[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Herma Clark House in Princeton, Illinois.]

Herma Clark House, Princeton, Built 1850.

 p155  "Keepsake Cottage"

After she became widely known for her entertainingly nostalgic "When Chicago Was Young" column in The Chicago Sunday Tribune and as an author, playwright, and monologist, Herma Clark returned to her native town of Princeton and acquired a century-old house that now is as much a landmark as are the Owen Lovejoy and John Bryant houses. Here, amid the collection of relics, souvenirs, and antiques that has evoked the name "Keepsake Cottage" for her house, Herma Clark continues to write her column and books like The Elegant Eighties, and to add to her repertoire of monologues, such as her "Bustles and Bangs," "Albums and Antimacassars," and "Farm and Fireside," which are as popular as her newspaper column.

In her role as a platform speaker specializing in modes and manners of the Elegant Eighties and Neighborly Nineties, often wearing elaborate costumes of those gaudy periods, Herma Clark is frequently absent from Keepsake Cottage, delighting audiences in towns and cities of the Midwest. She also is in Chicago at weekly intervals, attending to her newspaper work and engaging in various club and social activities. When not thus involved, however, the gracious, whimsical author of the "Martha Esmond" letters may be found in her northern Illinois home, entertaining old friends and welcoming new ones. Living with Miss Clark in Keepsake Cottage is her sister, Mrs. H. A. Gossard, who, besides being joint owner of the house, serves as its mistress during Miss Clark's absences.

Like most of the other houses in Princeton, Keepsake Cottage is white-painted, kept in trim condition, and surrounded by a spacious lawn. On one side of the house may be seen hollyhocks, descendants of some from the garden of the humorous poet, Bert Leston Taylor.

Evidence that this cottage is almost a century old, although its comfortable porch is of more recent date, is provided in the returns on its façade, these being in the mode of the Greek Revival. It is believed that the builder of the Clark cottage was John Crittenden, a pioneer settler of Princeton, and that he erected it about 1850. Another Princeton pioneer and a neighbor of Crittenden's was Alvah Whitmarsh, grandfather of Herma Clark. As an early carpenter-architect, Alvah Whitmarsh designed and built many houses which are still standing in the town.

A native of Princeton, where her parents, Major and Mrs. Atherton Clark, were highly esteemed residents, Miss Clark, after completing her  p156 studies at Oberlin College, went to Chicago and there met the person who, she says, had the greatest influence on her life — the Chicago society leader, Mrs. William Blair. "As a young woman," writes Herma Clark in The Elegant Eighties, "hardly out of teen-age, intent on seeking fame and fortune in the nearest large city, I left the Illinois town in which I had grown up. A kind fate sent me the opportunity to act as secretary to Mr. William Blair, retired businessman, who had been the first wholesale hardware dealer in the infant Chicago.

"On his death, I remained with his widow, as her secretary. . . . Mrs. Blair was a beautiful woman, and as she drove down Michigan Avenue in her vis-a‑vis, . . . she was a type of great lady indeed. But it was not only her outward appearance, it was her inward and spiritual grace, which so deeply impressed me. It is not too much to say that, aside from my own family, she was the person who most influenced me."

When Herma Clark acquired the old Crittenden house in 1947, she found it was in need of repairs and improvements. In characteristic fashion, she became so enthusiastic over the work of restoration that she infected her relatives and some of her close friends and they volunteered to help her. Writing in her delightful Guide Book to Keepsake Cottage, Miss Clark says: "It may be asked if the matter of getting relatives and friends thus to labor presented no difficulties. Our answer is: 'None whatever.' It was done by a sublimation of the principle employed by Tom Sawyer, when he got his fence whitewashed. Tom made it hard to get a chance to use the whitewash brush on that Missouri back fence. Our method was to mention our intention to write the story of the renovation of the house and to ask, 'Wouldn't you like to be in the book?' So here is the promised volume."

Today, the interior of Keepsake Cottage is a veritable museum of the Elegant Eighties. But in it there is none of the stuffiness, the overcrowding, of an 1880 interior. After passing through the small entrance hall — which contains, among other things, an old hatrack and an oval-framed picture of Herma Clark's father in his Civil War officer's uniform — and through a doorway above which hangs a cross-stitched motto: "God Bless Our Home," the visitor finds himself in the living room. Here are numerous articles from the home of the late Mrs. Blair, among them a long gold-framed mirror, walnut and oak chairs, a teakwood table, and a bronze lamp base, which was originally a Japanese vase purchased at the 1893 fair in Chicago.

Other objects of interest in the living room are wax flowers under a glass dome, several oils by the late Princeton artist, Edith Taber, a painting by Mrs. Grace Hall Hemingway, mother of the novelist, and a portrait  p157 of Herma Clark by the London artist, Dorothy Vicaji, who also painted Queen Alexandra. From the living room the visitor passes into the dining room, and here the most valued piece of furniture is a round table with a cherry wood top, which was made by Grandfather Whitmarsh. Among the books on shelves in the dining room are two old volumes — Literary Remains of Willis Gaylord Clark, written by a grand-uncle of Miss Clark's, and History of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry, a regiment in which Miss Clark's father served during the Civil War. In other rooms of the cottage, especially in Miss Clark's study, are found a great variety of quaint, sometimes amusing, heirlooms, mementos, and keepsakes, either from friends of the author or from relatives.

Upon leaving Keepsake Cottage, nestling under its shade trees, the visitor is likely to hear the bell in the Congregational Church tower near by ringing out the hour or half-hour — a bell which owes its existence to Princeton's most famous historical personage, the Rev. Owen Lovejoy.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 11 Dec 07