Databases & Websites by Subject
- Tracing the History of Your House
The Village of Downers Grove has a diverse architectural heritage. Some owners are interested in uncovering the history of the structure of their homes so that remodeling or restoration will be historically accurate. Others want to trace the human element: to find out about the architect, the builder, and the previous owners. Here are some sources in the library that might help direct your search. However, the records that yield the most valuable information are held elsewhere in DuPage County, such as the DuPage County offices in Wheaton.
One of the most useful sources for tracing your home’s history is the Centennial Homes Documentation Program packet published by the Downers Grove Historical Society. Copies of this packet are available at the Reference Desk at the Downers Grove Public Library. The packet contains instructions and forms to help you date your house in order to qualify it for certification by the Society. Even if you are not trying for certification, the packet of information used for documentation is an excellent resource. It is full of suggested methods, forms and worksheets. Moreover, it shows how to get the names of all of the previous owners and establish approximately when the house was built. Most of the sources listed in the packet are documents of public record and are available for viewing at the DuPage County offices in Wheaton. The library does not own these legal documents.
The Downers Grove Park District Museum, which serves as the his-torical museum for Downers Grove, may have relevant information in its files on the house or previous owners. The museum is located at 831 Maple Avenue and the telephone number is (630) 963–1309.
The DuPage County Historical Museum has a research library which includes a number of useful books and magazine articles. It is located at 102 E. Wesley in Wheaton and the telephone number is (630) 682–7343.
Resources at the Downers Grove Public Library
and Homes: Exploring Their History - 1987
the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood by Betsy J. Green - 2002
Histories: A Guide to Tracing the History of Your Home by Sally Light - 1989
Sears Homes and Mail Order Homes
Downers Grove is known for having a large number of Sears
Catalog mail order homes. These houses were sold between
1908 and 1940.
*Ref 917.7324 SEA Local History - (Free copies
are also available at the Reference Desk)
Catalog Home Self-Guide Walking/Driving Tour - 2005
*Ref 977.324 BOO Local History
of Home Plans - 1925
Ref 728.37 SEA
Roebuck Catalog of Houses, 1926: An Unabridged Reprint
by Sears, Roebuck and Co. - 1991
728.3 STE - Also in Ref 728.3 STE
by Mail: A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company by Katherine H. Stevenson - 1986
in a Box: Modern Homes from Sears Roebuck - 1998
Roebuck Home Builder's Catalog: The Complete
Illustrated 1910 Edition - 1990
728.37 THO - Also in Ref 728.37 THO
Houses That Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted to
Know about Sears Catalog Homes by Rosemary Fuller
Thornton - 2004
Local History Collection
You can explore the Local History Collection at the library to see if there have been any references to previous owners or to the house itself.
The library owns city directories for Downers Grove for 1927–1928 and 1951–1952. These directories list residents and their occupation by street address, making it simple to determine who lived in your house during those years.
The library also has Downers Grove telephone books for 1909, 1910, 1916, 1924–1929, 1931–1956, 1958, and from 1975 to the present.
Newspapers and Sanborn Maps on Microfilm
The library has local newspapers on microfilm. These can be found in the microfilm cabinets in the Magazine Back Issues area. Ask at the Computer Room and Magazine Desk for assistance.
- Downers Grove Journal – August 31, 1939–January 16, 1941
- Downers Grove Press – various issues 1891–1893
- Downers Grove Reporter – 1895 to the present
- Downers Grove Sun – February 21, 2002 to June 29, 2006
None of the local newspapers are indexed, which makes it difficult to find information specifically about your house or its previous owners unless you have dates of key events that might have been reported in the paper. The newspapers can be a good source to find out the kind of decoration that was popular in a particular period. For example, if your house was built in 1924 and you would like to decorate it as it was originally, you can peruse the advertisements from the 1924 papers to get an idea of what was in fashion at the time.
The library also has the Sanborn Insurance Maps on microfilm for the years 1892, 1898, 1909, 1921, 1927, 1933 and 1947. This microfilm is located in the microfilm cabinets in the Magazine Back Issues area. These maps were used for determining fire insurance rates. By looking at several maps, a researcher may be able to determine approximately when a house was built. For example, a house may not appear on the 1898 map; if the house appears on the 1909 map, a researcher might conclude the house was built between 1898 and 1909. These maps also show an outline shape of the house, allowing researchers to trace the structural changes the building has undergone over time. The Sanborn maps tend to show only houses built in the center of Downers Grove. Houses on the outskirts of this area may not be included on the maps.
It may even be helpful to consult neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time. They may know the house history. It’s possible they are still in contact with previous owners or that some of their old photographs might include pictures of your house.
Prepared by Bonnie Reid, May 2010