The small brick house on the corner of the 183rd Street and Martin Avenue was almost lost to bulldozers in the 1980s.
The Homewood Federal Savings & Loan, now a US Bank, wanted to knock down the building to make room for more parking when the last resident, Hertha Howe, died in 1983. Elaine Egdorf, co-founder of the Homewood Historical Society, was able to save the home with help from the village and the historical society’s first 47 charter members.
Currently, the historical society has 257 members, making it the largest historical society in the south suburbs.
The house was originally built in 1891 with “HOMEWOOD” stamped brick by a father and son team, both named William Gottschalk. It was built as a workingman’s cottage for employees of the Homewood Brickyards, one of the village’s first businesses. The brickyards were on the west side of the Illinois Central tracks where the Flosswood Condominiums are today. The house is one of four remaining, original Homewood brick buildings in the area.
After the house was obtained by the Homewood Historical Society, it was named the Dorband-Howe House Museum, after the last two resident families, and the museum was officially opened in 1987. The museum itself contains an inventory of over 4,000 artifacts and more than 5,000 photographs of the Homewood area.
Although the house is small, the historical society is able to give a lively glimpse of Homewood history by using the front of the house as an example of what interiors may have looked like in the late 1800s. The back of the house serves as the museum, and the upstairs is used to store the archives.
History is told through the collection, including photographs of the original brickyard dormitories from 1891 and the first train depot built in Homewood in 1853. In the small back
room that houses the museum, glass cases are regularly refilled by the current president, Dixie Mitchell. Above one of the cases is a street map of the current layout of Homewood and the surrounding towns with a clear overlay showing the original farms and the families that owned them.
The home entered Elaine Egdorf’s radar when her husband, Jerry Egdorf, the first paramedic in Homewood’s volunteer fire department, responded to an attic fire in the house. He noticed a collection of artifacts the Howe family had kept and protected over the years.
The officers and volunteers of the historical society are eager to share their find and donations with the public. Sitting in the small room by the back entrance, the officers discuss the past and reminisce about the glory days of the Washington Park Race Track that drew crowds from 1884 until 1977 when the grandstands were destroyed by fire.
A recent donation of enlarged photos of the prized horses on the track brought back memories for the members historians of races they had witnessed and of the fire that destroyed the track. A photograph on the wall of the room shows the track lit up in flames.
Each of the enlarged pictures is damaged and yellowed but the historical society has plans to restore hem. “They were found in the basement of a closed tavern on Halsted,” said Jim Wright, the current Vice President and former president of the society. “The yellowing is from years of cigarette smoke.”
The Homewood Historical Society will be opening its archives of the Homewood Fire Department for their next display.
The Dorband-Howe House and Museum is open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m.
Membership with the Homewood Historical Society is an annual fee of $15 for an individual and $20 for a family membership. Officers and volunteers can be contacted at 708-799-1896 or at http://homewoodhistoricalsociety.com.
The original version of this story misidentified the intersection where the Dorband-Howe House is located and did not note that Jerry Egdorf was the first paramedic on the volunteer fire department. The Chronicle regrets the error and omission.