Around the turn of the last century, it became a trend among wealthy industrialists to provide planned housing for workers – an effort to Americanize and “civilize” new immigrants and maintain tight control over the labor force. George Pullman famously pioneered the approach in the South Side neighborhood that bears his name today. Experimental cast-in-place concrete houses were built for steel mill workers in Gary, Indiana. And in nearby East Chicago, Clayton Mark sought to create an idyllic and uplifting village for his own mill workers – at least, as idyllic and uplifting a village as can exist surrounded on all sides by heavy industrial plant. That place is now known as Marktown, a verdant postage stamp of a neighborhood just south of the intersection of 129th Street and Dickey Road, and its future is very much in question.
Mark hired noted architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, designer of mansions in Hyde Park, Kenwood, and the North Shore. As with many of his commissions, Shaw drew inspiration from the architecture of the English countryside – but, in this case, from peasant villages, not noble estates. The picturesque houses are arranged compactly, with common backyard gardens and narrow streets. Constructed of fireproof clay tile, these durable houses have offered safe, affordable accommodation for industrial workers and their families for several generations.
It has always been a hardscrabble place, and many of the homes, though still generally sound, are vacant and in disrepair. Unsurprisingly, those with other options might not choose to live next door to steel mills and oil refineries. But a dedicated group of residents remains, and unfortunately, they now face an existential threat. BP has acquired a number of properties in Marktown, and intends to demolish them – possibly to create parking for workers at the part of the refinery processing Canadian oil sands. As I write this, demolition contractors have arrived, though it remains unclear if they have received the necessary permits from the City of East Chicago (which unfortunately has no historic preservation ordinance).
Residents have organized to fight the demolition as best they can. Those interested might wish to join their Facebook group and sign their petition. The purpose of this post is to raise awareness about Marktown, and to document all the buildings under threat of demolition right now. 512/516 Riley Road, pictured above, was an apartment hotel block for single male workers.
3009 Dickey Road seems to be a newer building on the outskirts of Marktown, probably not designed by Shaw. It was likely also an apartment house.
This structure is the only extant commercial building from Shaw’s ambitious plan for Marktown, less than a third of which was ever built. In a different context, this building could have anchored a very distinctive hub of activity, much like Shaw’s similarly-scaled buildings in downtown Lake Forest.
The houses themselves follow a few basic patterns. All the threatened houses are duplexes, such as 3014/3016 Oak, shown above.
In this design, also seen at 3006/3008 Oak, the twin gabled roofs slope down to the sides to create open entry porches.
This pattern has side entry porches like the ones above, but a single hip roof for the entire duplex rather than twin gables.
This design, at 3010/3012 Oak, repeats the twin gabled roof, but has the gables facing the sides rather than the front. The side entry porches are configured similarly to those shown above, but have their own separate sections of roof over each – and are, at least in this case, enclosed rather than open. (As you may have noticed by now, virtually all of Oak Street will be wiped out by these demolitions.)
All the remaining houses on the threatened list share the same basic plan as 516/518 Grove. Twin gables face two sides (not visible in this dead-on shot), and small entry structures are attached to the middle of the other two sides.
The roofs over the entries are hipped on this house, as well as 516/518 Grove (previous picture). Note the protruding bay windows on the lower floor. This house, damaged by fire but substantially intact, emphasizes the tough construction of Marktown.
This model varies slightly from the previous two, with a gabled roof over the wooden entryway structure.
The gabled entryway is repeated on 516/518 Liberty.
BP has spray-painted street numbers on all the threatened houses. Demolition contractors may begin to knock them down today. If these buildings can’t be saved, hopefully awareness of this loss will help galvanize the City of East Chicago to protect and revitalize the remaining houses of Marktown – a unique village that can never be replaced.
- Save Marktown on Facebook
- Petition to Save Marktown
- Marktown Historic District
- Marktown on Wikipedia
- “Marktown Historic District” on A Chicago Sojourn
- Coverage in the Times of Northwest Indiana
- Additional photos of Marktown by the author on Flickr