Fundraising Effort Aims to Preserve the Only Castle in Chicagoland

BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND

The castle in my ancestral neighborhood is beautiful…but in need of serious repair. I didn’t grow up in Ireland nor on the banks of the Rhine in Germany, but in the historic Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood on Chicago’s far South Side. You might be a little “worse for the wear,” too, if you were 133 years old like the Irish Castle (10244 South Longwood Drive 60643). The castle has been recognized by the Chicago Landmarks Commission as part of the Longwood Drive Historic District. It’s also part of the Ridge Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Givins Beverly Castle Restoration Campaign has been launched to raise funds to repair and preserve this architectural gem.  

copyright Andrew Morkes

Growing up in Beverly, the beautiful Irish Castle was one of those buildings that you appreciated, but sometimes took for granted. After all, my neighborhood was full of 100+-year-old homes and even several houses that were rumored to be stops on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s and 1860s.

The castle was a neighborhood companion as I jogged scenic Longwood Drive on humid summer nights (cicada song drowning out the whoosh of cars), crisscrossed the neighborhood making deliveries for Beverly Hills Pharmacy, or simply hung out in the hood in my teens through my early 30s. We purchased Christmas trees at the castle a few times at the annual holiday sale of the Beverly Unitarian Church (the castle’s current owner), and I have a lasting memory and an old photo of a glum 4-year-old me resisting the offer of a pony ride at some event hosted by the church. And, as kids, the older children told us that the castle was haunted. I remember many times driving by at night with my parents and peering at the castle’s windows to see if the rumors were true that a young spectral girl in a long dress watched from behind the glass and that strange lights flew through the castle when it was unoccupied. Finally, I remember seeing the pale, pretty stone turrets of the 3-story castle as we returned from vacation or day trips and knew that we were finally almost home. 

copyright Andrew Morkes

But, really, the castle was just a pretty building in a neighborhood full of a riotous array of architectural styles (Italianate, Queen Anne, Carpenter Gothic, Prairie School, and Renaissance Revival) and homes designed by famous architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, George W. Maher, Daniel Burnham, and Howard Van Doren Shaw. As a young person, I tended not to appreciate a lot of beautiful things in my own backyard. Everything was better and more interesting, I thought, outside of my neighborhood. My focus was on trips to the American Southwest, or Yellowstone National Park, or Ireland.  

But after I got married in 2001 and left Beverly for the North Side of Chicago I came to truly appreciate how unique and special my neighborhood—and the castle—were. Beverly/Morgan Park—a hilly, historical, and tree-lined “village in the city,” as its nickname goes—was a wonderful place to grow up, and it’s only gotten better over the years. As a young boy in the 1940s, my father discovered Beverly when he and his friends would take the streetcar to 95th street on Western Avenue, and then camp out on the prairie, grilling potatoes and enjoying freedom that no little boy or girl in the city could ever have these days. I frequently thank my long-deceased dad for having the foresight to move to Beverly from McKinley Park in the 1960s. My mom, who grew up in Kenilworth, still lives in the same home she and my dad bought in the 1960s. I’m 100 percent sure that she will never head back to the North Shore.    

copyright Andrew Morkes

An Irish real estate magnate named Robert Givins built the Irish Castle, which is sometimes also known as the Givins Castle, out of limestone quarried in Joliet. Some say that he was inspired by a similar structure in Ireland. Givins and his family lived intermittently at the castle from 1887 to 1909, and then rented it to the Chicago Female College (a high school for girls) from 1895 to 1897. Givins sold the castle to an inventor and manufacturer named John Burdett and his wife Jessie in 1909, who installed electricity and added more radiators. The Burdetts sold it to Dr. Miroslaw Siemens and his wife Bonnie in 1921. Miroslaw was a founder of the Ukrainian National Museum. In 1942, the Beverly Unitarian Fellowship (which is now known as the Beverly Unitarian Church), the current owner, purchased the castle for $14,000.

copyright Andrew Morkes

The Irish Castle looms over the gently sloping green hills and busy intersection of 103rd Street and Longwood Drive like a proud old man who has seen a lot in his lifetime and had many adventures, but is content to just rest and watch the world go by. But this old man needs some help. The castle’s turrets, roof, and windows need significant repairs. According to the Givins Beverly Castle Restoration Campaign, “temporary stabilization was completed in 2018, and the cost to complete the necessary restorations will approach $1,000,000.” A total of $150,000 still must be raised so that repairs can begin this spring. Through March 1, any contributions up to $10,000 will be matched dollar-for dollar by Tom and Jan Hardy. Tom is the president and a director of the Hardy Foundation, Inc., and Jan Hardy is a director and the foundation’s secretary. Donations will continue to be accepted after March 1. They can be made to the Givins Beverly Castle Restoration Campaign, 10244 S. Longwood Drive, Chicago, IL 60643 or online at http://www.givinsbeverlycastle.org.

I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help preserve this unique building. And I hope you’ll visit Beverly/Morgan Park to see the Irish Castle and all of the great things that are happening on the South Side. The Beverly Unitarian Church does not offer tours, but there’s nothing stopping you from attending a service or simply enjoying the view—especially on an early spring day when a blue blanket of scilla adorns the hillside below the castle. (Scilla is native to the woodlands, subalpine meadows, and seashores of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and, as you contemplate the castle, grass, and flowers, it’s easy to feel as if you’re in Ireland or another far-flung locale.) The Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago (OHC) recently offered tours of the castle. Perhaps more ONC events at the castle will occur in the future. Additionally, the castle hosts musical and other performances. In 2018, I got my first look at the inside of the castle when I attended a performance by my childhood friend, the extremely funny and entertaining David Boyle.

The castle at night with a good friend. copyright Andrew Morkes

Don’t believe the stereotypes about the South Side and the south suburbs: run-down neighborhoods, drug deals, and murders; working-class guys and gals dropping “Deese” and “Dos” in dive bars; and boring, suburban sprawl. You will find some crime and some wonderful accents, but also historic neighborhoods, thriving microbrew and art scenes in some communities, and some of the nicest, down-to-earth people in the city. And it’s really not that hard to get to. I’m always fascinated by North Siders who feel like taking a trip to the South Side is akin to traveling cross-country as a pioneer “locked-and-loaded” in the 1800s. (Many of my South Side friends have the same opinion of traveling to the North Side.) You will not be attacked by marauders, and you do not have to lay in a two-week supply of hardtack and other provisions. There is even an interstate highway system that was authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 that will carry you quickly (on some days) from the North Side and suburbs to Beverly. The Metra Rock Island is another good transportation option (you can even see the castle from the 103rd Street Metra stop).

copyright Andrew Morkes

All kidding aside, travel to Beverly to see the castle, but stay for its excellent brewpubs, art galleries, bookstores, and other attractions. Here are a few places that I love in Beverly/Morgan Park:

Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Company (10426 S. Western Avenue, 773/779-BREW)

Open Outcry Brewing Company (10934 S. Western Avenue, 60643, 773/629-6055)

Ridge Historical Society (10621 South Seeley Avenue, 60643, 773/881-1675)

Bookies New and Used Books (10324 S. Western Avenue,  60643, 773/239-1110)

Beverly Arts Center (2407 West 111th Street, 60655, 773/445-3838)

Calabria Imports (a combo deli and restaurant) (1905 West 103rd Street, 60643, 773/396-5800)

Heritage Gallery (1907 W. 103rd Street, 60643, 773/233-0084)

Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery  (9030 S. Hermitage, 60620, 773/840-4642)

Many thanks to the Beverly Review, the Beverly Unitarian Church, the Beverly Area Planning Association, and ChicagosOnlyCastle.org for some of the facts about the castle and its keepers and information on Beverly architecture. If you’re looking to learn more about the castle, consider purchasing Errol Magidson’s Chicago’s Only Castle: The History of Givins’ Irish Castle and Its Keepers, which is both a book and a film. You can learn more about purchasing these resources at http://chicagosonlycastle.org. According to the website, “all proceeds go toward the Castle Building Fund to help rescue, preserve, and maintain the landmark building.”

Copyright (text, except quoted material) Andrew Morkes

Copyright (photos) Andrew Morkes

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