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The Castle: More than a Century of History
Chicago’s Only Castle: The History of Givins’ Irish Castle and Its Keepers
This feature-length film (1 hr. 26 min.) tells the exciting stories of the five keepers of the Castle, which was built by Robert C. Givins in 1886/1887. These stories unfold against the backdrop of Chicago’s rich history, including the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the cable-car era, the dawn of the automobile, and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The main goals of this production have been to uncover and preserve the history of the iconic Castle and its five keepers and to raise money to help preserve and maintain the building. This project received a major arts grant from Chicago philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus. Filmmaker and producer Errol Magidson was interviewed about this project on WGN-TV and WTTW-TV. Josh Van Tuyl was director of the film along with Errol, and professional harpist Renee Wilson served as music director. Errol, Josh and Renee are Beverly Unitarian Church members. The film’s website is http://chicagosonlycastle.org.
The DVD version of the film is $25 and is available at https://www.createspace.com/326889.
The Irish Castle was built from 1886 to 1887 under the direction of Robert C. Givins, a highly successful real estate developer and Renaissance Man. According to legend, Givins sketched an ivy-covered, medieval castle situated on the River Dee, between Dublin and Belfast, in his ancestral Ireland. On a ridge overlooking Longwood Drive, the three-story castle, with its three crenellated towers, was built of limestone from quarries near Joliet on about 3 1/2 acres. The fifteen beautifully furnished rooms were decorated with rich tapestries, elegant chandeliers, and big copper gaslights; they were warmed with tiled fireplaces and were lit with stained glass windows. An exceptional window on the second floor, which bears the motto Dum Spiro Spero, or While I breathe, I hope, was dedicated to the Rev. Saltern Givins, Robert C. Givins' father. The original carriage house for the castle lies just northwest, by Seeley Avenue, although its exterior and interior have been extensively remodeled.
There were five important Castle keepers: the Givins family, the Chicago Female College, the Burdett family, the Siemens family, and Beverly Unitarian Church. The Givins family lived there on and off from 1887 to 1909. The Chicago Female College, a prestigious high school for girls, rented the Castle from 1895 to 1897. The Burdett family lived in the Castle from 1909 to 1921. John B. Burdett, a manufacturer, and his wife Jessie had the Castle wired for electricity, installed additional radiators, and added an elegant porte-cochere onto its north side. Dr. Miroslaw Siemens, a prominent physician, and wife Bonnie purchased the Castle in 1921. Dr. Siemens was a founder of the Ukrainian National Museum and led the committee that established the Ukrainian Pavilion of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-34. The Siemens family lived in the Castle from 1921 to 1942, when the Castle was purchased by Beverly Unitarian Fellowship.
Beverly Unitarian Fellowship purchased the Castle for $14,000 plus an additional $3,500 later for what is now the parking lot. In October 1941, the Fellowship began in Clara and Edward Nieburger’s home at 10718 S. Seeley in Beverly-Morgan Park as an outpost of People’s Liberal Church in Englewood. The first minister of People’s Liberal Church was Rev. Florence E. Kollock, who in 1878 gave services to about 15 Universalists and Unitarians in a Masonic temple in Englewood. Under Rev. Kollock’s leadership, that congregation grew large enough to build a second church in 1889, what would eventually become known as People’s Liberal Church. She filled the pews every Sunday, and Clarence Darrow was a member of her congregation. When Rev. Kollock, the beloved minister of the church who preached character above creed, decided to resign her ministry in 1892 in order to visit the Holy Land and study abroad, the congregation asked her to select a successor.
Rev. Florence Kollock’s successor was Dr. Rufus A. White, who quickly became known for his oratory. Dr. White, who also preached character above creed, was a member of the Chicago Board of Education for five years; and he was a founder of the Chicago Bureau of Charities, which combined several charities into one. He started the Penny Savings Society in which children could save their pennies, nickels, and dimes in a bank. He achieved the highest honorary degree of a Master Mason, the 33rd degree; he gave travelogues of his worldwide trips using a stereopticon in Medinah Temple for at least 14 years to thousands of people in the audience at a time; in the 1920’s he gave sermons on the radio from People’s Liberal Church; he was a founder of Oakhaven Old People’s Home and was responsible for it becoming the Washington and Jane Smith Home, which is now Smith Village, one of the premiere senior living facilities in the nation. Dr. White moved from Englewood to Beverly-Morgan Park in 1922, likely to oversee the building of Oakhaven. He died in 1937 after having served over 44 years as minister of People’s Liberal Church.
After Dr. White’s death, his friend, Dr. Preston Bradley, a Unitarian minister whose sermons were also broadcast on the radio, built his own church on the North Side, calling it People’s Church, and he was a longtime member of the Chicago Library Board. Dr. Bradley encouraged the Church to join the Chicago and national Unitarian groups, which the congregation did in 1939 and 1940, respectively. He served as honorary chairman of the Campaign for the Castle begun by Clara Nieburger to seek funds to purchase the Castle. The Fellowship moved into the Castle in the spring of 1942. Dr. Bradley, who became one of the most prominent ministers in the nation and was celebrated as such in a 1937 article that appeared in Time, gave a talk on the Castle lawn in June 1942 in honor of Clara and Edward Nieburger. In 1951 People’s Liberal Church merged with Beverly Unitarian Fellowship, and in 1957 the name was changed to Beverly Unitarian Church.
Presently, the Irish Castle, also known as the Givins Castle, is a landmark building recognized by the Chicago Landmarks Commission as part of the Longwood Drive District. It is also part of the Ridge Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places (National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior).