This House Was Once a Home:
The Story of 1524 and the Family that Lived Here
Opens August 23, 2018
Opening Reception: Thursday, August 23, 2018, 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Family History presentation begins at 6:00 pm. Free and open to the public. Register Here.
“Life was never dull at 1524 during the dual occupancy of the Countiss’. They enjoyed the confidence of a great number of people from all walks of life and in a wide variety of occupations. They were constantly meeting new people both through business relationships and friendships and were thus exposed to many problems and their ultimate solutions – sharing knowledge, enjoying experiences and watching new industries emerge – was Chicago’s game of the day.”
– Henrietta Countiss Vieta, This House That Was Once a Home
When Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive was only a two lane road 100 years ago, this house where the International Museum of Surgical Science stands was once a home. This House Was Once a Home is an exhibition highlighting the first and only family to live at 1524 North Lake Shore Drive: the Countiss Residence built for Eleanor Robinson Countiss Whiting.
Eleanor Robinson, already well-traveled at an early age, had recently moved from New York to Chicago at the turn-of-the-century. Her father, John Kelly Robinson, was a partner of the Diamond Match Company run by her uncle, Ohio Columbus Barber. The family grew in stature and wealth from their investment in matches, and the company moved its headquarters from Barberton, Ohio (named after Mr. Barber) to the bustling city of Chicago in 1887. There she met Frederick Downer Countiss, a young gentleman who was first courting her sister; he ultimately fell for the bold and passionate Eleanor instead. In 1910, Eleanor married Frederick, who was then the president of the Chicago Board of Trade. Her father’s extravagant wedding gift was a housing fund to be used for building the mansion.
Eleanor’s love for France drew her to design her home after Le Petit Trianon of Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s abode away from the royal palace. The newlywed Countiss couple, as prominent members of Chicago’s socialite and cultural scenes, enlisted their friend, architect and Executive Committee Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, Howard Van Doren Shaw. The mansion was constructed in 1917, an elegant home that was fit for a queen.
While Eleanor’s life was cut short at a young age—she died at age 43—her bustling life at 1524 N. Lake Shore was full of grandeur, duty and excitement. As we walk through these same halls today, we can imagine Eleanor as a host of gatherings for wealthy women ready to fight for the duty of their country during World War I, social dance parties through the Roaring ‘20s, and seeing to her four children as they grew up in this home. While the home housed only a family of six plus Grandmother Robinson for a period of time throughout the early years, it was never quiet owing to a rush of house maids, servants, cooks, butlers and nannies.
Step back in time to the early days of our mansion’s history in This House Was Once a Home to discover the past lives and livelihoods of the family that ate, played and dreamt here, and called this mansion Home.
Learn more about the history of the Eleanor Robinson Countiss House here.