August 1, 2014
“Enhver er sin egen lykkes smed.” – Danish proverb
Translation: “Everyone has his own fortune.”
English equivalent: The world is your oyster.
The city of Chicago has changed drastically over the past 150 years. When the Thorsen family arrived in Chicago from Copenhagen in 1869 there were less than 300,000 people living there, and it had only been incorporated as a city for 32 years. However, by the turn of the century it would become the second largest metropolis in the nation.
Chicago was a city of opportunity, and the Thorsens were a family who themselves embodied this time of prosperity and progress, flourishing in its wake. After their arrival in Chicago they opened and ran a millinery company on Monroe Street, and by 1891 Emma and Mary Thorsen founded The Danish Society for Old People.
Eventually, the Thorsen family put down roots in their new country. Chicago records show that in 1876 a building permit was applied for by Mr. James Thorsen as property owner to build a residence on the plot of land with the address 873 Shober Street, on the west side of Chicago. The Thorsen family owned the home until 1911. The address has since changed, however, the Thorsen home still stands today
Recently, I was contacted by the current homeowner of the Thorsen home and he was gracious enough to give me some background information about it.
“I sensed that the house had importance the very first time I walked into the front yard, and I made an offer on the spot and bought the house. Based on the architectural details of the house, I suspected the original owners were educated, frugal, elderly, well-off but not wealthy, with strong northern European ties.
It was this strange feeling that led me to research and discover the original owners, tracing the address and street name, and linking it to the Thorsen family.
Originally the address of the home was 873 Shober Street, which was renamed 873 N. Irving Ave around the year 1899. The address was renumbered to 1636 N. Irving Ave in the year 1909, and after World War I, N. Irving Ave was renamed again.
(The exact address has been withheld to respect the rights of the homeowner).
James Thorsen, Emma Thorsen, and Miss Mary Thorsen lived at my home starting in 1876. After James Thorsen died in 1898, Emma and Mary Thorsen rented a room in the house to Henrietta Solberg, a close friend of Emma’s and assistant principal at Columbus School. Henrietta is the sister of Thorval Solberg, the first Register of Copyrights of the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
When I bought the house, I noticed that cobblestones (maybe about 100 of them) are buried about a foot underground in the back yard. I suspect that the cobblestones were part of the Thorsen’s animal or horse stable. In the 1920s or 1930s, the home became a boarding house. Remnants of the old 1920s-1930s boarding house remain on the second floor, which I have preserved. I have also restored the traditional Victorian floor plan and original staircase still stands.”
It is amazing to read about the history of their home, and to know that a wonderful piece of history still stands today just several miles from The Danish Home of Chicago (formerly The Danish Old People’s Home), in the original location as when it opened in 1906!
If you know anything about the Thorsen family – please contact us!
Take a peek at our newest board on Pinterest about Old Chicago and sign up to get our weekly posts!