Building 51 | Building 51 | c. 1855 john kent russell residence interior solid cherry wood turned and tapered staircase octagonal-shaped newel post – william belden olmsted, architect
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c. 1855 john kent russell residence interior solid cherry wood turned and tapered staircase octagonal-shaped newel post – william belden olmsted, architect



Chicago Buildings

About This Item

very simple, yet elegantly designed solid cherry wood turned and tapered interior staircase newel post designed and fabricated by j. k. russell & co., chicago, il. the refinished cherry wood freestanding newel post was salvaged from the historic c. 1855 john kent russell residence. the top cap or finial and a portion of the railing are included. the octagonal-shaped newel is in great shape, considering age. the historically important john kent russell residence (built in 1855) is a remarkable existing example of an early gable front italianate style cottage employing chicago balloon frame construction, located within chicago’s original 1837 city limits. the largely intact extant residence is considered to be a rare surviving example of architect william belden olmsted, prior to his partnership with john mills osdel (considered chicago’s first architect), which together as a design firm, constructed several early chicago buildings prior to the great chicago fire (e.g., tremont house, first chicago city hall, etc). the combination of skill and availability of building materials used to construct russell’s early frame house was due largely to the fact that it was built by and for russell, who was a highly trained carpenter, and owner of j.k. russell & co., which was (at the time) a very large supplier of millwork (e.g., brackets, trimwork, doors, etc.) for some of the earliest chicago balloon-frame structures being built before and after the great chicago fire. from the time of construction, the russell house was no doubt outfitted with building materials provided by his company, which likely included the fanciful oversized gabel brackets with “bullseye” rondels, turned staircase spindles and newel post, wood fireplace mantel (located on the 2nd floor), paneled doors and impressive built-up moldings and/or casings used on both the exterior as well as interior. two major alterations (both completed in the 1860’s), including the addition of a basement to raise the house to street and/or sidewalk level to accommodate the installation of a sewer pipe added along carpenter street and a substantial addition built to the west elevation dramatically transformed the house from the time it was first built. in the 1880’s, ongoing remodeling was performed before and after the home was subdivided into five separate apartments. the highly outdated tenement was further upgraded or cosmetically altered with the addition of electrical, plumbing and asbestos siding used to cover over the dilapidated clapboard siding. the enclosed rear porch and main entrance were reconfigured, along with the addition of a garage built in the mid-1920’s. during its incredibly long and storied existence, the russell house has survived the great chicago fire, the ongoing expansion of the surrounding manufacturing district, the kennedy expressway, urban renewal and the like. amazingly, the residence has been continuously occupied from the time it was built until the present, shortly before urban remains arrived on the site to begin salvaging the original architectural elements before demolition begins in the coming weeks. in addition to the careful and documented removal of surviving architectural elements dating to russell’s occupancy, urban remains, lead by eric j. nordstrom, intends to painstakingly document any and all changes the residence has underwent over time, to not only gain further insight into its evolution as a single family cottage to a now-dilapidated multi-family dwelling, but ultimately create a more detailed narrative focusing on the exact historical building methods used to construct this home. the narrative or survey, in the form of detailed notes and photographic images, along with a large collection of artifacts gathered, will both compliment and expound upon the thesis project completed by matthwe m. wicklund in april of 2014.