Since this extensive and interesting series doesn’t exist digitally, we’ve decided there’s no better time than the present to share this joint venture between BIHS and the Sun-Standard newspaper that began in 1978, in search of Blue Island’s oldest standing home.
Article by Don Rizzs, with research assistance from Ken Jellema and Ed McGee
On a beautiful sunny morning in 1898, a Cook County official drove his spirited horse-drawn carriage down a serene, tree-shaded lane in Blue Island.He was on Greenwood Ave. and was riding past large, comfortable homes of the era which belonged to men like Charley Young, H.B. Robinson and William Henke. His destination was the home of the Cook County Assessor, William H. “Billy” Weber, at 344 Greenwood, on the corner at York St.
As the official approached the intersection, he saw a seven-year-old girl playing on the corner and asked, “Dear, where is Mr. Weber’s house?” The little girl, now known to us as Mrs. Irene B. Haase, of 2517 W. York St, replied, “Oh, you must mean ‘Weber’s Castle.’ It’s right over there mister, the big house with the lion’s head on the second floor.”
The beautiful home nicknamed “Weber’s Castle” by the children of the era because of its structurally ornate beauty, was built in 1898 on an estate which included an apple and cherry orchard. It was bounded by Greenwood Ave, York St, High St, and the present alley on the west side of Greenwood.
George W. Maher and Co., of Chicago, was the architectural firm which designed the house. There was a carriage house north of the present garage, added to the estate shortly after Billy Weber purchased a vintage 1908 Rolls Royce. Later years saw Packards dominate the Weber garage.
William H. Weber, a county school teacher in Tinley Park, came to Blue Island in 1889 and taught schools in Worth and Green Valley (now Alsip). He was instrumental in bringing J.E. Lemon to Blue Island to serve as superintendent of schools in 1894.
Weber was well-known around the turn of the century. He served as county assessor, as Cook County Board President, as president of the area’s board of education and as a member of the first board of directors of the First National Bank in Blue Island.
Weber survived three wives, Minna, who died in 1914, a Mrs. Longfellow, and a wife named Mrs. Edna Rolfe. Mrs. Rolfe’s daughter, Adelle, was engaged to a European Baron who frequently attended parties in the Weber home. Some of the highest ranking state and county officials were also entertained at the home of William “Mr. Republican” Weber. These included Senator Brookes and Governor Dwight Greene. Waiters, servants and maids, who lived on the third floor, served in white ties and tails at Weber’s posh parties.
Weber’s children included daughters Olive Weber Berry and Eleanor Weber Brocky, and a son, Lowell. In the early 1900s Weber built the home on the northeast corner of York and Greenwood for daughter Olive, and later built the home at 2538 York St. for daughter Eleanor. These homes are now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Klein and Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Bachmann, respectively.
Weber’s home was sold to Dr. R. Wendell Vance and his wife Ora by Olive Weber Berry shortly before Weber’s death in 1943. Vance, a Mormon, set up his medical practice in the home.
Vance was known as a great disciplinarian with his children, while his wife, known as a great seamstress, sewed all their clothing. Mrs. Vance also contributed a great deal of her sewing to the Mormon church.
When the Vance family moved to Provo, Utah in 1957, Vance’s final goodbye was delivered as a blessing from the front stairs of the home. Dr. Vance died in Provo in 1977, at 68 years of age.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael LaMorte purchased the home from Dr. Vance on October 1, 1957. Their children are Linda, a claims adjuster, and Michael (Colleen), an E.F. Hutton employee.
The LaMortes have beautifully maintained the more gracious aspects of the home, some of which include: an oak staircase which spirals from the first to the third floor (the third floor was also used as a ballroom by the Webers, although the LaMortes use it as a family room); stained glass ornamental windows throughout the house; an antique Tiffany chandelier which illuminates the dining room; marble pillars in the foyer; and oaken woodwork throughout the home.
Two of the three fireplaces in the home have been restored by the LaMortes, who also added an ornamental ironwork fence on the southwest side of the spacious backyard.
Though it has changed owners, one can still go back in the house’s past simply by walking through the south hallway, where an original oil painting of Eleanor Weber still hangs. Perhaps she is simply clinging to the memories of her childhood in the home she loved – a home that has become part of the rich history of Blue Island – “The City on the Hill.”