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Many Stories To These Houses: Tinley Park's History, Legends In Old Abodes

Many Stories To These Houses: Tinley Park's History, Legends In Old Abodes
Chicago Tribune - Chicago, IL USA
March 23, 2000

Credit to Stacy McArdle of for sending in this material.

It is anyone's guess when and where the last house will be built in still-growing Tinley Park. And the facts concerning the first house built in the village are just as uncertain.

"The village came into existence in 1853, and there is a story out there that the first house was built in 1842," said Brad Bettenhausen, village treasurer and president of the Tinley Park Historical Society.

That claim is found in the 1884 "History of Cook County," by A.T. Andreas.

"The first house erected in the village was built by a Mr. Swan, who long ago moved away," according to the book. "It is still standing and is now the property of C.F. Vogt. It is situated in Block 10 of the village plat and was built in 1842."

"Whether that house still exists or not is a little up in the air," Bettenhausen said. "The alleged oldest house in town, at 17437 67th Ct., could be what Andreas called the Swan House."

The problem is that house--a modest one-story clapboard structure now painted tan with green shutters--is not where Andreas said it was, unless it had been moved, which also is possible, Bettenhausen said.

"Up until probably the 1940s, they moved buildings around this town like you or I back our car out of the driveway," Bettenhausen said.

"In any case, it is a very, very old house. It would definitely date to the early 1850s at a minimum, but I'm not sure it's the 1842 house Andreas talked about."

* Another old building moved to Tinley Park is the small rectangular wood frame house at 6724 W. 174th St.

"We believe this originally was an old schoolhouse moved here in the 1870s from the Bachelors Grove settlement area."

Bachelors Grove is an area settled before the Civil War and occupied today by forest preserves centering around 143rd Street and Oak Park Avenue.

"As the Zion Lutheran congregation was first organizing, the building became its first church and then was converted into its Sunday school and schoolhouse after they built their new church in 1884," Bettenhausen said. The 1884 Landmark church, at 6727 W. 174th St., now serves as a historical museum.

Perhaps the most widely known house in town is the two-story, brick, Italianate-style building at the southwest corner of Oak Park Avenue and Hickory Street. Known as the Carl Vogt House, it serves today as an office building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.

But over the years, it, too, has been a magnet for misinformation that has crept into local lore. Bettenhausen discounts an entrenched story that the house was built in 1872 as a hotel to serve a planned second railroad through town. As the story goes, the plan went up in smoke as a result of the Great Chicago Fire, "and Carl Vogt ended up with this white elephant that sits empty and abandoned for 30 years," Bettenhausen said.

One hitch in the story: The house was built in the year after the 1871 fire.

"I suspect the history is actually earlier," Bettenhausen said.

His research points to the house being built by one or both of two well-to-do brothers, John and Allen Lewis, as a showplace. The building materials likely brought to the site by rail--limestone for the foundation from Joliet and brick for the walls from Blue Island--were uncharacteristic of the other, more-modest wood frame structures associated with Carl Vogt.

Census records also show that the house was far from vacant, Bettenhausen said.

One appealing story about the Vogt House is how in 1899 a later owner, Martha Bettenhausen (no relation, as far as Brad Bettenhausen knows), needed to take a train to Chicago to make a $2,500 tax payment on the property. Afraid of being robbed, the widow is said to have sewed the $2,500 in gold coins into her petticoats, Bettenhausen said.

Property records show the $2,500 payment was made, so Bettenhausen will give the story some credence, but retains his skepticism.

"You can just imagine the weight of all that gold she was said to have been wearing dragging along," Bettenhausen said. "But I will still tell the story because it has some basis."

Across Oak Park Avenue is the Henry Vogt Home at 17420 S. 67th Ct. Built in 1882 by the village's first mayor, it now serves as the Vogt Visual Arts Center.

One of the interesting features of that building is the brick tower on the northwest corner of the building, Bettenhausen said. The tower now serves as an entrance but originally was a water tower.

"It was probably the first house in Tinley to have running water," Bettenhausen said. Rainwater from the roof and gutters, along with well water from a windmill-powered pump, was directed into a holding tank in the upper part of the tower and fed by gravity through faucets in the first floor and basement.

A short distance away is a house noteworthy because of its first owner.

"It's actually two houses joined together at 6725 and 6727 South St., right across from the train station," Bettenhausen said. "The 6727 part, which is currently gray, actually dates probably to about 1867 and was owned originally by a Jacob Grosscurth, who has the notoriety of being the first railroad fatality in Tinley Park.

"He was boarding the train, and somehow his coat got caught underneath a wheel, and as the train pulled out he got drawn under," Bettenhausen said. "He was badly mangled and died shortly thereafter."

At 7112 173rd Pl. is the Ironite House, named after the material used to finish the home's exterior. The 1913 two-story home's first owner, John Rauhoff, invented Ironite, and in 1906 he opened a plant in Tinley Park to manufacture the substance, used to waterproof concrete.

"Supposedly, Ironite was used in the construction of Hoover Dam," Bettenhausen said. "Basically, it was iron ore ground into a very fine powder. You would apply it like a thin slurry coat over a concrete block wall, and later he devised a way you could add it directly to the concrete as you were pouring it."

When Ironite's tiny iron filaments got wet, they oxidized and expanded, filling any air pockets and making the concrete waterproof.

"It was manufactured here until, I think, the 1960s, but definitely the late 1950s," Bettenhausen said.

At 6141 167th St. is the Moak House, a wood frame structure built by a dairy farmer. On the Moak farm, a cabin once stood along what used to be part of the stagecoach route from Chicago to Joliet. At that time, the farm was in an area know as Cooper's Grove.

"We don't know who Cooper was, but we know that there was a guy named Cooper who kept a log cabin that was kind of a stagecoach stop, post office, all-purpose facility," Bettenhausen said.

Directly across the street from the Moak House is an earth house. Tucked into the hillside, the earth house is only about 20 years old. The earth house and a geodesic dome house at 17625 Ridgeland Ave. are the two most-recent architecturally unusual additions to Tinley Park's housing stock.

One more architecturally significant building is now occupied by the Printer's Quill print shop at 17659 S. Oak Park Ave.

Although the extensively remodeled building is unprepossessing on the outside, underneath it is a Sears, Roebuck & Co. kit home.

In 1936, thousands of people visited the home, according to a press account of that time.

"The unique thing about it was that all structural framing members of the house are of steel," Bettenhausen said.

Originally, the exterior walls were of asbestos cement and the interior walls and ceilings were of fir plywood.

"There are a number of Sears homes in Tinley, and probably some of the other kit home manufacturers are represented too," Bettenhausen said. "But that's something I'm still researching."