Lombardian and Villa Park Review 'home' connected to Henry Gray
By Jane Charmelo
Anyone who has researched the history of a house knows that finding information can be a daunting, time-consuming endeavor, but in the case of 116 S. Main St, this columnist found a wealth of information right at the end of Lombard's "fingertips."
Detailed biographies of the people related to the building now occupied by the Lombardian /Villa Park Review newspapers could fill pages, but in the interest of focusing on its history of ownership, this article will offer only a brief overview of its inhabitants.
First, though, it's important to note that owners of the property where the Lombardian/Villa Park Review sits today can be traced back to 1843, when one Luther Morton owned the land around what is now 116 S. Main St.
According to Lombard resident and historian Margot Fruehe, old records show that Morton turned over land holdings to his brother, Nathaniel, around three years later, including the Main Street property.
It is believed that Nathaniel lived in a log cabin near where the train station is today, Fruehe added, and went on to explain that in 1846, Nathaniel sold some 225 acres of land to Reuben Mink..
"He had a huge holding," Fruehe said, estimating that his expanse of land reached from somewhere just north of St. Charles Road to what is now Roosevelt Road on the south end, and westward from Main Street approaching Finley Road.
"Conservatively speaking, he bought up half the town," she chuckled, but added that one must consider the size of Lombard at the time to put his land ownership in perspective. Mink also donated a portion of his land for the cemetery that is located on South Main Street, she added.
On the 1862 plat map of Lombard, Mink is still listed as the property owner, but sometime between then and 1874, he sold the land to Newton Chapin, whose farmhouse stood on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and Parkside Street.
At some point afterward, Chapin and Newell Matson, whose land adjoined Chapin's to the east, formed a corporation together, and laid out lots along Main Street.
There is no record of any other landowner between Chapin and the next person to own the land where the house stands today. In fact, Fruehe pointed out, a 1919 Sandborn - which she said is used for fire insurance purposes - indicates the brick house just north, but there is a blank space where the 116 S. Main St. house sits today, and even toward the south, "it was pretty open [land]."
The next landowner and builder of the house was Henry Gray, born in Elmhurst in 1847. He was the oldest child of John (referred to as both "John Diederick" and "Deidrick John") and Louise (also referenced as "Louisa") Gray. The family lived for a time in the vicinity of North Avenue and Route 83, before the family moved into a house on Maple Street in Lombard.
John, a farmer and relative of the Graue (Mill) family, then moved the family to the corner where Long's department store most recently stood, according to anecdotal information provided years ago by two of Henry's daughters, Alice Gray and Ada Hack.
Henry (Heinrich Graue on his marriage certificate) would eventually marry Mary Schreiber of Proviso Township in 1885. They had four children: Ada, born in 1886; Henry Jr., born in 1887; Alice, born in 1889; and Ruby, born in 1895.
Among the facts about Henry is that in the 1870s he built a hardware and implement store - the first in the county - on the east side of Park Avenue just north of the railroad tracks, and set up shop with Duncan Malcolm, a Canadian who had married his sister, Louise.
Henry and his family moved into the eight-room apartment above the store, and later brought his brother Gus into the business. His brother, Albert, had a sewing machine business in the store.
North of the hardware store Henry built and owned two one-story stores, one of which he used as a warehouse, and also built the house at 116 S. Main St. in 1922, after a fire destroyed the hardware store in 1921.
According to Lillian Budd's account of Lombard history, "Footsteps On The Tall Grass Prairie," the fire was caused when a load of oil-treated twine, stored near the building, was ignited by a"carelessly tossed cigarette."
According to Lombard resident Roger Marquardt, a distant relative of the Grays, and whose name would enter into the history of the house many years later, his Aunt Alice [Gray] "told me he built the house for her."
Henry died at the age of 81, after leaving the hardware business and becoming an auctioneer of farm equipment. In fact, Alice's and Ada's account places him as the oldest auctioneer of farm implements in the area at the time.
Not much is known about Henry's son, Henry Jr., but Henry Sr.'s obituary shows that he had lived in New York, and his sisters said he was buried at West Point after his death.
Ruby became Mrs. Fred Mayer and was living in Glen Ellyn when her father died, and she subsequently died in 1971.
Alice, who never married, lived in the Main Street house until her death in 1970, and was a noted piano teacher in town, often playing the piano at the nearby Parkside Theater, built in 1916.
While Ada Hack lived with her sister in the house after she was widowed, it was Alice Gray that many people remember the most.
Lombard resident Doug Christensen, a lifelong resident of Lombard, remembers taking piano lessons from Alice, when she had a piano studio on Park Avenue, just north of the railroad tracks.
Christensen said he remembers she had three pianos in her studio, and "she had a lot of students. My mother took piano lessons from her," he chuckled, adding that Alice was "a talented musician, and an astute businesswoman."
Eventually she rented out the storefront, and moved her studio to the south side room on the second floor of her Main Street house, Christensen recalled, where she had also made her living quarters.
"The house was always a stately-looking place," Christensen said. The Grays, he added, "had more money than other people in town," and the house was situated "in a prominent location."
It was always well-manicured, he continued, and "I can remember her [Alice] being on her hands and knees working on the flowers."
Besides remembering the house, however, Christensen recalls Alice as "just a real fixture in Lombard. Many, many kids took piano lessons from her."
Also, he noted, Alice and Ada were seen together often, and were "quite a pair. They were a respected pair of sisters in town, aristocratic but friendly."
Alice, one of the First United Church of Christ's oldest members, could be seen strolling along to church on Sundays with her sister, Ada, and "she was never without a fashionable hat!" Christensen recalled with a hint of nostalgia in his voice.
According to her August, 1970 obituary in the Lombardian, Alice taught piano lessons for over 50 years and at one time averaged 69 students a week. She had also been a chaplain for the American Legion Auxiliary.
Before her death, Alice sold the house in 1968 to Roger Marquardt, and according to Marquardt, "she said 'I want to keep the house in the family.'"
Alice and Ada lived together for two years on the second floor of the house, which had been modified into a two-flat, Marquardt recalled. The first floor was rented out to a widowed member of the Hammerschmidt family, who had moved from the house directly north, once Munger's floral shop, he added.
After Alice died in 1970, Marquardt brought his real estate business to the house, on the first floor. Ada moved out of her second-floor living quarters around 1972, he said.
The oldest and last surviving child of Henry and Mary Gray, she died in 1975, at the age of 89, in Michigan, where she kept a summer home.
Marquardt said he moved into the second floor portion of the house in 1990, and began restoring the house "to the way Alice had it."
At some point all the wood trim had been painted, he said, and he had it stripped down and refinished to the original wood, and removed the carpeting to restore the wood floors. It took about a year to complete the work.
The Marquardts sold the house in 1995, and it served as a gift shop until it recently became the new home of the Lombardian/Villa Park Review.
A few words of thanks are in order, first to Joel Van Haaften, (former) director of the Lombard Historical Museum, for his part in finding information about the Gray family and photos of the house.
Also, special thanks to Fruehe, whose research and knowledge of the old homes and land ownership in Lombard helped bring the pre-Gray era into perspective.
Through the Lombard Historical Society, Fruehe put together in 1993 some helpful information on how to research a home's origins and owners, which is worth passing along.
Starting at "home" is the first place to begin, by gathering information from deeds, papers, former owners, neighbors, photos, and even old real estate listings.
Fruehe suggests buying a three-ring binder to organize and store information, then start recording things you already know about the house you're researching, including clues such as the style, construction, and other "visual" clues. Then the legwork begins!
The Helen Plum Library contains books on houses, copies of "Footsteps," and general guides to researching old homes.
Among the collection, some older and newer DuPage County atlas and plat pictorial data are also on file, as well as old newspapers in microfilm that contain real estate ads.
The Building Department in Lombard has information on building permits dating back to the early 1960s (available to the homeowners only), and the Lombard Historical Museum is also a source of information on older homes in the village.
The museum archives has a 1919 Sandborn map, Fruehe said, which can be used to help narrow down if and when a house existed.
"They're so useful," she added.
Fruehe also suggest going to the York Township Assessor's Office to get a "property record card" on the house being researched, which contains information about the parcel number and the year the house was built. The cost is nominal, for copying, and i the case of the Gray house, it was only 50 cents!
Armed with that information, many records, upwards of 1850, can be obtained through research at the DuPage County Clerk's Office in Wheaton. Tax records; tax judgments; plat books; and birth, marriage, and death records are located there, and can be useful in backtracking the owners of a house.
The DuPage County Building Department, also in Wheaton, has permits from 1938 to the present on file in various forms for houses in unincorporated DuPage County, and the Circuit Court Clerk's Office has data on probate records, unproven wills, and court cases from 1839 to the present, although records before 1982 take about 48 hours to retrieve.
The Chicago Title Insurance Company is also a source of information, with files arranged by legal description going back to 1839. Files can be purchased from the DuPage County Recorder's Office.
While the house that was once home to the Gray family has now become the "home" for a different kind of family - those of us at the Lombardian/Villa Park Review- Christensen summed up the feelings of many Lombardians when he said "that house has never been anything but 'Alice Gray's house' to me!"
Anyone with other information to share about the house is invited to call the paper at 630-627-7010.