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Through the Years with the Glessners

Mrs. Glessners kept a journal for many years, recording life in their household both before and after the Glessners moved to Prairie Avenue. “Through the Years with the Glessners” is a feature in our newsletter that reprints excerpts from Mrs. Glessner’s journal, news items from the Chicago Tribune, and notes from the curator to offer a glimpse into the Glessners’ lives.

Excerpts from the Glessner journals appear courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Browse through the timeline below, which is compiled from articles from our newsletter, or click on a decade below.


January 13, 1883 - I drove Frances to the South Side and after that to the North Side to look at the good residence neighborhoods, and came back undecided where it is best to live if we leave this place [West Washington Street.]
February 3, 1884 - By previous arrangement, Capt. Bushnell [John Glessner’s business partner] and I called upon Byron P. Moulton, Prairie Ave. We were shown through his handsome new house [at 1912 S. Prairie Avenue].
February 10, 1883 - The Glessners visit the factory of the Elgin Watch Co. at the invitation of president Thomas Avery, their neighbor: “We went through as much of the factory as we had strength for - about one quarter of it. It is beautiful clean work. There are sixteen hundred employees, a great many girls and women.”
March 27, 1884 - Frances and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to drive over the South side to look at different houses and lots. [They are contemplating a move.]
April 10, 1883 - The new Chicago headquarters of Warder, Bushnell & Glessner collapses during construction: “The building is terribly wrecked. The architects have been discharged (Jaffray and Scott) and the work put into Mr. Boyington’s hands.” [The building still stands at 130 S. Jefferson Street and is now known as the Glessner Center.]
May 25, 1883 - The Glessners arrive in New York where Frances Glessner stays at the hospital of Dr. Thomas for treatment of her “hard headaches.” (Mrs. P.T. Barnum is a patient and Frances Glessner finds her to be “a lady” although she feels in talking with her “as though she ought to pay to get in.”) She does not return to Chicago until December 2, but does leave New York during the summer.
June 6, 1883 - [On Monday] Barnum’s circus paraded to the great edification of the children. I bought tickets for the children and girls and Charles, intending to send them Tuesday afternoon, but Monday night shortly after midnight the circus tent burned and the performance was off for Tuesday. The animal tents were not damaged. Another tent was put up and seats improvised, but owing to the great crowds I thought best not to let the children go. Mr. Scott went subsequently and found every place crowded and rain pouring into the circus tent; so he stayed with the animals, especially entertained by the elephants - Jumbo and the baby. The former is immense in size and the latter very interesting. He saw the baby elephant nurse his mother.
July 3, 1883 - The Glessners visit their summer estate, The Rocks, and are pleased with the progress of their new home. A newspaper clipping they post in their journal states that “it is built in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the first story of unhewn stone, laid in cement, from plans by a Chicago architect (Isaac Scott) and will cost from $10,000 to $15,000 when completed, and will be the finest summer residence in the mountains.”
July 19, 1883 - John Glessner accompanies his friend Albert A. Sprague to view property he just bought on Prairie Avenue near 27th Street. Sprague suggests Glessner consider buying “in the same vicinity.” (The Glessners are living on Washington St. at this time).
August 24, 1883 - (John Glessner arrives in New Hampshire to join his family and spend his first night in their newly completed summer home. Frances Glessner had moved in on August 4.) “The house at The Rocks was lighted from top to bottom. A “Welcome Home” in fern leaves had been tacked on the base of the dining room bay window, and the lamb had been decorated with a wreath of ferns and goldenrod in honor of my arrival, but owing to the train’s delay, the lamb had eaten her own decorations and part of my welcome, and the remainder of this I was invited to inspect by lantern light. All were well and so could bear a few hours disappointment and my welcome was warm enough to satisfy anyone. Everyone had helped to arrange and decorate the house and in consequence of Frances’ good taste and management and hard work it was all very handsome, in good order and homelike.”
September 18, 1883 - “Tuesday we were surrounded by mist same as on Monday, though we were in perfectly clear sunshine, but as Littleton was enveloped, B. W. Kilburn, the photographer, did not come out until later than he had agreed. He took two photographs of the house, but not the best views owing to the light, and also several pictures of the children and the lamb.”
October 27, 1883 - An article in the Chicago Tribune praises the newly completed headquarters of Warder, Bushnell & Glessner for its elegant architectural proportions, proclaiming it at once an ornament and landmark. (The building still stands at 130 S. Jefferson Street).
May 20, 1884 – [While visiting Louisville, Kentucky] After dinner, we took a poor old carriage, crossed the ferry to Jeffersonville, Indiana, drove by the old Presbyterian church, the dwelling where Frances boarded 19 or 20 years ago, and the small brick school house where she taught when only 16 years old.
June 5, 1884 - I took Frances and Anna [her sister] to the Republican Convention and we heard the speeches presenting the names of the different candidates to the Assembly. There was much applause, a deal of which was senseless. Balloting was not commenced until Friday morning and during the afternoon and evening James G. Blaine was nominated for President, and John A. Logan for Vice President, and the convention adjourned. [After his father attended the Democratic convention in July, John Glessner noted, “Singularly, (my father) a Democrat all his life says he will vote for Blaine and Logan, while I, always a Republican, will at least not vote for them.” His reason for not supporting the party’s nomination is unknown. John A. Logan for many years resided at 2119 S. Calumet Avenue.]
August 10, 1884 - The weather has been cold and unseasonable this week. Frosts were feared, but such calamity has not yet occurred. I have a fire in the library grate tonight.
October 5, 1884 - During the summer with Mr. Scott’s help we have built six summer houses [at The Rocks], styled respectively - The Clematis, The Grapevine, The Bluebird, The Martin Box, The Big Rock, and Echo Fountain. We expect yet to complete an Observatory 35 ft. above the highest hill, part of a stone barn, and to finish the ceilings of the house.
October 10, 1884 - The Third Presbyterian church, on Ashland Ave. [at Ogden], took fire this morning and was completely burned out. [This was the third largest Presbyterian Church in the United States. The Glessners attended here in the 1870s].
November 4, 1884 - Today was election day. Blaine and Logan versus Cleveland and Hendricks. Mr. Badger and John kept their places in line by leaving John and Charles (the coachmen) there for five hours - but finally succeeded in depositing their votes for Cleveland and Hendricks - their first Democratic votes.
January 10, 1885 - John spent part of the afternoon looking over some property on the South Side. [They would purchase their Prairie Avenue lot in March.]
March 24, 1885 - We bought the lot on the southwest corner of Prairie Avenue and 18th Street, 78 feet front by 176 feet deep, $50,500.
March 29, 1885 - I spent all day looking over books on architecture.

April 11, 1885 - I took George and Fanny to the matinee.  Manta was given by (Adelina) Patti and Schalchi.  Fanny carried an exquisite bunch of pink roses, which she told me in a whisper she wanted to throw to Patti. . . Fanny said she loved her roses, but was glad she had given them to Patti.
April 19, 1885 - [Chicago Tribune] SIGNIFICANT SALE OF A RESIDENCE LOT. The sale of the southwest corner of Prairie avenue and Eighteenth street to J. J. Glessner for $50,000, reported during the last week, indicates that, notwithstanding the general dullness in trade, there are men in Chicago who have the disposition and the means to gratify their taste for an elegant home. It also shows that really choice residence lots are steadily increasing in value. A few years ago, before building in his present location [1827 S. Prairie], J. W. Doane offered $40,000 for this same property, and this price was then considered by the owners an adequate one, but owing to complications among the Hitchcock heirs the sale was not made. The price now paid - about $675 per foot - is not considered an extravagant one for this choice corner. Mr. Glessner will build an elegant home on his purchase as soon as his plans are completed.
April 25, 1885 - We have had a number of letters from architects - and now expect to go east next week.  Today Fanny received a beautiful photograph of Patti from herself, written on it, "For dear little Fanny Glessner in grateful acknowledgement of Adelina Patt," dated and sent to her from New York.

January 19, 1908 - The Glessners lunch at the office of Daniel H. Burnham “to look at the plans made for Chicago in the future.” John Glessner was one of the subscribers of the plan, released the following year as Burnham’s monumental Plan of Chicago.
April 4, 1908 - John Glessner attends a lunch at the Union League Club in honor of Booker T. Washington. (Washington speaks at Second Presbyterian Church that evening).
April 26, 1908 - The Glessners attend a dinner at the home of Cyrus McCormick Jr. in honor of Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University (and future U.S. president).
May 3, 1908 - Charles Hutchinson brings Sir Purdon Clarke to dine at the Glessner home. Clarke is the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and had previously served as director at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. (Later in the week, the Glessners loan their automobile to take Clarke and other “visitors of distinction” around the city).
May 28, 1908 - General Stephen Dill Lee, father of Fanny Glessner Lee’s husband Blewett, dies at the age of 74. Lee was the youngest lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and later served as president of Mississippi A&M College.
October 11, 1908 - The Chicago Tribune announces that the first national flower show will be held at the Coliseum from November 6 to 14. “The Horticultural Society of Chicago has practical charge of the local management of the show, and valuable assistance is being given by its directors, who include Clarence Buckingham, John J. Glessner, Harlow N. Higinbotham, Charles L. Hutchinson, James Keeley, Victor F. Lawson, John J. Mitchell, Martin A. Ryerson, Edward G. Uihlein, Charles H. Wacker, and W. E. Kelley.” A committee of female members of the Society including Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. John J. Glessner, and Mrs. Cyrus McCormick will serve as judges of table decorations.
November 2, 1908 - We had the first meeting of the Reading class [for the season]. Over sixty ladies were here. Mrs. Kennedy read the first hour and John read his paper The Potato which he reads tomorrow night at the Literary Club. We had a fine time.
November 8, 1908 - “The honey you have sent has taken its place as the chief treasure of our house. Heretofore there was the danger that either Emily or Eames or I would get at the jar when the others weren’t around . . . To prevent any unpleasantness this year, we have agreed to eat this precious article only in the presence of all three of us.” [Excerpt of letter sent by Franklin MacVeagh, who was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Taft in March 1909.]
December 11, 1908 - The garage at Mr. Cunningham’s (1824 S. Prairie) burned - two people, a mother and baby, lost their lives, and two men were badly hurt, one probably fatally.
January 1, 1909 - Today was my birthday. We invited the whole orchestra to supper. Fanny took the preparations in hand and most of it was kept as a surprise for me. We set the tables all about the parlor floor of the house. When the time came, we received the guests upstairs and when supper was ready, the orchestra commenced to sing the Tannhauser march and we all marched down the stairway to the tables. Our table had an enormous birthday cake surrounded by over a hundred scarlet candles in scarlet rose cups. On top of the cake an old fashioned bee hive, made of sugar. On this were bees and clover blossoms, with bees suspended from the ceiling.
January 6, 1909 - John went to the opening of the Cliff Dwellers room above Orchestra Hall. John presented the club with the two mantel pieces and fire irons. They had a ceremony lighting the two fires. [Journal of Frances Glessner] “The great hearth fire, the pride of the cliff dwellers, was lighted with appropriate ceremonies after bits of fuel from the Tavern club of Boston and the Bohemian club of San Francisco had been piled on the andirons. Each club sent driftwood from the ocean.” [Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1909]
February 14, 1909 - Today we are having a blizzard. We went to a luncheon at General Fred Grants. We saw many extremely interesting things in their house - and had a delightful time. [Frederick Dent Grant was the eldest son of President Ulysses S. Grant. His wife Ida was the sister of Bertha Honoré Palmer. Their home was at 1406 N. Dearborn.]
February 27, 1909 – [Friends] Judge [Jacob] Dickinson and Franklin MacVeagh have accepted positions in Taft’s cabinet [as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury, respectively].
April 10, 1909 - In the evening John gave a dinner to the Commercial Club here at our house. I have been arranging for this for weeks. We had 63 gentlemen here. We received them in the upstairs hall. When they came down to dinner I staid up and at the regular time went to the concert. We had a fine dinner every bit of which was prepared in the house and cooked by Mattie and Fanny. We had the beds taken out of the corner guest room and had cocktails served up there. We had red carnations for the men - a large vase of roses on the table in the upstairs hall, a group of blooming plants in the lower hall. On the tables we had white lilacs and crimson rambler roses. [The Commercial Club sponsored Burnham and Bennett’s Plan of Chicago which was published three months later. John Glessner served as president of the club in 1897 and later wrote its history.]
June 11, 1909 - John Glessner Lee, the Glessners’ oldest grandchild, travels to Vicksburg for the unveiling of a statue of his paternal grandfather, Stephen Dill Lee, who had died in 1908. The Chicago Tribune of June 10 reported: “A distinguished party of Chicagoans left the city for Vicksburg last evening as guests of President J. T. Harahan of the Illinois Central to be present tomorrow at the unveiling of a heroic bronze statue of Gen. Stephen D. Lee in the Vicksburg National Military park.” Although only nine years of age, John Glessner Lee was given the honor of unveiling the statue.
September 4, 1909 - Mr. Scott has carved a superb mahogany panel to go across the top of the vestibule at our front door [at the Rocks]. We got it in place and invited all of the family in at five o’clock. John made a very nice little address and the sweet little grandchildren unveiled the panel. We had tea and the children sang. It was very sweet and pretty. [The panel is on permanent display in the museum’s Isaac Scott exhibit.]
September 12, 1909 - Today the doctor telephoned that Mr. [Turlington] Harvey was near his end. We went to the hospital and saw his son Paul who came last night. Mr. Harvey was in a dying condition. We came home. Just now word comes that Mr. H died at 4:30, not more than an hour after we left the hospital. [The Glessners had purchased Harvey’s home at 1702 S. Prairie Avenue in 1899 and soon after had it razed for construction of twin town houses for their two children, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.]
November 25, 1909 - John, George and I went to Graceland [Cemetery] to make the final selection of a lot there. (The plot selected was Lot 2 in the Willowmere section, along the west side of Lake Willowmere. The lot contained 2,758 square feet for which the Glessners paid $8,274, the equivalent of $188,000 in today’s dollars. The plot is the final resting place for John and Frances Glessner, and their infant son John Francis, who was disinterred from the original family plot at Rosehill and placed in the casket with his mother. The headstones are large limestone slabs featuring a simple Celtic knot symbol).
December 31, 1909 - In the afternoon we went to the concert. Mr. Stock gave his Symphony (in C minor) for the first time. It is dedicated to John and me, and is a very remarkable work. It had a splendid reception by the audience and orchestra. Mr. Stock had an ovation before he commenced and was recalled several times. [Stock’s dedication: “This symphony was written in honor of two well-beloved people, man and woman, who have won for themselves the highest esteem and loyal friendship of many of the most worthy dwellers in this land. Far away from this big city of ours, with all its worldly strife and struggle, these two people have built for themselves and for their kin a sylvan retreat, where Nature’s charms are beautiful beyond belief. It was here that the Symphony was first conceived, that a large part of the Scherzo and still larger portions of the slow movement were laid out, and here, too, the Finale was fully outlined. To these two people, whom the composer is privileged to number among his best and dearest friends, his symphony is most affectionately dedicated.” (Program Notes, December 31, 1909, Chicago Symphony Orchestra)]
At midnight we had champagne and claret cup, ice cream and cake and I struck twelve on the gong. We circled round and sang Auld Lang Syne. John proposed a beautiful toast to Mr. Stock and another to me at midnight. I gave Mr. Stock a letter from Mendelssohn, and one from Jenny Lind.

January 26, 1933 - The Chicago Symphony Orchestra honors John Glessner on his 90th birthday during their evening concert, at which Serge Prokofieff is the guest soloist. Conductor Frederick Stock leads a fanfare to Glessner which was “played rousingly, and the audience stood at attention.” (Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1933)
March 6, 1934 - The Chicago Orphan Asylum hosts a musical and tea to commemorate the birthday of the late Charles L. Hutchinson, who served as president of the asylum for seven years and established a fund to provide for the musical education of its residents. Frances Lee Martin, John Glessner’s granddaughter, is the third generation of the family to support the institution. [Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1934]
April 2, 1934 - The Chicago Literary Club marks its seventieth birthday with a dinner at the Chicago Woman’s Club. Among those in attendance are Franklin MacVeagh, a founding member, and John Glessner, who had joined in 1883. He remained a member until his death in 1936, and his membership of 53 years was among the longest in the history of the club. [Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1934]
July 2, 1934 - Helen Macbeth, Frances Glessner’s older sister, dies at the age of 96. Born in Springfield Ohio in January 1838, Helen was a talented artist and never married. Several examples of her artwork are on display in the museum, including painted tiles in the main hall, and a portrait of her mother, which hangs in the master bedroom, to the right of the bed. Helen moved to Chicago in 1884, and for many years occupied an apartment at 2216 S. Prairie Avenue with her widowed sister, Anna Macbeth Robertson. She played a vital role in the Glessner family, and accompanied Fanny on her grand tour of Europe in 1896-1897, and also served as maid of-honor at her wedding in February 1898. She died while staying at The Rocks, the Glessner summer estate in New Hampshire.

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