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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.
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[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 Swartout House in Waukegan, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

John H. Swartout House, Waukegan, Built 1847.

 p137  Classical Masterpiece

Some years ago a national magazine of wide circulation published a photograph of the old Swartout house in Waukegan, pointing out that it was a distinctive example of the Greek Revival style of architecture in America. This attention was well merited, for the Swartout house has long been admired by architects for is pure classical lines. It is an object of interest, too, to historical students. Built a century ago, this dwelling has associations with the early history of northern Illinois and that region north of Chicago known as the North Shore.

The man who erected the house was John H. Swartout, early settler of Lake County. He first arrived in Waukegan when that industrious North Shore city was a hamlet of log houses known as Little Fort, so named because of a French outpost which occupied the site in the eighteenth century. In the year 1846, when the U. S. government designated Little Fort as a port of entry, we find John H. Swartout one of the important citizens of the pioneer community, particularly in the religious field.

In that year he is recorded as having been one of a small group of  p138 residents of Little Fort who banded together to organize a church of the American Baptist Mission Society. This society had sent out the Rev. Peter Freeman to establish a church in the North Shore settlement and engage in missionary work. He found a responsive co-worker in John H. Swartout, who was then a man of some means in the settlement.

Under Swartout's leader­ship, eleven citizens met in the Congregational Church building, which then stood on Utica Street, and formally established a church of the Baptist faith.

The first baptisms of this church were held in the Little Fort River at a point where the Chicago & North Western railroad tracks are now located. In time the congregation, again under the leader­ship of John Swartout, brought about the construction of a church edifice. It was a building thirty feet long by twenty-two feet wide, which stood on North Genessee Street. Here the Rev. Mr. Freeman preached to an ever-growing congregation and here John Swartout wielded strong influence in the religious growth of Little Fort.

When John Swartout built his house in 1847, the Greek Revival style was popular in the Midwest, although it had reached its peak of popularity in the East during the 1830's. So, following the mode, Swartout achieved a dwelling that had the appearance of a Greek temple; an abode somewhat resembling a miniature Parthenon. The façade of this house, with its four fluted Doric columns, is typical of Greek classic architecture at its purest.

Here John Swartout and his family lived during the late 1840's and the ominous 1850's. Here he saw Little Fort grow in population and become an outlet for the furs, hides, pork, wheat, and lumber of the hinterland. And it was while living in this house that he was elected a trustee of the village in 1850, the community having been incorporated a year earlier and given the new name of "Waukegan." This was an Indian word meaning "fort" or "trading post." The village became a city in 1859.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07