From a Time Before the City: the ca. 1858 James Von Natta Farmhouse (UPDATED)

van natta home

4618 West Armitage Avenue, circa 1940. Photo courtesy of and copyright John Drury, Old Chicago Houses (1)

A few months ago at the Chicago Public Library, I came across the fascinating book Old Chicago Houses written by John Drury and published by University of Chicago Press in 1940. One particular story of an old Chicago farmhouse struck me: the James Von Natta home at 4618 West Armitage Avenue in present-day western part of the Hermosa neighborhood.


UPDATE: On October 2nd, 2014, a demolition permit was issued for the house at 4618 West Armitage Avenue (via Chicago Cityscape). This structure was not a part of the City of Chicago’s Historic Resources Survey in 1985, which may have at least provided a 90-day demolition delay review period, so it has seemingly fallen through the cracks of municipal historic preservation. As of today, the house was still standing in its same condition, with no apparent signs of demolition preparation yet (see photograph below). We will keep you notified of further developments on this disappointing turn of events.

The book describes in detail how a family’s homestead was built in 1858 when this Northwest Side area was rural land outside of the city of Chicago. “Jefferson Township” was then created by the state legislature in 1861 and finally became part of Chicago with its annexation in 1889. Additionally, the author provides a photograph of the house from time of publication (1940).

He observes how the Von Natta farmhouse is “now 82 years old” and concludes, poignantly, “How much longer this old farmhouse will stand, no one can tell.” I became concerned with the current state at 4618 West Armitage Avenue and determined to photograph what remained.

Fencing still surrounds the building and lot, while it’s now over 6 feet tall and constructed of decorative concrete blocks, making it quite a difficult view. Any former yard or green space out front has been paved over and serves as a parking lot for trucks and industrial equipment.

4618 West Armitage Avenue, November 2013. Gabriel X. Michael/Chicago Patterns

Comparing the two photographs, you pick up on some strong resemblances. The front door as pictured in Drury’s book has been moved but the gabled southern facade evinces the former 4-square window pattern, with the low one-story addition flanking it to the east.

If the building photographed above in November 2013 is indeed the same structure with updates and modifications, Mr. Drury and the Von Natta family would be quite pleased to know it’s survived another 74 years since his magnificent book, making it 156 years old.

(1) [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940, rev. 1975], 352–354.

3 responses to “From a Time Before the City: the ca. 1858 James Von Natta Farmhouse (UPDATED)”

  1. Andi Marie says:

    Amazing story!

  2. In a similar vein, check out 456 N. Carpenter, which was built in 1855! It’s on the demolition delay list right now, and there’s an effort to landmark it.

  3. […] cycle where the issuance of a demolition permit turns every survey oversight or information gap into a preservation emergency. We need a designation process that is more informed, accessible, and responsive, to protect these […]

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