By Thomas Kingsley. Thomas Kingsley is a retired attorney who is inspired by the character and history of Charles Gates Dawes, and by the extraordinary architecture and interior design of the Dawes House. As a volunteer docent, he shares his enthusiasm with our visitors.
As we are proud to acknowledge, Charles Gates Dawes, the 30th Vice President of the United States, resided at his magnificent chateauesque residence on Greenwood Street from 1909 and throughout his professional life. Thereafter, he ensured that the stately home would be preserved as a legacy to the community of Evanston.
As we also know, this imposing house was conceived and built by Robert D. Sheppard in 1894 as a home for his family and as a place by which to further his professional aspirations at Northwestern University.
In 1909, the house was sold by Robert D. Sheppard to Charles Gates Dawes. It is believed that there was no further contact either personally or professionally between the Dawes and Sheppard families for over one hundred years…….until now.
Just prior to our scheduled Ice Cream Social, we received a telephone call from George Wing, Grandson of Dorothea Sheppard, Daughter of Robert D. Sheppard. To our surprise and delight, Mr. Wing advised us that his Daughter, Jessica Smith from the State of Washington would be traveling in the Chicago Area on the weekend of July 26, 2014, and would love to pay a visit to the former residence of her Great Grandfather. We were quick to respond that the Great Granddaughter of Robert D. Sheppard would be truly welcomed at the Dawes House.
On the day of the festive Ice Cream Social, Jessica Smith, her husband Phillip and their lovely daughter Rebecca arrived at the Evanston History Center, were warmly greeted by members of our staff and were given a private tour of their family’s previous home.
It is always a delight to share the unique features of the exquisite interior of the home with guests, whether it be the wonders of the coffered ceilings, the stained glass, the wood paneled Library, the carved moldings, or the extraordinary design of the Dining Room, Music Gallery and, of course, the Great Hall.
In this particular instance, however, the opportunity to share the decorative and lasting interior art of the home’s design with a direct descendant of the very person who conceived and built it , was an extraordinary moment.
As we toured the house together frequent reference was made to one of our important publications: AT HOME IN EVANSTON: THE CHARLES GATES HOUSE, published in 2000. The chapter by Mark Burnette pertaining to Robert D. Sheppard was of enormous significance to Mrs. Smith. She had never seen the early photographs of her family, some of them taken more than one hundred and twenty years ago. The photograph of her Great Grandfather posing as Santa Claus next to the Christmas Tree and his family and taken in the Great Hall was a wonderful moment. It was explained to her that the tradition of the Tree in the Great Hall was continued by Charles G. Dawes and even to this day by the Evanston History Center.
Similarly, Jessica Smith had never seen the photograph of her Great Grandfather leaning against the east terrace wall in a stately, though relaxed posture of 1900. The photograph taken of the entire Sheppard family in 1898, when her Grandmother Dorothea was only 8 or 9 years of age brought tears to all of our eyes.
The most important and perhaps seminal moment of this special tour occurred toward the end of their visit. Marian McNair is, of course, a special friend of the Evanston History Center, one of our revered benefactors, and one who frequently attends and participates in the numerous social and professional activities presented by our staff. Marian McNair is also a Great Granddaughter of Charles Gates Dawes. To our delight, Ms. McNair was also attending the Ice Cream Social on that day and our staff arranged to introduce her to the Jessica Smith family, a warm and amiable exchange which took place in the East Parlor. The historic significance of this moment was palpable as the Great Granddaughter of Robert Sheppard and the Great Granddaughter of Charles Dawes stood together in this beautiful home. For the first time in over one hundred and ten years, the two families who were responsible for the design and construction of this wonderful chateau, and for its preservation and legacy, were reunited at last. This important chapter in the history of our wonderful House will not be forgotten.