Resurrecting Houses of the Dead! - Restoring new life to old funeral homes (Article 1 in a series)

Resurrecting Houses of the Dead! - Restoring new life to old funeral homes (Article 1 in a series)
Little Hands Learning Center which in the 1930s was the "Bourne Chape" funeral home

Article 1 - Little Hands Learning Center - 2324 W. 111th St. Chicago

I thought that this would make a great series of articles in looking at Chicago history from, well let's just say a stranger or less thought about viewpoint.  I actually came across the idea completely by accident.  Many cool ideas come to us completely by accident because, if you are like me, you can't claim that they come strictly through the power of one's own creative intellect and then have to look at yourself in the mirror every morning.  In fact, I hear that the Italian captain of the Costa Concordia came across the idea of falling into a lifeboat completely by accident as well (lucky for him, huh?)

My interest was sparked while I was writing a story about the Givens Irish Castle that has been in the Beverly-Morgan Park neighborhood since 1886.  I was attending a screening about the "castle" at the Beverly Arts Center on 111th St. and was walking back to my car when I noticed another building across the street from where I had parked that also reminded me of a small castle.  It had what looked like a castle tower and the name "Bourne" carved or cast in Gothic-style letters across the archway where one would have wanted to place a drawbridge.  It is now the home of the Little Hands Learning Center and I thought it would be interesting to look into the history of the old building.

Surprisingly I quickly found out that it was built as a funeral home sometime around 1931!  I estimate 1931 since the first funeral that I could find that took place there was on January 12, 1932 for a Mr. James Hartley.  It was built by Archibald James Bourne who was born in Chicago on November 8, 1881 to Richard Bourne and Josephine Haley.  Archibald was the youngest of 4 children and married Lillian Snyder in 1904.  They had two children, Archibald Joy (1907) and Henrietta (1909).  Archibald worked as a paper cutter for a printing house but after Henrietta's birth he decided to go into the undertaking business.  I am not sure what motivated Archibald's change in careers but he must have been good at it because by the early 1930's he had two locations, the one on 111th and an earlier one at 3125 W. 63rd St.  He stayed in the business until his death on October 23, 1933 after a 2 year illness.  His own funeral service was held at the newer building at 111th less than two years after it opened.  His son, Archibald Joy, took over the family business until his retirement sometime in the late 1960s or very early 1970s.   The building was used as a funeral home for some time after by the Starr Funeral Home in the early 1970s and then was owned by Lain and Son and known as the Sullivan Chapel in the late 1970s.  Sometime in the mid 1980s the building was used as a dance studio and dance classes were held there by the Beverly Arts Center.  After 2001 the building was utilized by the Little Hands Learning Center (a private pre-school and learning academy) and continues to be used as such to this day.

Many people believe that funeral homes are depressing places and, if you believe in ghosts or spirits, would probably be a paranormal "hotspot" for the same reasons that a hospital, cemetery, asylum, sanitarium or orphanage would be.  There is also the argument that if nobody actually died there then there would be no haunting there.  There are plenty of different opinions on the subject and for the sake of research I could only find one death that actually occurred on the property and that was back on August 22, 1946 when a 2 year old by the name of Herbert Uschold fell from the third floor back porch onto the hard pavement below.  At some point the rooms upstairs from the funeral home itself were rented as apartments.

I personally think that old funeral homes are very well built and have a ton of character and are very worthy of being re-used.  Regardless of your opinions of the paranormal or of funeral homes it isn't difficult to see the irony with the Bourne Chapel when you think that a building used for so many years by people leaving this world is now used by little people just beginning their journey.

Watch for the next article in this series which will be about the Masonic Lodge in near south west suburban Summit that used to be the home of the Sobiesk Funeral Home.

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  • I've driven past this building a thousand times. Never knew its history. Very interesting.

    I always find it amusing that you can pull into a one stoplight town and a big old frame home in excellent shape will catch your eye -- right before you see the sign that says it's a funeral home.

    Some of the homes around there are old enough where the funeral would have been in the parlor.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Absolutely Rich! As you probably already know the idea of having the funeral or wake in a building outside the home is more of an early 20th Century idea although I have heard unsubstantiated reports that Chicago had a funeral home as early as the late 1800s.

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    Great article and beautiful building! Doing our tours in Naperville, it was absolutely amazing all the history people probably know nothing about!

  • In reply to Kirsten:

    History is a passion of mine and many people just pass by historical places without really thinking about it. Thanks for the kind words Kirsten!

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