. Bettenhausen. He has spent years, off and on, researching aspects of its history.

Now leased for office suites, the two-story brick structure is considered one of the finest examples of the Italianate style left in the south suburbs.

"That building was an anomaly in the town because of its size, because of its design and because it's made of brick and limestone," said Bettenhausen, village treasurer and longtime president of the Tinley Park Historical Society.

His work sets out to correct some faulty research done on the building over the years. That includes a story that says Vogt, brother of the man who would become Tinley's first mayor, built it as a hotel in 1872, speculating that a second railroad was coming through town.

Bettenhausen contends the house was built by John Lewis, a bachelor, or possibly by his brother Allen Cleveland Lewis, a widower. Their large estate was later used to create the Lewis Institute, which in 1940 merged with the Armour Institute to become Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology.

The Lewises owned the land for 11 years, until selling it to Vogt's father-in-law in 1868. The brothers made money buying up land warrants: the 40-acre, 60-acre and 160-acre deeds given to veterans in designated military tracts in the Northwest Territory, including much of Illinois.

The brothers sold warrants at a profit to settlers in the Chicago area. At various times, they owned more than 5,000 acres in Bremen, Frankfort, Orland, Rich and Worth townships, Bettenhausen said. John Lewis also invested in railroads.

Bettenhausen believes a railroad storage track near the house may have been used to haul materials to construct the house.

"The limestone used in the foundation most likely came from Joliet, and the bricks from Blue Island, both on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad line which passes through what is now Tinley Park," he wrote in an historical society article about the house.

It was built at the major crossroads in town, where the railroad crossed a dirt road called Bachelor Grove Road, now Oak Park Avenue.

"It's built like a large plantation home, and where it's built it's at a crossroads ... so anyone passing through town — coming on the railroad or by horse and wagon — would pass by and see how prosperous the owner was. It's a little ostentatious," Bettenhausen said.

John Lewis had tax troubles that likely affected the new house, and at some point his brother bailed him out, Bettenhausen said. Nothing is known of their occupancy of the house. Bettenhausen believes Allen Lewis may have used it only occasionally as a hunting lodge because he was known to hunt in Bremen and Worth townships.

John Lewis died in 1874, leaving his estate to his brother. Allen Lewis died three years later, leaving more than $600,000. His will put the money in trust until it reached at least $800,000, when it was to be used to create a school for Chicago youth. The Lewis Institute opened in 1896, and later merged to become IIT.

Bettenhausen believes Germanic Tinley Park came to better remember Vogt because he was the first German to live there. The 1870 census showed the Vogts living there in a household of 14, including several hired hands and servants.

When the building was renovated into offices 11 years ago, Bettenhausen toured the interior and took photos. Though it was converted into a four-unit apartment building in 1912, many original features remained, and Bettenhausen found no structural evidence that it was a hotel. Its features include large wrap-around front porches and separate hallways and rear-porch entrances, presumably for servant use.

There was not another brick structure in town until 1886, when future Mayor Henry Vogt built the Bremen Cash Store at 6775 W. 174th St.

Postcard photographers came through Tinley Park in 1908, 1912 and 1915, and their work is still prominently displayed in many local facilities, including village hall. Oddly, Bettenhausen and local historians have been unable to find any early photos of the Vogt house.

In the paper he wrote about the house, Bettenhausen cites other interesting tales:

"At one time, horses and dairy cattle were supposedly kept in basement stalls. After Carl's death in 1888, the home was often referred to locally as the 'Widow Vogt's Place,' indicating that Catherina Vogt continued to reside there.

"In 1899, Martha E. Bettenhausen acquired the building for $2,500 in a court-ordered sale in Chicago. According to family legend, she had sewn the $2,500 in gold coins in her petticoats as a precaution against thieves while traveling from Tinley Park.

"Fred Wilke operated a soda pop bottling works in the basement of the building from 1901-03. Clarence Fulton operated his electrical contracting business from the basement for many years. Descendants of Martha E. Bettenhausen (the James Fulton family and heirs) continued to own the building until 1987."

Bettenhausen said Tinley's former mayor, Kenneth Fulton, was born in the house. His mother, Julia Fulton, "was once grazed by a stray bullet that ricocheted off the railroad tracks while sitting on the front porch in 1935," he added.

Anne Bowhay may be reached at abowhay@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-5995.

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