Drive around the southern part of Gladstone Park and you can’t help but see rows upon rows of Dutch colonials on neat green lawns. The distinctive gambrel roofs of these modest-sized dwellings are the legacy of the Germans (“Deutsche”) who immigrated to Chicago and Jefferson Park/Gladstone Park specifically in great numbers.
These weren’t just any Germans. These were the Germans who’d originally been enticed to Russia by Catherine the Great in the late 1700s to help tame the area along the Volga River with their superior agricultural and building skills. But 100 years later, pressured to abandon their native language and culture, these Germans started seeking greener pastures.
The first “Volga,” as they became known, arrived in Chicago in 1891, according to volgagermans.org, with the first so-called Russian German finding his way northwest to Jefferson Park in 1894. Word of mouth about what a welcoming place it was trickled slowly back to the Old World until the bounty of opportunity that was America and particularly Chicago became known. Then the Volga flooded in. By the 1930s, 450 German families from Russia had settled in the Jefferson Park/Gladstone Park area.
Map of Volga German Settlements in the USA and Canada. Large numbers of highly-skilled Germans, who had been conscripted by Catherine the Great to build their iconic homes in the Volga River area of Russia, later immigrated to North America. Dissatisfied when promises were broken and their culture became threatened in the foreign nation, many of these Volga Germans were drawn to Chicago and its similar climate, as indicated by the large purple dot. Settling primarily in the Gladstone Park area of the city starting in the 1890s, they had begun building their distinct gambrel-roofed homes there that were so well suited to Chicago’s snow and cold temperatures by the turn of the century. By 1920-1925 these homes became architecturally known as “Dutch” colonials, an inaccurate label that stemmed from the way English people over time had begun referring to “Deutsch” peoples from both the Netherlands and Germany who spoke Germanic languages (as opposed to the scholars of the Middle Ages who spoke Latin.). Map courtesy of the extensive Volga Germans website started by The Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia University, Portland, Oregon at
Indeed, when the author/photographer took pictures at random of Dutch Colonial homes in the neighborhood, these immigration patterns were born out. A few were built in the aughts and teens as the Volga were starting to find their way here, but further investigation proved that the great bulk of these homes were erected between 1920 and 1929.
The Dutch Colonial architectural style the Volga brought with them was perfectly suitable for Chicago. Their barn-like roofs — economical to build — capped the second floors of their homes, keeping their occupants warm while providing maximum headroom. On the outside the roofs shed heavy winter snows.
But the typical Russian German Dutch Colonial could not fit on city-sized lots in Gladstone Park. Adaptation came primarily in rotating their houses 90 degrees so that the inverted U-shaped sides with their gambrel roofs squarely faced the street. Front doors needed to be relocated, altering interior layouts from what had originally been center hall designs. (Look for photos of the few of these houses on wider lots that appear in the more traditional orientation.)
While some Dutch Colonial Revivals in Gladstone Park were built of brick, most of them were sheathed in wood clapboard. Few retained the fancier curved eaves of older styles and some added “clipped” rooftops that folded down in the center of the peak with a downward tilt. Many added on full-width Chicago-style front porches with gable or shed roofs, although many of these were enclosed decades later to gain more interior space.
Of the three German Gothic Revivals so far found in Gladstone Park, the largest is one of the oldest homes in the entire community. It currently sits on a 5,696 square foot lot, many times larger than standard. Built around 1887, it is one of the few that had existed in the independent Town of Jefferson before Chicago brought it into the City limits along with 125 square miles of outlying towns in its Grand Annexation of 1889.
Note that while most of these German-style residences in Gladstone Park are single-family homes, some were originally built for two or more related families and divided from the get-go into two or more flats, usually by floor. Others were converted later. Today these are financially structured as rentals, co-ops or condos, and show up in the Multifamily Architectural Styles section. But since it was sometimes difficult to tell the status of some of these homes from the street, photos of some dwellings with more than one unit may have inadvertently made it into this section of single-family homes.
For more on how Gladstone Park’s standout stock of homes were built and serve to enhance residential life in the neighborhood, see Development and Vintage Home Living.
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