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Lambert: The Modern Era — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Two

The second installment in the history of the Joliet Road home.

Lambert: The Modern Era — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Two Lambert: The Modern Era — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Two Lambert: The Modern Era — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Two Lambert: The Modern Era — The Chittenden-Owens House, Part Two

The Inquiry 

In response to a request by Plainfield Patch reader, Sally, the history of the and its residents has been explored in this second installment. 

The Facts

The stately residence along Joliet Road was erected by a prominent Plainfield pioneer family and, later, was the home and office of a well-respected physician. The Italianate and Queen Anne-style home—along with its impressive grounds—was widely known as the most impressive residential property in the village when it was constructed.

The Short-Lived Chittenden Era

Although it appears that George N. and Elizabeth Chittenden built the large home, the couple probably never lived in the house. In November 1883, the new home was quickly deeded to their son, Will, and his newly-wed wife, Luella (Tonner) Chittenden for the sum of $15,000. 

Although Will continued as a partner in Plainfield’s Chittenden & Corbin store, his interest in precious metals mining in the West increasingly occupied his time. Consequently, Will Chittenden moved his family to Denver, Colorado less than seven years after moving into the impressive Plainfield home.

Three years later, G. N. Chittenden died at Plainfield where he was buried shortly before Christmas 1893 and Elizabeth Chittenden moved to Denver.   

Nearly two decades later, Will Chittenden died under tragic circumstances. The first reports of his death suggested foul play; however, a coroner’s inquest ruled that Will had suffered a heart attack while alone at one of his mining cabins outside of Denver. As he collapsed on the evening of April 21, 1910, it was determined that Will hit his head on a piece of furniture and knocked over an oil lamp which started a fire. The fire destroyed the cabin, and Will Chittenden’s charred remains—with evidence of head trauma—were discovered the following morning. 

In 1916, Dorothy Chittenden, the daughter of Will and Luella Chittenden, married Kenneth Owens, the second son of Dr. John C. and Mary Owens.

Dr. John C. Owens

John C. Owens was born January 3, 1857 in Oneida County, New York. He studied medicine at Syracuse Medical College, graduating June 9, 1881. Upon graduation, Owens continued his studies as an intern at Rochester City Hospital, Rochester, New York. 

Dr. John C. Owens arrived at Joliet, Illinois in 1882. He moved to Plainfield, Illinois in January 1883 and, the next year, married Mary H. Hitchcock of Morris, Illinois. Dr. and Mrs. Owens became the parents of three sons: Robert H., Kenneth H. and Jay C.

In 1888, Dr. Owens opened a drug store along the south side of Lockport Street, where he had established his medical office five years earlier. By 1892, Owens added a jewelry department to his drug store business. At the same time, Dr. Owens also owned a harness shop. 

Civic-minded, Dr. Owens was a member of the Modern Woodmen of America, the Village of Plainfield Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party. He and his wife were members of the as well.

Highly respected by the residents of Plainfield and beyond, Dr. Owens was known for his passionate dedication to the practice of medicine. He was a member of the Will County Medical Society, Illinois State Medical Society and the American Medical Association (AMA). 

About 1910, Dr. Owens moved his business to the drug store location established sixteen years earlier by Dr. David W. Jump (present-day location of ). There, Dr. Owens operated his drug store—with its jewelry department—until 1925.

With the financial resources provided by his profession and varied business enterprises, Dr. Owens was able to acquire a large amount of land in Kendall County that he divided into several operating farms.

The Owens Family Makes Its Mark

As 1895 began, the Chittenden family was living in Denver. In February, the Plainfield property was sold to Emily and William Weston, mining engineers in Colorado. Four months later, they sold the Plainfield home and grounds—which included a substantial carriage barn—to John C. Owens for $2,600.

Shortly after he acquired the property, Dr. and Mrs. Owens completed the first of numerous remodeling projects at the stately home. Their first project appears to have been the construction of a small medical office at the rear of the home.

Next, the Owens family replaced the small, front porch with an expansive verandah between 1896 and 1898. The new porch, with its curved ends and visually-lighter architectural details, softened the hard angular lines of the Italianate style of the original residence.

Within a few years, they enlarged the home with a new dining room at the northwest corner of the home. The interior of the dining room reflected a departure from the architecture of the original house but reflected the Classical Revival style that had gained popularity in the early 20th Century. 

In 1914, the Owens residence was extensively remodeled. In April, the local newspaper, , reported:

The auction sale of furniture and household utensils conducted by Reeves & Son for Dr. J. C. Owens, Saturday was very successful and resulted in disposing of an accumulation of high class furniture at an advantageous price to the purchaser. The doctor has plans for thoroughly re-modeling his dwelling on the Lincoln Way and bringing it up-to-date in the matter of architecture and modern arrangement of the interior. The grounds of the Owens home are the most extensive and picturesque of any in the village, and the remodeling process will make the property an ornament to the village as well as a beautiful home for the Owens family.

Brimming with the characteristic trademarks of , the extensive remodeling of the Owens Residence is presumed to be the design of Plainfield’s prolific architect.

As a result of the 1914 remodeling, the Queen Anne detailing of the second porch was removed, and the slender porch posts were replaced with large, boxy piers that were clad in stucco. Also, decorative exterior elements—including brackets, trimwork in the fascia and the window hood mouldings—were removed from the remainder of the residence. Stucco was applied to the exterior wall surfaces. 

At the interior, a main floor bay window was removed from the north façade, and the entry foyer and original staircase were remodeled. These two remodeled areas of the Owens House reflected Arts and Crafts details, adding to the eclectic character of the remodeled home. Demonstrating their wealth and social standing, they re-arranged their second floor to provide a bathroom near the bedrooms.

A few years later, a porte cochere (a covered carriage or automobile drive) was added to the northwestern elevation. Reportedly added following the purchase of the doctor’s first automobile, the covered area allowed visitors to the Owens’ house to enter while being protected from inclement weather.

During the 1920s, Dr. Owens and his wife, Mary, screened the north porch. There, they entertained many guests, including their daughter-in-law Dorothy (Chittenden) Owens, who had been born in the house nearly fifty years earlier.

Next Week: 75 Years of Transition: The Chittenden-Owens House – Part Three 

Have a question about Plainfield’s history?  Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.

© 2012 Michael A. Lambert.  All Rights Reserved

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