I discovered two hidden gems last week. One is open to anyone, and those of you with any interest in our community and its history will want to visit.
It is Heritage Hall, the Clarendon Hills Historical Society’s home at the intersection of Ann and Sheridan streets. In its previous life it was the water pumping station.
But before I tell you about that, let me tell you about the other gem, the one you will not be able to visit. It is the home of longtime Clarendon Hills residents Jack and Pam Easly. They plan to move closer to a son and grandchildren in Minnesota, so they are going to have to downsize and part with quite a few of their prized possessions.
I went over to their house to look at Jack’s collection of at least 1,500 cookbooks, pamphlets and recipe cards. Bookshelves packed with books is very unfashionable these days, as any real estate agent will tell you, but what I saw was pretty cool. Jack’s collection was a carefully organized and ordered assemblage of books and recipes which have been opened and closed, thumbed through and perused, used and referenced over the years.
Of course he has “The Joy of Cooking,” but Jack’s question was which edition did you want to see? Jack quickly referred to the cookbook catalogue he created using title, author, publication date, category and shelf number to find the edition in question.
“You don’t really start a collection,” Jack said about his cookbooks. “They multiply.”
I get it, but I what I loved about seeing this was that while all of this may have multiplied, Jack kept it under control and tamed it. Some of us who have amassed vast collections of books and other items allow them to take control and invade the place like kudzu. Not Jack Easly. Jack’s collection is disciplined, easy-to-use and enjoy.
And, enjoy it we all can, for he has donated it to the Clarendon Hills Historical Society to sell as a fundraiser at the Clarendon Hills Public Library from Jan. 30 through Feb. 3. Even if you’re trying to de-book, to de-clutter and to minimize, I do believe looking at his collection is interesting from a historical and cooking point of view, plus the proceeds will benefit the Clarendon Hills Historical Society.
While I was looking through such treasurers as an 1893 “Choice Receipts” from the Walter Baker & Company, which described how to gauge whether your oven was warm enough for cooking, or through the canning booklets or the “Success in Seasoning,” courtesy of Lear and Perrins in 1934, I started to notice some other stuff in Jack’s basement.
There were many whittled pieces, old kitchen tools and other things artfully arranged. I looked behind a door and there was a complete wood-working shop with saws and soldering irons and all kinds of other tools, all neat as a pin and featuring various projects in stages of completion. Everyone has a story or a talent, and Jack seems to have a few more than his share.
Back to Heritage Hall, the Clarendon Hills Historical Society repository, archives and community gathering place. After the fire there in 2015, I lost touch with what had been going on, but lots was happening. The fire set the project and the society back but did not extinguish either entity. The society is a tenacious group, and Heritage Hall is coming along nicely with thanks to a committed group of trustees. Longtime Clarendon Hills resident Chuck Brand is the president of the society’s board and he showed me around the place.
My expectations must have been firmly connected to what you see from the outside of the building — frankly, a rather plain brick cube of a building. But go inside. Salvaged paneling, cabinetry and other architectural features from the razed Middaugh Mansion line the 1200-square-foot space and give it character and personality. A warm and colorful rug enlivens the space as do all kinds of local artifacts thoughtfully arranged.
The smell of smoke offers a very light undertone, giving this space a little history. There is a kitchen, an ADA-appropriate lavatory, files and archives in a pleasant, interesting space, which is open to the public from noon to 2 p.m. the second Saturday of the month.
For more information about the Clarendon Hills Historical Society and the cookbook sale, email email@example.com.
Sara Clarkson is a freelance columnist.