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History of 361 E Westminster

The story of 361 East Westminster

Not many buildings can lay claim to housing Masons, carriages, pizza parties, church services, cars, dancers, city offices, chauffeurs, and a museum. The varied history of our museum building at 361 E. Westminster can be viewed as a microcosm of the history of our community.

Quinlan family

In 1859, Dr. Charles H. Quinlan and his family moved into their home on Deerpath, one of the first estates built in the newly platted Lake Forest. Dr. Quinlan was the only practitioner of medicine and dentistry in town through the Civil War. In Chicago, Dr. Quinlan had already achieved fame in 1846 as the first Midwestern physician to successfully administer anesthesia. He produced the sulphuric ether using instructions sent to him by his uncle, a dentist in Buffalo. A pillar of the early community, Dr. Quinlan voted to approve Lake Forest’s charter in 1861; was elected the first city treasurer; served on Lind University’s first board of trustees; and was a founding elder of First Presbyterian Church.

The Quinlans’ 1859 Greek Revival frame house, painted white with green shutters and large fluted columns, featured orchards to the rear of the property and a large “grapery” in the front. When Dr. Charles Quinlan rebuilt his home in the French Second Empire style in 1870 following a devastating fire, he added a carriage house with a matching mansard roof – this building, the future 361 E. Westminster.

Williams family

The rebuilt brick home (now 404 E. Deerpath) and new carriage house were soon purchased by Simeon B. Williams, a manufacturer and real estate magnate. Williams was connected through family ties to two Lake Forest mayors: his brother-in-law William Sage Johnston Jr., the town’s second mayor, and Moses L. Scudder, mayor in 1888, who lived with Williams for a time after marrying his daughter Clarina. Simeon Williams was an art aficionado, taking multiple trips to Europe to collect artworks and to meet artists. He became a major patron of the young Illinois sculptor Lorado Taft, even writing him a letter of reference in the Chicago Tribune. The Williams family resided in the house for 17 years, selling in 1887 so Simeon Williams could concentrate on a new venture, the Ontario, which is considered Chicago’s second apartment building.

Rumsey family and "The Evergreens"

The new owners, the Rumsey family, christened their home “The Evergreens” in honor of the trees lining the front walk. As a grain broker, Captain Israel P. Rumsey was a longtime director of the Chicago Board of Trade. His name was often brought up as a potential Republican candidate for mayor of Chicago, but he always refused to run. Captain Rumsey had a distinguished Civil War record, helping organize an artillery company just days after the firing on Fort Sumter; he held annual reunions here for his fellow soldiers. After the war, he channeled his fighting energy into the crusade against alcohol, serving as President of the Citizens’ League for the Suppression of the Sale of Liquor to Minors. The 1907 state law creating “temperance zones” around Fort Sheridan and Great Lakes was known locally as “the Rumsey bill.”

Through the early 1900s, the future Historical Society building provided shelter for The Evergreens’ carriages on the first floor, and for its chauffeurs in an apartment on the second floor. When Captain Israel Rumsey bought a car, it lived here too. One of the residents of the upstairs apartment was Alfred Braun, who chauffeured for the Rumseys around 1910. At that time he met his future wife, Gerda Petersen, who worked in the Rumsey household.

Masonic Lodge

The Baker family, who took ownership of The Evergreens and its carriage house after the death of Captain and Mrs. Rumsey, subdivided and sold off portions of their property through the 1920s. The carriage house was purchased in 1924 by Lake Forest Lodge No. 1026, without a “temple” of its own since its founding in 1919. The Masons remodeled the carriage house into a fellowship hall. Two sister organizations also met here: Mason wives, sisters and mothers in the Order of the Eastern Star and their daughters in the Assembly Order of the Rainbow for Girls.

The Masons opened the space to others as well. The First Church of Christ Scientist used it for services and Sunday school in the 1930s. Mrs. Emma kept her dance studio here from 1933 to 1945; among her young pupils was likely her daughter Rose Mary, the future film star Joan Taylor. Young adults from CROYA drank pop and ate pizza here while planning events in the 1980s. During the renovation of City Hall, it was used as temporary office and storage space by the City until the Historical Society took over in 1998.