Lombard’s oldest house, the Sheldon Peck home, was constructed around 1839 and is still located at 355 E. Parkside Ave., at the corner of Parkside and Grace. It was home to the Peck family, the first school in the area, a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place of business for Sheldon Peck, a mid-19th century portrait painter. The home belonged to descendants of the Peck family until 1996 when it was donated to the Lombard Historical Society, which has restored the house to the 1840-1860 time period.
Over the past year the historic home has undergone major structural work to ensure its survival, said Sarah Richardt, executive director of the Lombard Historical Society.
“For the last 170 years the east end of the 1,000-square-foot home was simply supported by eight large rocks and it had sunk six inches. So we desperately needed to build an actual foundation for the east end of the home to preserve its structural integrity,” she said.
The other two portions of the historic home were already supported by the original fieldstone cellar (center) and by a foundation that was rebuilt in 1999 (west end).
“At some point those original cellar walls will also need work but we expect the fact that we did this work now will save us money then,” Richardt said.
The museum was closed for the $42,000 construction project from early October to Feb. 1.
“The contractor did the foundation work from the inside out, removing the floors plank-by-plank and then replacing them,” she said. “The wood floors were easily put back in place but the tile floor in the bathroom had to be broken up, so we took the opportunity to make the restroom more ADA-compliant by moving the doorway and replacing the sink and toilet. So now, we are able to make the restroom available to the public.”
The work also allowed for the installation of on-demand water heaters and insulated curtains for the historic glass windows, as well as the creation of more storage space. In addition, the village re-graded the property to prevent basement flooding and moved the sump pump discharge, gas meter and electrical box to the rear of the building.
“This is a friendly, cozy house that people love, not an institutional museum,” Richardt said. “It features warm exhibits that are representative of the Peck family, as well as a new ‘Pioneer Playhouse’ space where children in preschool through the age of 8 can interact with history. Everything is touchable. They can load the old stove with wood and then ‘cook’ on it. They can sit on the beds and read. They can dress up in a variety of clothes that we rotate and can even play ‘school’ at an old desk near an old chalkboard.”
The new space is very popular with young children and is even available for pioneer birthday parties. In addition, a local train expert does a train-spotting event there once each month. Richardt said it is often difficult to close up at the end of the day because the children are reluctant to leave.
“The space is going over very well,” Richardt said. “Young children want to come back to play, over and over, and our donations from the public are up.”
The Lombard Historical Society is well-known for special events and exhibits which draw the public into their facilities. For instance, a Wassail party with a one-night exhibit is held each December for members and volunteers only in the Victorian house. Members-only euchre card parties are also held monthly in the Victorian house, as are drop-in needlework sessions.
“We understand that we need to stay relevant and be different and in order to do that, we try to use our facilities as a place where people can enjoy themselves,” Richardt said.
The Peck house is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. For information about tours, see the website at www.lombardhistory.org or call (630) 629-1885. Both tours of the house and educational programs are available.Peck family figures prominently in Lombard history
Folk art portrait painter Sheldon Peck and his wife, Harriett, brought their family to Lombard (then known as Babcock’s Grove) from Vermont in 1837, shortly after the end of the Blackhawk War, in an oxen-pulled covered wagon. Two years later they moved into this home they had constructed. They had been encouraged to make the trek by former Vermont residents – the Churchills of Glen Ellyn.
Over a 28-year period Harriett gave birth to 12 children (six of them in Lombard). Two died of cholera during their stop-over in Chicago, but the other 10 lived to adulthood.
While Sheldon traveled throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, painting portraits, Harriett minded the children and the 204-acre farm, made award-winning cheese and healed both neighbors and itinerants. She even maintained a sick room in the house. Sheldon would periodically return home, reportedly always bringing a roll of money he had earned from his art and turning it over to Harriett.
The couple was also active in the Underground Railroad movement since they were ardent abolitionists, according to newspaper articles, family diaries and the memoirs of their son, Frank. He reported the Pecks helping to save seven former slaves as well as “Old Charley” who had escaped from Missouri. Sheldon and his two oldest sons, John and Charles even attended abolitionist meetings.
Sheldon died in 1868, the year before Babcock’s Grove was re-named “Lombard,” and Harriett lived another 21 years, dying in 1887. Both were reportedly overjoyed by the fall of the South in the Civil War since they knew that spelled the end of slavery.
Three more generations of Pecks lived in and maintained the home for over 100 years after Harriett died. Sheldon and Harriett’s granddaughter, Alyce, lived in the home until 1991 and within a few years her son, Allen, donated the house to the Lombard Historical Society and sold the land to the village.
It bears noting that the folk art portraits of Sheldon Peck are highly-sought-after and exhibited in folk art museums across the country, including the Whitney Museum in New York. The Lombard Historical Society plans to host a several-month exhibit of 15 to 20 Peck originals borrowed from museums across the country during spring 2019.