Welcome to the Ekdahl House Museum!
Welcome to the Ekdahl House, named after its original owner who was a Swedish immigrant and early settler in the community. The Western Springs Historical Society spearheaded preservation of this house in January 2008, saving it from demolition and moving it from its original location along the railroad tracks at 808 Hillgrove Avenue (formerly Chicago Street) to the current site behind the firehouse. The building has been restored to its 1887 appearance and the Historical Society has created an outdoor museum for the community of Western Springs.
August Ekdahl was a Swedish immigrant who came to Chicago in 1881 and then moved to Western Springs in 1886 to fulfill his dream of opening a cobbler shop where he could sell ready made and custom shoes.
“April 29, 1881 – Chicago, Illinois
Many thanks for everything you did for me upon my departure. Now, as you will see, I am in America. My trip was fine. I wasn’t seasick at all, but I can’t say that it was an exciting trip. I don’t know as yet what I’ll find in this line of work. Maybe it won’t be in my trade – shoemaking- but I will take anything just to get started. If I’ll be contented in Chicago is a big question. There are such tremendously big buildings, all filled with so many people, and dirty streets. Shoes are made by machines in factories. However, there are some made by hand. They say they are more expensive if made by hand.”
Mr. Ekdahl built this 1-1/2 storey wood frame house by hand in the summer of 1887, a year after arriving in the village. Although small (it measures only 12′ x 25′), this structure served as both his home and place of business. Since there was no electricity at the time, he built it with two large windows in the front to maximize the amount of natural light during daylight hours. Architecturally, it is a simple cottage-style structure with a steep pitched gable roof – very similar to other early homes in Western Springs and Chicago. The wood super structure appears to be original and the Historical Society was able to save roughly half of the original clap board during the restoration. The original layout included a front room, kitchen and rear porch (now gone). August also had a barn out back for his cow.
In letters written to relatives in Sweden, he mentions that he rented out part of his shop to a post office employee named Nancy Watson, so it also served as the Western Springs Post Office for a period of time.
“1887 – August – Western Springs
This summer I built a little house on my lot and have lived there all summer even though it is not finished. It is completely finished now, however, and I have rented out part of it to the post office. I work over in the corner with my shoes. Miss Watson is the name of the lady who runs the post office. A terrible summer – hardly any rain. The heat has been unbearable. So many people have died from the heat around here. You should see how brown and burnt everything is. A prairie fire raged nearby a few weeks ago, but we were fortunate in having a road close to us which stopped the fire before it had a chance to reach the houses”.
As one of the first businesses in town and the site of the first post office, this small house was part of the village’s “hub”. It sat directly behind the original wooden train station and was backed by prairie.
Today, visitors to the museum may view a recreation of the cobbler shop and post office through the home’s windows. The exhibits showcase Mr Ekdahl, surrounded by his tools, along with a waiting area where villagers might have socialized while trying on ready-made and custom shoes. The post office was in the back corner of the house and villagers would come in to pick up their mail (there was no home delivery at that time).
This small house serves as a visual representation of Western Springs’ history where adults and children alike can explore the village’s connection to 19th century issues such as immigration, the role of women, the importance of community and fulfilling the American dream.