29 Jan The Story of the Albee House – Part 1 of 2
Thank you to Ken Jellema for his research assistance on this article.
In the 141 years since our headquarters, the Albee House, was built, it’s only changed hands 3 times – a fact that’s pretty remarkable for a structure of that age. Though it’s come to be known as the Harry & Myrtle Albee house, evidence suggests that it was actually built for Harry’s mother, Harriet Albee, around 1878. It remained in the family until 1942 as part 1 of this 2-part series explains:
Harry Albee was born in Chicago on March 5, 1860 to Cyrus and Harriet Albee. Cyrus was a prominent butcher who owned a store at the corner of State and Monroe in Chicago – prime real estate back then, and among the most expensive in the country these days! Sometime after the death of Cyrus Albee in 1871, the family relocated to Blue Island and we believe built their home on a large plot of land at the northwest corner of Maple and New Streets. It may not look like it now, but sprawling gardens once surrounded the house at 318 (now 13018) Maple Avenue, cared for by Harriet, her sons, and likely a gardener or two…
Myrtle Myrick was born to Levi (a ship carpenter) & Almira Myrick on September 21, 1859. We aren’t sure exactly when the Myricks made their way to Blue Island from Holland, Michigan, but in 1885 (years after Levi Myrick’s death in 1871) Almira married Norman Barton Rexford – the second son of Blue Island’s founder, Norman Rexford. Norman B. Rexford’s first wife, Jennie, had passed away only 2 years before his marriage to Almira.
Regardless of how and when Myrtle Myrick ended up in Blue Island, she and Harry Albee met, fell in love, and were married on September 16, 1880 at Myrick’s Tavern – built and owned by Myrtle’s uncle Willard to accommodate travelers on their way to Chicago along the western shores of Lake Michigan. The couple eventually rented a home in Blue Island on a piece of land adjoining Harriet Albee’s estate at 103 (now 2626) New Street.
Harry and Myrtle Albee had 3 children: Mary, Florence, and Charles. The couple outlived all 3 of them – Mary passed away at just 2 months old, Florence at age 13, with Charles the only of his siblings to live to adulthood. A draftsman for the Rock Island Railroad, Charlie Albee died in Blue Island on May 3, 1915 at the age of 30.
We couldn’t find much information on the work history of Harry Albee, though in 1897 he’s listed in Blue Island’s City Directory as an ice dealer, and 3 years later as a clerk for the County Court. A newspaper article from 1942 mentions that Myrtle served the community as a teacher from time to time, but we haven’t found anything beyond that account. In 1902, Harry’s mother and his aunt Sarah leased the family’s land at the corner of State and Monroe (yes, they still owned it!) to the Schlesinger and Mayer (later Carson Pirie Scott & Co.) Department Store for $12,000 per year (about $350,000 in today’s money) for a period of 99 years.
In June of the next year, Harriet Albee passed away at the age of 79 and was buried with her husband Cyrus in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. Acting as the administrator of his mother’s estate, Harry took out a bond of $340,000 (the equivalent of about $9.7 million today) listing his address at 318 (now 13018) Maple Avenue – his mother’s home. Harry lived with Myrtle at 318 Maple until his death on January 15, 1921. In the census records of the year before, he was listed as “gone for the winter…”
Though we don’t know much of Myrtle’s life after Harry’s death, we’ve read accounts that describe her as a world traveler, caretaker of the gardens that once belonged to her mother-in-law, and a supporter of the Blue Island Woman’s Club. Without any heirs, it’s not surprising that upon her death on June 3, 1942, the Albee House and all of its contents were bequeathed to the Club, who immediately set to work remodeling it to suit their purposes…
The second part of this series will detail the history of the Albee House from that point on, so be on the lookout for our next note! Until then, we’re proud to open the red double doors of the Albee House to the public every Friday from noon until 4pm, and during events and programs throughout the year. Feel free to stop by and see for yourself what makes our home so special.