Our home is located on property that once belonged to Norman Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert was one of the early deacons of the Downers Grove First Baptist Church. According to a document from the Downers Grove Historical Society, “Norman Gilbert (estate of) has for sale some of the finest and most eligibly located property in the village. It consists of 14 acres, and was the original picnic grounds of Downers Grove, and abounds in numerous springs of living water. Adjoining the depot on the southwest, it is very convenient and desirable, and as it is platted in one-quarter, one-half, and acre lots and blocks, purchasers may buy just the area of ground they may desire, at prices, too, very low considering its desirability. Consultation may be had with W. Amos Moore, the real estate agent, or of Spencer E. Gilbert, representative of the estate and one of the most trusty and reliable citizens of Downer’s Grove.”

The original owners of our home were Norwegian immigrants, Rachel and Melcher Gjerde, who immigrated to America in 1862 and 1875, respectively. They were married in 1882 and had three daughters, Helen, Gerdniti (later changed to Gertrude), and Helfird.  They moved from Minnesota to Illinois and lived at 118 Gilbert (our address prior to 1927). They purchased the property from Emily Gilbert Lathrop in 1891 for $600. In 1896, they took a mortgage out on the property in the amount of $800, with W.H. Edwards as the Trustee. The house became a rental property for over 20 years, beginning in 1896.

In 1919, Theodore Fisher purchased the home.  There was one more owner, Charles Lipske, before it was owned by the Bateman Family from 1928 to 1986. Charlotte Bateman, the daughter of George and Helen, never married, and lived in the house most of her life. Charlotte and her parents are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Downers Grove, as well as Norman Gilbert and descendents of the Gilbert family.


The Van Laar Family purchased the home from Charlotte Bateman. According to neighbors, the Van Laars completed extensive renovations on the house. The house was painted all white when they purchased it, and they accented the gingerbread trim in new, warm colors. They tore off the “shack” (kitchen) attached to the back of the house and built a new kitchen, bathroom and mudroom/laundry. They tore down the old garage with attached shed and built a new garage. The plaster walls were replaced with drywall. (Plaster ceilings, windows, wood floors, and trim remain intact.) The upstairs bathroom was renovated and has a claw foot tub. We also believe that there was a back staircase that was removed at this time, enlarging one of the upstairs bedrooms and allowing for a butler’s pantry off the kitchen. Mr. Van Laar’s father was a contractor, so they did the work themselves over several years. After they completed their renovations, Mr. Van Laar was transferred out of state for work, allowing for the next owners and us to enjoy the results of their hard work.

When we were married in 2003, we were attracted not only to the charm of the house, but also to its location. We are close to the conveniences of downtown and the beauty of Maple Grove. A tributary to St. Joseph’s Creek flows through the backyard. We have made only cosmetic changes to the house, and added extensive landscaping. When we moved in, we consulted “Doctor Color” in San Francisco and he selected a new palette of colors, based on the stained glass squares above our picture window. We also hired students of art restoration from Poland to add accents in gold leaf.


1232 spring
Courtyard front landscaping with antique brick pavers installed in 2011.

Exterior paint job after consulting with Dr. Color.

Exterior paint colors when we purchased the home in 2003.

front staircase
Front entry and staircase. We replaced the entry light fixture and changed switches to push buttons to match one remaining original push button switch.

lr parlor holidays
Living room and front parlor during the holidays.

rustic bridge
Rustic bridge crossing the stream in the backyard, built by a fellow colleague.

Fisher Draft Registration
WWI Draft Registration Card of Theodore Earnest Fisher, who purchased the house in 1919 but may have been a renter as early as 1912.

Melchor Gjerde naturalization
1888 Naturalization card of Melcher H. Gjerde.

Landmark Status

We started our research on the house early in 2007 for the Centennial Homes Program of the Downers Grove Historical Society. (The Village adopted its Historic Preservation Ordinance that same year.) It has been a challenging home to research, resulting in many starts and stops in the research. Our real estate records state that the house was built in 1888. After spending several hours in the basement of the county building in Wheaton, pouring through tax records, we cannot find a definitive change in the tax rates that would determine when a house was built. The first revealing document we found is the 1891 sale of the property from Emily Gilbert Lathrop to Melcher H. Gjerde.

Additional questions and pause for whether we were on the right track or not, were the quitclaim deed transactions occurring among members of the Bateman Family and Donald Drew (of the Drew House) for $1 in 1944 and 1945. Further research showed that these transactions followed the deaths of Helen and George Bateman. Another obstacle occurred when the attorney for Charlotte Bateman was listed in records as the seller—rather than Charlotte Bateman—and we lost the chain of ownership.

The added challenge is the loss of the 1890 U.S. Census records to a fire in 1921. This is a critical record for us to see if the house existed and was occupied in 1890. Currently, we have a request in for a copy of the birth certificate for Gerdniti Gjerde, born in 1889, to see if she was born at 118 Gilbert. Online genealogical records only state that she was born in Downers Grove.

Our home was landmarked in June 2016.

Recommended Resources

  • The Downers Grove Historical Society. Both staff and volunteers are valuable sources of information and support.
  • Du Page County, Department of Revenue, Wheaton, for tax records
  • Du Page County Recorder, Wheaton, for property transactions
  • Familysearch.org for free family history and genealogy records
  • Bob Buckter, Color Consultant, http://www.drcolor.com
  • Renaissance Antique Lighting for period light fixtures, http://www.antique-lighting.com


Folk Victorian located at 1232 Gilbert Avenue
Owners: Irene Hogstrom and Mark Bragen
General Contractor:  unknown
Architects:  unknown
Year Built: circa 1890