Spring-Douglas Historic District

Elgin City, Kane County, IL

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The Spring-Douglas Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The Spring-Douglas Historic District is located in the Northeast Neighborhood of Elgin, Illinois, just to the east of the Fox River, and north of the central business district. It encompasses contributing buildings dating between 1850 and 1950. The district is residential in character, and is located on both sides of two north-south streets, Spring Street and Douglas Avenue, from River Bluff Road to Kimball Street including a few additional properties on 12 intersecting streets. The Sherman Hospital complex on the east side of Spring Street in the northeast portion of the district is the only property on Spring Street not in the boundary. The National Register district encompasses the same boundaries as the local Spring-Douglas Historic District that was surveyed in 1995 and designated a local historic district in 1996.

The district is situated 38 miles north and west of Chicago, along the Fox River. Although the majority of the city lies in the northeast portion of Kane County, a fragment of Elgin's east side lies within Cook County. Elgin, incorporated as a city in 1854, is one of the largest urban areas in what is known as the Fox River Corridor. Elgin's earliest transportation route was a Chicago to Galena stage coach road that was surveyed from Elgin to Belvidere in 1836 by early settlers James Gifford and Samuel Kimball, later becoming U.S. Route 20. Elgin is served by the Union Pacific Railroad, formerly the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (Chicago and North Western Railway), that began service to Elgin in 1850. Another railroad, the Chicago and Pacific (later the Milwaukee Road and now the Sao Line), arrived in Elgin in 1873. Elgin is now considered a suburb of Chicago because it is within commuter distance of Chicago's Loop, both by rail and by expressway. However, the historical growth of Elgin has been mostly independent from Chicago due to the large industries that developed in Elgin. Elgin attracted a number of factories due to its close proximity to both water power and railroad lines. The concurrent growth of the dairy and watch manufacturing industries beginning in the 1860s, followed by a number of factories in the early 1890s all led to an increase in population. This population growth is reflected in Elgin's built environment. The majority of Elgin's housing stock was built prior to 1930, until the development of new housing on the outskirts of the city after the Second World War. The Spring-Douglas Historic District exemplifies Elgin's residential development. The linear nature of the District shows the expansion of the city, with early housing to the south dating as early as the 1850s to the modern styles of the 1950s and 1960s at the northernmost end.

The City of Elgin is divided by the Fox River into the east and west sides. The District is located in what is known as the Northeast Neighborhood of Elgin, an area that is principally residential in use. At the north end of the District along River Bluff Road, is a high bluff that drops to the Fox River valley below allowing for views from the homes above. Just to the east and west of the Spring-Douglas Historic District are some homes of similar quality, but Spring Street and Douglas Avenue developed with distinguished houses for prominent citizens and today contain a preponderance of these homes. The Sherman Hospital property also clearly demarcates the boundary at the northeast section of the historic district, because it has expanded its facilities upon what had formerly been residences on the 900 block of N. Spring Street and on Center Street just to the east.

The linear thrust of development outward from the original town of Elgin in all directions is embodied in the architecture found on Spring Street and Douglas Avenue. The northward development along Spring Street and Douglas Avenue is displayed in the architectural styles and types from the earliest buildings from the pre-Civil War era at the southernmost end of the District, to the booming years of Elgin just prior to the turn of the century in the middle and throughout the District, through the historic revival style and modern era homes at the northern end of the District.

There are a total of 285 buildings within the Spring-Douglas Historic District, dating between 1850-1970. A range of architectural styles and vernacular house types are found with a great number of high style buildings as well as simple vernacular homes and cottages that were in Illinois prior to the turn of the century.

The earliest construction in the District dates from the pre-1875 period, and is found primarily south of Jefferson Avenue, formerly known as North Division Street or the city limits during this era. The majority of the land south of Jefferson to Kimball Street was subdivided in 1854 as part of P.J. Kimball's Third Addition, with the exception of the lots at the southernmost end along Kimball Street that were already subdivided as part of P.J. Kimball Jr.'s Second Addition in 1848. Homes and cottages built during this era are in high styles such as Gothic Revival, Greek Revival and Italianate. The majority of 19th century vernacular house types are found in this area south of Jefferson Street such as the New England one-and-a-half, Gable Front, Gabled Ell, Cross Fann, L-Form, and T-Form.

The greatest bulk of development for the District as a whole was from the 1880s through the 1930s, with over 90% of the buildings built in this time period. A building boom took place that stemmed from the construction of a street car line in 1881 on Douglas Avenue from Kimball Street to Slade Avenue, and extended to Lovell Street in 1890. This construction occurred in Lovell's additions of 1868, 1893, 1913, other re-subdivisions of Lovell lands where many of Elgin's leaders settled, as well as in the many subdivisions associated with William Grote beginning in 1891 that were developed originally for employees of the Ludlow Shoe Factory and the Illinois Watch Case Company. Prior to the turn of the century, architectural designs in the Stick Style, Queen Anne, and Shingle Styles were constructed on Spring Street and Douglas Avenue as well as a number of 19th century vernacular house types.

As Douglas Avenue began to gain the reputation of being an exclusive street at the turn of the century through the 1930s, many historic revival and modern era homes began to appear. Homes in the Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Mission, Tudor Revival, Italian Renaissance, Classical Revival, Craftsman and Prairie styles are found at the northern end of the District. Also mixed in are popular house types of the 20th century such as American Foursquare and Bungalow. Later Colonial Revival, Cape Cod, and Ranch styles are mainly found at the far north end of the District.

Although the Spring-Douglas Historic District consists primarily of single-family residential buildings, there are a number of notable multi-family dwellings. As Elgin grew into an industrial city, urbanized forms of residential development began to emerge. Urban architectural types, such as duplexes, flats, and apartment buildings, served multi-family uses. The era of the multi-family building in the District dates from the mid-1880s through 1929.


The Spring-Douglas Historic District's period of significance is 1850 through 1950. The local architecture of the Spring-Douglas Historic District stems from its development as the most prominent upper middle class area of Elgin during the city's formative and rapidly growing periods and its architecture is representative of a variety of high styles and vernacular and popular house types, including the Italianate, Shingle Style, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style and the gabled-ell, gable front, cross form, L-form, and American Foursquare house types. It is a district almost exclusively residential, with buildings dating from 1850 through 1976, although over half were built by the turn of the century. The decade of greatest growth was the 1890s, which parallels a general building boom taking place throughout Elgin and the Chicago area as a whole. During this time over one-quarter of the District's housing stock was constructed. Also during this time, more factories were located in the city of Elgin than in any period before or after. The following two decades, through 1919, added an additional hundred buildings. Only 12 buildings have been built since 1950. Not surprisingly, the most prevalent architectural high style represented in the District is the Queen Anne style, from the late 19th and early 20th century, generally 1880 through 1910.

The Spring-Douglas Historic District is associated with people important to Elgin's early development including members of the Kimball family, one of the city's founding families, and early landowners and property developers such as Vincent Lovell and William Grote. Historically, the northern part of the area has been called Elgin's "Gold Coast," the "exclusive upper Douglas Avenue District," and "aristocratic." The Elgin Daily Courier frequently referred to it this way in newspaper articles from the late 1880s through at least the 1920s. Residents of the Spring-Douglas Historic District in the late 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century included the presidents of banks and major manufacturing companies, proprietors of wholesale and retail businesses, medical and legal professionals, and elected local officials including aldermen, judges, a township supervisor, and three mayors.

The architectural styles and quality of the housing stock are representative of the executive and managerial class or townspeople who built and occupied them during the period of significance.

The City of Elgin was established in 1835 on the Fox River, as a stopping point for trade and travelers between Galena and Chicago. The community's long and rich architectural history is tied to its development, first, as a dairy center, and later as a booming manufacturing town for the Elgin National Watch Company and many other businesses.

The Spring-Douglas Historic District is located along the western edge of what is known as the Northeast Neighborhood. The Northeast Neighborhood was developed over a period of approximately 150 years on land that was part of the original claims of two of Elgin's earliest settlers, Phineas J. Kimball and Vincent Lovell. The first recorded subdivisions were P. J. Kimball Jr.'s Second and Third Additions in the southern part of the neighborhood in 1848 and 1854. The Spring-Douglas Historic District includes two parallel streets that run north and south the length of the neighborhood. They developed in a linear fashion from south to north. That part of the District on Kimball's land between Kimball Street and Jefferson Avenue, the original city limits, tends to have most of the oldest housing in the District. Here can be found many of the 19th century vernacular house types built for and by the working classes. The northern part of the Spring-Douglas Historic District on Lovell's land, north of Jefferson Avenue, was subdivided beginning in 1868 through 1913, and its housing stock generally displays a range of later styles. Along Spring Street and Douglas Avenue, particularly at the north end, are clustered the largest and most prosperous high-style residences of the Northeast Neighborhood. This part of the District attracted many of Elgin's leading citizens during the peak of the city's development in the 1880s and 1890s continuing through the early part of the 20th century.

James T. Gifford, who founded the town of Elgin in 1835, settled on the east bank of the Fox River in what is now the Elgin Historic District. The other original pioneer family of Elgin, led by Joseph Kimball, laid claim to the west side of the river with the intention of building a mill. When Joseph's brother, Phineas Kimball, arrived in June of that same year with his wife, he settled on the east side, claiming 40 acres, most of which is now in the Northeast Neighborhood and includes that part of the Spring-Douglas Historic District south of Jefferson Avenue. His land stretched north from Division Street (so named because it divided his land from Gifford's) to Jefferson Avenue. He built a log cabin at the northwest corner of Kimball Street and Douglas Avenue, at the south edge of the District.

In the early years, most new residents were attracted to a very small area within half a mile of Market Square at Chicago Street and Grove Avenue, a few blocks to the south of the Kimball property. There, in 1842, Gifford had filed a 21-block plat bounded on the west by the river, on the north by Division, on the east by Chapel Street, and on the south by Prairie Street. But as the settlement grew, in 1848 P.J. Kimball, Jr. began subdividing the family lands immediately to the north. His Second Addition, recorded December 29, 1848, included those properties in the Spring-Douglas Historic District which are on the north side of Kimball Street. In 1850, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was completed to Elgin, and in 1854 the City of Elgin was incorporated. These actions began to attract new settlers to Elgin. In response, the bulk of the P.J. Kimball property, stretching from just north of Kimball Street to Jefferson Avenue, was laid out for residential development. P.J. Kimball Jr.'s Third Addition was recorded November 27, 1854. Housing construction was slow, however. In 1860 there were fewer than a dozen houses in the area. But with the increase in population following the arrival of the Elgin National Watch Company in 1864, the area began filling in. By 1880, the first horse-drawn street railway, which had been running on Grove Avenue between the Watch Company and downtown's Fountain Square, was extended up Douglas Avenue to Kimball, enabling management personnel at the Watch Company, as well as others who worked throughout the downtown, to begin locating in the Spring-Douglas Historic District.

North of Jefferson Avenue were the lands of another early settler, Vincent Lovell. Lovell, a merchant, came to Elgin in 1837 and bought 160 acres extending east from the Fox River. Lovell was one of the small group that was granted the charter for Elgin Academy in 1839. The school did not open until 1856, after Lovell's death. His wife Lucy, a teacher, became a benefactor of the Academy, and saw to it that her two sons were well educated. With her son Vincent S. (a later mayor of Elgin between 1887-1889), she began subdividing family lands in 1868. The blocks between Jefferson Street and Lincoln Avenue on both Douglas Avenue and Spring Street were recorded in several subdivisions beginning October 1, 1868 through 1886, and identified as Lovell's Addition and later subdivisions by Lovell and the County Clerk.

Between 1880 and 1893 the population of Elgin more than doubled, leading to increased demand for residential lots. The sections east of Spring Street and north of Lincoln Avenue were sold off in large pieces to other owners and developers who responded to this demand. Growth was also spurred by the extension of the street railway further north on Douglas Avenue from Kimball to Slade Avenue in 1881 when a shoe factory was opened. It was replaced in 1890 by an electric streetcar on Douglas Avenue to Lovell Street, along Lovell Street to Prospect Boulevard, and then north on Prospect to River Bluff Road. This made the Spring-Douglas Historic District easily accessible to the downtown with its businesses, major churches, and other attractions, as well as to outlying centers of employment. [see: Streetcar Suburbs: 1888-1928]

One of the most prominent developers from the 1880s was William Grote, who came to Elgin from Germany in 1871 to open a general store. By 1882 he left that business to devote himself to real estate development. He is credited with persuading more factories to locate in Elgin, between 1882 and 1892, than ever had come before or since. Among them were the Ludlow Shoe Company and the Illinois Watch Case Company, both just across Dundee Avenue about a half-mile east from the Spring-Douglas Historic District, and the Cutter and Crossette Shirt factory also nearby. The record growth of factory jobs during those years created a demand for residential development, and Mr. Grote and associates responded with a number of subdivisions in the upper corner of the Northeast Neighborhood. One of his associates was E. D. Waldron. They recorded Grote and Waldron's Second Addition August 29, 1881 which includes the east side of Spring Street between Lincoln and Slade Avenues. At least two of his new subdivisions were marketed directly to the newly arriving employees of the Illinois Watch Case Company and the Ludlow Shoe Company which both opened in 1891. In 1891 Grote was elected mayor and served in that position until 1895.

Another notable landowner of the time was Stephen Slade, a fruit grower who platted and sold his land which included the east side of Spring Street north of Slade Avenue to River Bluff Road for residential lots in 1881. The site of his farmhouse on the northwest corner of Center Street and Cooper Avenue was purchased by a grant from Mrs. George P. Lord, and became the site for a relocated Sherman Hospital.

The area west of Spring Street and north of Lincoln Avenue was retained by the Lovell family and was known as Lovell's Grove. Originally a heavily forested area of Lovell's farm along the Fox River, it became a popular picnic spot. It was the last section of the Spring-Douglas Historic District to be made available for residential development. Three of the most southern of these blocks were recorded as Lovell's Grove Addition on August 28, 1893. The northern three blocks west of Spring Street and north of Slade Avenue were recorded as Lovell's Grove Second Addition on May 3, 1913, and a new street, now named River Bluff Road, was built to connect the northern ends of Grove Avenue, Brook, Douglas Avenue and Spring Street.

Although residential uses dominate the Spring-Douglas Historic District, the immediately surrounding and nearby areas contained many employment centers ranging from institutional to manufacturing use. The most prominent institution is Sherman Hospital, founded in 1887 by the Elgin Women's Club. It moved to a new stone and brick building in 1895 at Center Street and Cooper Avenue. Many additions followed throughout the years between 1905 and 1972 so that the complex now occupies a double block between Spring Street, Prospect Boulevard, Slade Avenue, and Cooper Avenue, immediately adjacent to the Spring-Douglas Historic District. Parking lots occupy portions of the adjacent blocks to the south. The oldest standing building dates from 1917. Located on what is now the south Sherman Hospital parking lot was a factory building that housed several interesting early Elgin industries. Originally a shoe factory, it became the home of the Vollor Chewing Gum Factory, which produced such gum brands as "Elgin Hearts" and "Elgin Pride." The gum business went bankrupt in 1890 and was replaced for a short time by the Illinois Creamery Company, known locally as the "House of Corrections." The company collected rancid butter, and then separated it from foreign matter, reduced it to oil and then mixed it with fresh milk to create a "renovated" butter. The business moved and the building was eventually razed in 1929.

The site of another historic hospital in the area, St. Joseph's, is now St. Francis Park. The hospital was opened at Jefferson Avenue and Prospect Boulevard in 1904, but moved to the west side of Elgin in 1984. The owners, the Franciscan Sisters, demolished the old hospital and donated the entire block bounded by Jefferson Avenue, Prospect Boulevard, Center Street, and Plum Street to the city of Elgin for a park. This site is one block east of the Spring-Douglas Historic District.

A prominent industry that survived over 90 years in the Northeast Neighborhood was the David C. Cook Publishing Company. Established in Chicago in 1875, it relocated to Elgin in 1882 and to an eight-acre river-edge property on North Grove Avenue, two blocks west of the historic district, in 1901. Cook, a publisher of religious texts, was another businessman persuaded to move to Elgin by William Grote. The business was a prominent contributor to the economic vitality of Elgin, providing hundreds of jobs. Its principal administration and editorial building at 850 N. Grove Avenue was built in the Classical Revival style in 1901. The factory buildings are in the rear. The David C. Cook properties originally encompassed more than just those used for the business. There were also residential lots and a park included in the first plat between North Grove Avenue and Douglas Avenue, opposite the publishing house.

Along the river, to the west of the Spring-Douglas Historic District, lay the tracks of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. These tracks have been controversial throughout Elgin's history for several reasons. Acquired by the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1864, the east side tracks became known as the "low" tracks to distinguish them from Chicago and North Western Railway's "high" tracks on the west side of the river. The consolidation of the two lines created a railroad monopoly in the community that led to community outcry. Throughout the 1870s there were complaints of high prices for fares. Later, from the 1880s through the 1950s, the tracks caused frequent disruption in the central business district. The depot was just two blocks south of the Spring-Douglas Historic District, at Douglas and Dexter avenues. It stood from 1881 to 1950, when it was torn down.

The low lying lands along the eastern bank of the Fox River, just two blocks west of the Spring-Douglas Historic District, have been industrial since the early days of Elgin. The Fox River Manufacturing Company, organized in 1866 with G. W. Renwick of Elgin and others, took over property along the east bank of the Fox River from Chicago Street to Ann Street. On these lands was the old woolen mill building, erected in 1844 by S. Newton Dexter as the first manufacturing structure in Elgin. To the north of this were the various businesses of Thomas McBride, who was a grain trader and lumber, coal and dairy merchant. Between 1850 and 1909 there were myriad ice companies scattered all along the Fox River. The river was a major source of ice in the days before mechanical refrigeration, and with the adjacent railroad, Elgin had the lead over other communities on the Fox River in total tonnage. Breweries in Chicago were the major customers, but there were also customers, including the cold storage warehouses of the dairy industry, the Elgin Eagle Brewery, the watch factory's National House, and the Elgin State Mental Hospital. By 1909, contamination of the Fox River led the industry to leave for purer water in northern lakes.

With the array of institutional and manufacturing concerns located so close to the Spring-Douglas Historic District, the neighborhood was ideally and conveniently situated for residential development. Yet it was physically segregated and exclusively residential enough to attract Elgin's top citizens. Of the residents in 1900 for whom employment information was available, a large number worked in the manufacturing sector. Some of the industries that area residents worked in included the Elgin National Watch Factory, the city's largest employer for many years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the Illinois Watch Case Company, at one time the second largest employer. However, not just employees and managers of those companies lived in the District, but at one time, the presidents of both companies did. The David C. Cook Publishing company was located a block away from the boundary of the District and David Cook Jr. also lived in the District. A significant number of residents in 1900 were company owners/proprietors, presidents of small corporations or other officers. By 1920 these numbers had increased, and by 1940, many of Elgin's business class were still found throughout the neighborhood.

In the early part of the 20th century Elgin had many retail establishments and the owner/proprietors of largest of these also lived in the Spring-Douglas Historic District, as well as a number of store and business managers. Owners of Elgin 's two department stores, Speiss and Ackemann Brothers, and the city's largest grocer, August Scheele and Co., resided in the Spring-Douglas Historic District, as did the presidents of two banks, Union National and First National.

The Spring-Douglas Historic District was the home not only of civil service employees such as postmasters, firemen, and city engineers. Top governmental officials, including a number of mayors, several aldermen, a township supervisor, and a judge, also lived there.

The presence of Sherman Hospital made the Spring-Douglas Historic District a natural choice for medical professionals. In 1900 there were dentists, physicians, as well as a stockbroker, a pastor, one teacher, school principals and two attorneys. In 1920 professionals included dentists, an osteopath and a physician, one pastor, one engineer, a newspaper editor for the Elgin Daily News and a business manager for the Daily Courier. At least seven attorneys with their own law firms lived in the District.

The Spring-Douglas Historic District contains many examples of the architectural styles, vernacular and popular house types that dominated American residential architecture between the 1850s and 1950. Homes within the district are reflective of the stylistic evolution of late 19th and early 20th century residential architecture as well as the community's development during its peak period of growth into an industrial center. The majority of residential buildings in the district are high style, that is they fit within well-defined and commonly illustrated stylistic categories. Of these, the Queen Anne style predominates, with 48 examples. Other high styles from the late 19th century include Shingle Style and Stick Style. The greatest number of houses designed prior to 1875 are Italianate with 12 examples. From this same period there are also three Gothic Revival and one Greek Revival house. Early 20th century high styles include Craftsman/Craftsman Bungalows found in 10 houses, Prairie found in 22 houses, and Colonial Revival found in 20 houses. Other 20th century styles include Dutch Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Tudor Revival, Mission, and Italian Renaissance Revival. Many of the later high style buildings are found on "upper Douglas Avenue," in the 800, 900, and 1000 blocks.

There are 88 residential structures classified as 19th century vernacular house types, the most common being Gable Front houses and cottages. The design of vernacular house types usually depended on the builder's experience and knowledge using available materials. There was generally no conscious attempt to follow a style, although a few of the vernacular types in the District do make use of applied ornament in some recognized architectural style. Other well represented vernacular house types include Gabled Ell, Cross-Form, L-Form (8), and T-Form (5). There are three New England One-and-a-Half houses and one Pyramidal Cottage. In the 20th century it became popular to use plans that were published and widely available. There are 47 houses from this period in the District, the most common of these being the American Foursquare. There are also Bungalows, Ranch houses, Contemporary houses, and one simple Cape Cod.

Although the majority of the buildings are single family, there are 15 multi-family buildings, including two flat buildings, five duplexes, and eight apartment buildings. There is also one gas station and one institutional building.

‡ Jennifer Kenny and Victoria Granacki, Historic Certification Consultants, Spring-Douglas Historic District, Kane County, IL, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Ann Street • Cherry Street • Cooper Avenue • Douglas Avenue • Franklin Boulevard • Jefferson Avenue • Kimball Street • Lincoln Avenue • Lovell Street • Plum Street • River Bluff Road • Seneca Street • Slade Avenue • Spring Street North • Summit Street

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