RESTORING THE BIRTHPLACE HOME
When the 1890 Hemingway Birthplace Home was acquired by The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in December 1992, funding for the purchase was provided by the First Bank of Oak Park. In addition, revenue was raised from the sale of furnishings that were included in the acquisition.
Since there was no money budgeted for restoration or period furnishings, a capital campaign was embarked upon, which ultimately produced $600,000 for administrative and construction costs. John Thorpe, preservation architect, provided pro bono services and recommended skilled artisans for various aspects of the restoration in addition to Kaufman and Wicklow, preservation contractors, for overall construction.
Plans were drawn, research was undertaken, and Hemingway family resources and memorabilia from the original home were sought out. An interior restoration committee was led by Virginia Cassin, an Oak Park resident and Village Clerk at the time. She was supported by Linda Hutchinson, an interior designer, and Elaine Harrington, a historic furnishings consultant. Together, they launched and managed a seven-year project to decorate and furnish the house.
For the most part, volunteers helped to reconstruct the home. Thanks to an infusion of campaign funds, professional services for carpentry, heating, plumbing, electrical and roofing needs were employed. The goal was to have the house ready for visitors by the Centennial Birthday celebration in 1999. Unfortunately, money was depleted by the beginning of that year.
Fortunately, the Foundation had earlier applied for a grant from the Illinois Government in Springfield to commemorate the Centennial Hemingway Birthday. In May of 1999, the Foundation learned that an $800,000 grant had been approved, which made it possible to secure bridge loans for the costs of construction. The restoration was close to completion when Hemingway's sons and their families entered the front door on July 21, 1999, although some furnishings were still needed.
At the Centennial dinner, Governor George Ryan upped the grant to $1 million and work on the house began again, ending with a joyous celebration on November 10, 2001.
The house has been authentically returned to its 1890s' roots when Ernest's grandparents, Ernest and Caroline Hall, built the home for their retirement years. Ernest, his father, mother and three siblings lived in the house with their widowed grandfather Hall until his death in 1905. Six owners and many architectural changes later, The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park purchased the home and beautifully restored it with over $1 million and hundreds of hours of volunteer time, as well as the dedicated professional expertise and faithful support of Marcelline's children — John and Jim Sanford, their sister Carol Coolidge and other members of the Hemingway family, and the loyal community of Oak Park.
The literary world is the richer for these remarkable contributions. Today, visitors from all around the world will continue to enjoy the ambiance and story of young Ernest's early years in this fine old home.