New Life for a Historic Home

April 2020 View more

When builder Chris Salman was first interested in a lot in downtown Downers Grove in 2007, he assumed the property would be torn down to make way for a new custom build. But when owners Robert and Marge Smith explained the historical significance of the home, he began to see it wouldn’t be just another teardown.

Although the house didn’t look like it was built by pioneers in 1846—it had been previously added on to, covered in siding, and moved to a new location—the Smiths explained that abolitionists Israel and Avis Blodgett had used their residence as a shelter for those fleeing the country to escape slavery. The home was one of the treasures of Downers Grove as an active stopover on the Underground Railroad. In fact, DuPage County was a critical passageway due to its proximity to Chicago, the destination for catching boats sailing to Canada, where slavery had been outlawed.

“The builder knew that it was significant,” says Charley Smart, president of the Downers Grove Heritage Preservation Corporation, “but it was due for the wrecking ball unless someone figured out what to do with it.” Salman, who grew up in Downers Grove and now runs Stature Custom Homes, began working with a group of residents who were interested in saving the property. “We set up an agency to save it, rather than destroy it,” says Gordon Goodman, secretary/treasurer of the DGHPC.

A significant accomplishment of the group was a partnership with the city’s park district, which enabled the group to move the home to the Downers Grove Museum campus—just 50 feet away from the home’s original 1846 plot. “We had to do a tremendous amount of research to justify the park district’s involvement,” says Goodman. The group was able to collect over 40 different items—many were letters from Blodgett family members—to prove the home’s significance to the Underground Railroad. In fact, Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center validated their claim and told the group it’s the second-most-documented site—next to Knox College.

After a permanent site on park district property was secured, the group began raising funds to move and restore the home to its original state and site. “The move cost $30,000 to $40,000,” says Smart. “In addition, we restored the exterior and brought a lot of things back to its original configuration. In all, we’ve raised something like a quarter of a million dollars to do that.”

The funds have been a mixture of corporate, government, and private donors. “It was a wider community coming together to make this happen,” he says.

Residents can visit the 1846 Blodgett House on May 2 from 12 to 3 p.m. during the Downers Grove Museum’s Founders Day celebration called Country in the Park. Public tours of the 1846 Blodgett House will also be held the last Saturday of the month in June, July, and August ($5/resident, $8/nonresident; register at For more information on the history of the home, visit

Photos courtesy DGHPC and Downers Grove Park District