Chicago Kimberley O'Brien

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Kimberley Obrien’s Gurnee History Blog: Cook House

My cousin Kevin recently moved to town from his native Madison, Wisconsin. As a 52-year-old lawyer, Kevin has spent a lot of time in Chicago because his firm has an office in the Gold Coast – but since his messy divorce and resulting lawsuit a year ago, he decided that he wanted a slower-paced life for his kids. So he chose Gurnee, having heard me talk about what a great place it was to grow up. Luckily, his contract allows him to work remotely, so he can continue his trial work with his firm – and, in fact, much of his case load is in Chicagoland.

Kevin is a history buff – which means I’ve spent a lot of this summer taking his kids to historic places around their new home! One fascinating place that (I’m ashamed to admit) I didn’t even know about is the Cook House in Libertyville, Illinois. Built in 1878 by Ansel Brainerd Cook, this mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places is now the headquarters of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.

The home is open to the public in the summer, Sundays 2:00-4:00p.m. We toured through many rooms that are decked out in Victorian décor. Other rooms house museum displays or store Historical Society records of early events, organizations, businesses, churches, and schools. It is a beautiful example of old architecture – but that’s just what’s visible to the naked eye. More of the beauty lies in the history of the man who built the mansion.

Connecticut native Ansel Brainerd Cook was born in 1823 and moved to Illinois in 1845. He married Helen Maria Foster in 1849, then relocated his family to Chicago in 1853 to begin working as a building contractor for several important historic city buildings, including the old Cook County Court House and the historic Water Tower on north Michigan Avenue that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the fire, he became one of the area’s most successful contractors and builders.

Cook was active in local politics, being elected to the Illinois State Legislature in 1863 and was re-elected in 1865 and 1869. He served as Alderman of Chicago’s 11th ward and President of the Chicago City Council. Cook also married three times – with not one divorce!  The first Mrs. Cook was killed in a railroad accident in 1881. The following year, he married another of the fairer sex, Annie Barrows, who died in 1891; he was then married to her sister, Emily Barrows, until the end of his life in 1898.

Cook’s dedication to his community and his sense of public service lived on after his death. In his will, Cook deeded his home to be used as a library. Upon Mrs. Emily Barrows Cook’s death, 30 real estate lots were also bequeathed to the library to be held to meet any future contingencies. The Alpha Club established a library in 1910, and Cook Memorial Library opened in 1921.


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Kimberly O’Brien’s Chicago Blog – Devin Hester

Are you ready for some football???

I know I am.

I’ve been waiting all summer for the return of NFL play. When the fall rolls around, everyone in my house becomes a slave to the TV when the Chicago Bears are on Sunday Nights Football. Of course, we cheer the loudest when our favorite player, Devin Hester, does his thing!


He’s the king of Special Teams! He really puts his opponents through some serious abuse. I mean, check out some of his amazing records – they alone make the case for his supremacy on the field, and these aren’t even all of his stats!

NFL records:

  • Most regular season kick and punt return touchdowns in a career: 17
  • Kickoff return touchdowns in a game: 2 (Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams, December 11, 2006)
  • Combined kick return touchdowns in a season: 6 (2007) (4 punts, 2 kickoffs)
  • Combined kick return touchdowns for a rookie in a season: 5 (2006) (3 punts, 2 kickoffs)
  • Combined kick return touchdowns in a single game: 2, twice
    • 2, Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams, December 11, 2006 (2 kickoffs)
    • 2, Chicago Bears vs. Denver Broncos, November 25, 2007 (1 punt, 1 kickoff)
  • Non-offensive touchdowns in a season: 6, twice
    • 6, 2006 (3 punts, 2 kickoffs, 1 missed field goal)
    • 6, 2007 (4 punts, 2 kickoffs)

Chicago Bears Franchise Records:

  • Most regular season kick and punt return touchdowns: 17
  • Most kickoff return yards in a game: 225 yards (vs St. Louis, December 11, 2006)
  • Most punt return yards in a game: 152 yards (vs Arizona, October 16, 2006)
  • Most punt return yards in a season: 651 yards (2007 season)
  • Longest play: 108 yards (vs New York Giants on November 12, 2006)

Plus… drumroll, please… I just found out that he actually lives right here in Gurnee, Illinois!


Kimberly Obrien’s Gurnee History Blog: The Mother Rudd Hom

Kimberly Obrien’s Gurnee History Blog: The Mother Rudd Home

I’ve lived in Warren Township, a small hamlet outside Chicago, Illinois, for my whole life. But I’ve never really knew much about our famous landmark, The Mother Rudd Home, until a recent visit.

“Mother Rudd” (born Wealthy Buell in 1793) and her husband Jonathan Harvey moved to Warren Township in 1843 with their 13 children. In 1844, they built the building that became known as the Mother Rudd Tavern after Jonathan died and Wealthy became the wife of Eratus Rudd in 1846.

This two-story frame house is the oldest building in Warren Township. It served as a stagecoach stop for travelers at the half-way point between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin – then a five-day trip! It was also the town hall, voting site, post office, and dance hall. The barn in back of the house was believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, the network of secret safe houses used by 19th-century slaves to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists working to abolish the abuse of slavery.

When Wealthy Rudd died in August of 1880 at the age of 87, her daughter Nancy reopened the tavern and maintained it until she died in 1894 at the age of 74. The building was thereafter owned by various parties as a single-family farm until the Village of Gurnee purchased the property in 1984 to be restored and preserved as a historical site. It is now Warren Township Historical Society’s museum.


Thanks to the restoration work, this building is a treasure trove of area history. We were able to view the kitchen and a bedroom, done up in styling appropriate to the period. Also on display are artifacts from the Civil War and historic photographs of Gurnee. Check it out if you’re in the area: 4690 Old Grande Ave, Gurnee. Even from downtown Chicago’s Gold Coast, it’s less than an hour away!


Kimberly O’Brien’s Gurnee Blog – Roberto Garza

As I mentioned in a previous post, my household is full of Chicago Bears fans. So you can imagine how excited we were to find out that offensive powerhouse Roberto Garza would be in our neck of the woods. That was the case on June 21: he met with fans at Six Flags Great America for a United Way charity event – and even rode a roller coaster with some of them! My cousin Kevin even made the trip down from Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the event with his daughter Kimberly.

And it turns out that Garza is such a nice guy!!!

The son of immigrants from Mexico, Garza was ridiculed for his desire to play professional football. The story goes that a Marine recruiter actually said to him, “Mexicans do not play in the NFL.”

Lucky for the Bears, Garza didn’t stand for such abuse and worked even harder to prove the naysayers wrong! After playing college football at Texas A&M-Kingsville and being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, he secured a contract with the Bears in 2005. In 2012, Garza was named to the USA Today “All-Joe Team” that recognizes hard-working, over-achieving but little-recognized or overlooked NFL players and coaches.

But Garza isn’t a slave to naked ambition. He’s also clearly driven to help the less fortunate. In 2006, Garza was named the Chicago Bears’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Garza has also thrown his support behind charities that help less fortunate children and elderly, like the United Way, the Atlanta Falcons’ Feed The Homeless Campaign, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. And Garza’s hometown of Rio Hondo, Texas, even established December 2 as “Roberto Garza, Jr. Day”, and subsequently named a street after him.

Kimberly Obrien’s Gurnee History Blog: Walter S. Gurnee

Kimberly Obrien’s Gurnee History Blog: Walter S. Gurnee

My cousin Kevin and I met up for lunch in downtown Chicago yesterday. Kevin recently moved here with his kids after years in Madison, Wisconsin, and I’ve been enjoying introducing them to new restaurants this summer (despite sometimes putting up with abuse from overworked lunch counter attendants fed up with all the impatient lawyers and executives who frequent downtown establishments during the week).

Sitting at Gold Coast Dogs, he asked a simple question that sent me one a research mission:

Where does the name “Gurnee” come from?

Get this: our village’s namesake never even lived here!?!

Walter Gurnee was just this guy… a RICH guy… a railroad tycoon, as it turns out. When the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad laid tracks through town in 1873, the board of directors for the railroad decided to name the train station after Walter. Thus from “Gurnee Station,” the village took its current name in 1874.

In fact, Gurnee wasn’t even from Illinois! He was actually born into an upscale New York family in 1813. He relocated to Chicago in 1836, opened a tannery business, invested in many real estate contracts, and eventually become one of the larger landowners in the area. He got elected the 14th Mayor of Chicago in 1851. After this mayoral stint, Gurnee moved back to New York in 1863 but maintained his business ties to Chicago until his death at age 90 in 1903.

I can’t find any record of why the board made the case to name the station after Gurnee, but there you have it!

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