701-beforeThe summer of 2013, we purchased 701 Maple Avenue.

To me, the house was an architectural gem, to be cliché, a diamond in the rough.  It was rich with history, and commanded respect as it had watched the world move past its doors for 125 years. To a lot of people the house was old and filthy dirty. They saw it as prey for the wrecking ball. I could see their point, with it’s peeling paint and wavy, see-through floors; but I could also see beyond that, of the beauty it was in its former days, and with care and perseverance, what it could be again.

From the very beginning, my husband called our endeavor ‘Our stay at home adventure’, and that it has been. Fortunately, we had vision and excited energy to restore the home.  In all its dire disrepair, structurally its bones were strong and its foundation solid. To walk into the home, there was a sense of warmth. So we began, to scrape layers of wallpaper, strip paint off quarters awn oak and red pine. Repair holes in plaster walls. We rebuilt a fireplace, and are still rebuilding a staircase. We cleaned and painted walls, refinished 125 year old floors till they gleamed again. The major work took just over a year, but the house was again breathing. We contracted out for the kitchen, upstairs bath, and the major plumbing and electrical. Through our experience, the house has unleashed many trials and tribulations, but that’s what makes for a fine ‘adventure’. We have now lived one year in the house, and though furniture is not perfectly placed, and pictures still need hanging, we feel our home belongs to us…or maybe, we now happily belong to the home.

Along our path, we had such encouragement from friends, neighbors, and people passing by. The sentiment was always the same, they were glad to see the house was being saved, and that it was not going to be ‘just another teardown’. Our house was one that was probably worse than the large amount of old homes needlessly demolished. We are proof they can be saved. Saving older homes, especially with their quality building materials and bygone craftsmanship, is beneficial to more than the people that will live in them. They preserve the history and uniqueness of our community.

Our home was built in 1895 by William James Herring, an Englishman from Norfolk.  Mr. Herring was an architect and contributed prominent buildings to Downers Grove, such as the Farmers and Merchants’ Bank, the Oldfield block, Central block, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, along with many residential homes. He also built several churches in downtown Chicago. In an article from the Downers Grove Reporter dated November 28, 1894, it states “Mr. Herring has in course of construction an elegant residence of his own on his property on Maple avenue, which will be one of the most attractive on that thoroughfare.”. Mr. Herring and wife Marie had five children.  It was the family home until Mrs. Herring’s death in 1928. Mr. Herring had passed in 1913. In the 40’s it was converted to a two-story flat, and in 1970, converted back to a single family residence.

Researching the history of our new home has been one of the easier and more enjoyable projects. I found the Downers Grove Museum and DG Library to be very helpful. I also used Ancestry.com to find Herring family members, who were happy to pass along stories. Perhaps most memorable for us, two of the home’s previous owners who had lived here many years prior, stopped to visit and share their stories. They were also so pleased their house getting put back together.

Hearing the memories of the home’s past families was lovely. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Knowles, whom on moving day 1970, noticed a growing number of bees in the living room. With their furniture waiting outside on the front lawn, their search led them to the bees honeycomb hidden above the living room ceiling. Over the next few days, their new neighbors delighted in the 60 lbs of fresh honey removed from the ceiling.

From Mrs. Kinsella, Mr. Herring’s great, great granddaughter, we were presented with a letter dated October 23, 1910, which describes in grand detail Bessie Herring’s wedding and the reception that took place here afterwards. The writer writes of the carriages lining up in front of the house, bringing bride and groom and guests from the church. She writes of yellow chrysanthemums, yellow candles and low light decorating the dining room. Of French Mary and her delicious bread and butter sandwiches.

We learned we had a ‘secret’ attic in the attic that had been boarded up and only children could fit into it now through a small opening.  In past years it had been a club house with painted blue walls and cozy old chairs. Stories unfolded, of how the big tree in our backyard came home from school just a seedling in a styrofoam cup, and that Mrs. Bubula loved sitting in her sunlit staircase reading her daily mail.

I think houses live their own lives along a time-stream that’s different from the ones which their owners float upon, one that’s slower. In a house, especially an old one, the past is closer. In our entrance hall, more than 100 years ago, newly married Bessie and Rupert Bateman dashed out the front door where hands full of rice and confetti showered them in celebration.

Our family is grateful, and blessed, to be a part of the history within these walls.

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Architect:  William James Herring,
Architect 2013:  Cinda Lester 12/12 Architecture
General Contractors: Bo and Christine Martin

Landmark Status

Our home was landmarked in August 2016.

Recommended Resources

  • Rebuilding Exchange: 1740 W Webster Ave, Chicago, Phone: (773) 252 2234
  • Ancestory.com search by address to find census information, take to the Downers Grove Musuem to research
  • Downers Grove Library, there is a section in the upstairs with a history of downers grove . You can’t take out the original books, but you can copy information. We found our house in the “Book of the Western Suburbs”.

Information provided by Christine Martin, current owner.