Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative


Cottages of the Past, Present and Future

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative is partnering with the Great Cities Institute at UIC to present a lunchtime lecture on workers cottages as part of Chicago's built environment at noon on March 14 at the Great Cities Institute at 412 S Peoria.

Workers Cottage Past Present Future

The brown-bag lecture will discuss the historical development of workers cottages, their importance to Chicago's neighborhood architecture, and their preservation as affordable homes.

We're excited to welcome Professor Joe Bigott, author of From Cottage to Bungalow, and Lucy Gomez Feliciano of the Here to Stay Community Land Trust as guest speakers for the event.

Please join us at the Great Cities Institute office at 412 South Peoria Street, Suite 400, on March 14, 2024. RVSP for the lunchtime lecture

AI Helps Identify Workers Cottages

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative recently collaborated with DePaul Professor Mark Potosnak to improve our understanding of where workers cottages are located in Chicago.

Students in Prof. Potosnak's winter quarter Advanced Environmental Data Analysis With R class will be using machine learning, working from detailed data gathered in our neighborhood field surveys in Logan Square, McKinley Park and South Chicago, to identify characteristics shared by workers cottage across the entire city.

CWCI team members Tom Vlodek and Matt Bergstrom met with the class in mid January to brief students on the history and importance of workers cottages in Chicago history. A planned excursion to look at examples of cottages a few blocks away from the DePaul campus had to be cancelled due to extreme cold, unfortunately. Indeed the school itself was closed that day, and all classes held by video due to the weather.

Altgeld Cottages

Cottages on 1100 block of Altgeld built as rental properties by Stephen A. Dale circa 1884-1885

In 2021, the CWCI created a very rough estimate of the number and locations of workers cottages in the city from county data. Our simplified model estimated there were likely 57,000 workers cottages in Chicago. A more sophisticated analysis will give us a far better idea of how many cottages there are in the city and which neighborhoods are best to focus our efforts on their preservation.

Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative

2021 CWCI map showing likely locations of workers cottages

Get Your Cottage Working

by Lauren Hundman

Restoring Vintage Hardware

Do you dream of renovating your vintage house but aren't ready for a large project? A smaller project can be to clean and restore your home's vintage door and window hardware. You may have a beautiful antique hiding under those years of paint and grime.

Painted hardware

Cleaning the hardware requires just a few simple items: an old pan that you don't ever plan to cook with again, vinegar, a magnet, metal tongs, a small scrub brush, the cleaning product called Bar Keeper's Friend, a polishing cloth, kitchen gloves and the appropriate polish for the type of metal you have.

Cleaning supplies

Step one is to remove the hardware from the door. Be sure to keep all of the screws and small pieces. You may need to use WD40 to loosen the old screws. Next, test the metal with a magnet to see if it's magnetic. Magnetic metals such as cast iron should not be cleaned with vinegar or they may rust. Non-magnetic brass, copper, gold, and silver hardware will clean well with this method. Brass was the most common material used for door hardware in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of the pieces shown in the photos here are brass with a copper finish.

Next, add equal parts water and vinegar to the saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil, and then drop in the hardware. Let the pieces soak in the boiling mixture for a at least 10-15 minutes. Depending on how much grime is on the pieces, you can leave them a little longer. Don't overfill the pot with too many pieces of hardware at once. It's better to do just a few at a time and repeat the process with fresh water and vinegar for another batch.

Boiling vinegar

The boiling vinegar mixture should loosen any old paint and grime. Once the dirt loosens and starts coming off, use metal tongs to remove the pieces from the boiling pan. Wearing rubber kitchen gloves, rinse the hardware under running water to clean off the loosened grime.

Cleaned hardware

The next stage is the workout portion of the project; it's time to scrub! Use Bar Keeper's Friend and a scrub brush (a toothbrush, stainless steel scrubber, or any cleaning brush will work) and go over all the small details. For really tough pieces, scrub them awhile then repeat the boiling vinegar and water process and scrub again. Be sure to dry the metal at the end of this process.

Cleaned hardware

Once you are happy with the cleanliness and coloring, finish the hardware with brass polish and a polishing cloth. The polish helps bring out the shine but also protects the metal. You can seal the metal to keep it shiny and clean using a metal sealer such as Everbrite Protective Coating for Metal. Or if you prefer an antique patina, you can skip the sealant and allow the metal to oxidize and change color over time.

Cleaned hardware

Reinstall the pieces back on the door, and admire the century-old vintage hardware that looks as good as new!

Finished hardware

To learn more practical tips on remodeling or renovating your workers cottage, see Lauren's website

Save the Date

The Chicago Workers Cottage Initiative will be hosting our first Cottage Lovers Meetup on Thursday, April 11th!

Cottage Lovers Meetup

Stop by The StopAlong at 1812 N. Milwaukee in Wicker Park anytime between 5:30 to 9 pm to meet fellow workers cottage lovers. This social event is for cottage owners, wanna-be cottage owners, and anyone who cares about saving Chicago's iconic workers cottages from demolition!

The StopAlong will provide free pizza, and attendees can order drinks or additional food. We'd love to chat with you about what you love about workers cottages, trade tips on restoring them, and share ideas on their preservation.

Please RVSP for the Cottage Lovers Meetup

Houses in the News

Recent news stories relevant to Chicago workers cottages:

Less-expensive transfer on death instruments become more popular in Chicago - American Bar Association Journal, Nov 30, 2023 - Recent changes simplify transferring house titles

How An Englewood Artist And Activist Is Helping Black Families Keep Their Homes - Block Club Chicago, Jan 25, 2024 - Artist Tonika Lewis Johnson and the Chicago Bungalow Association collaborate to repair houses and strengthen community

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