Upper Bluff Historic District
The Upper Bluff Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. [1, 2] Text below was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Upper Bluff Historic District includes approximately nine full blocks and seven half blocks of predominately single family residential buildings leading to and located atop the upper bluff west of the DesPlaines River in Joliet. The district is located on a gently sloping site which is actually a second succession of dolomite limestone bluffs which overlook the western bank of the DesPlaines River. Western Avenue, is an east/west arterial street which links the area to Joliet's downtown by way of the Cass Street bridge, one of five trunnion bascule bridges spanning the Des Plaines River in Joliet. The sloping topography results in a curvilinear pattern throughout much of the district. This street pattern creates a number of wedge-shaped lots primarily on Whitney and Buell Avenues. The majority of lots in the district are long, and rectangular in shape. Most of the lots are large (60' x 180') relative to lots platted in adjoining neighborhoods (50' x 125'). The large lots graciously accommodate the stylistic grandeur of the homes which comprise the district.
Often, wedge-shaped lots have steep grades leading to the sidewalk. The houses on these lots, many of which are towering Queen Anne residences, are located atop the grade, adding to the picturesque quality of the architectural style. Some of the original large lots in the district were divided in the twenties. The smaller lot sizes reflect the downscaling of domestic architecture of that time. Although dolomite limestone was indigenous to the area, only one house in the district was constructed entirely of limestone. A majority of the homes in the district do, however, have limestone foundations. Homes in the district are primarily frame construction and clapboard sided dating from 1850-1930. The buildings which comprise the Upper Bluff Local Historic District represent a range of architectural styles including the following: Italianate, Queen Anne, Neoclassical Revival, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial, Prairie, Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival and Craftsman Bungalow. Brick and stucco homes are located in the district as well as several homes utilizing brick veneer. A public grade school and apartment buildings are also located in the district. Major features of the district which have changed over time include the street and alley surfaces which have changed from brick to asphalt and the street lighting which has recently been modernized.
The earliest architectural style is evidenced in the Upper Bluff Historic District is Italianate. This style dominated American building from 1850 until 1880. It greatly effected the built environment of the booming industrial towns of the Midwest, such as Joliet. The Italianate style originated as a reaction against 200 years of classical design models. Based on the asymmetrical rambling farmhouses of Tuscany, the style aspired to the organic forms in nature. The tremendous popularity of the Italianate style led to a wide variety of adaptations from the vernacular on up. The Campbell House, at 306 Nicholson. Reflects an early vernacular adaptation of this style. Constructed in 1852, it is a Greek Revival house type. The simple, well crafted stone walls and bracketed roof line reflect well this period. A more elaborate example is the Brooks House at 505 Western (constructed in 1875). This frame structure displays more of the detailed bracket design of the Italianate style. This is best seen on the two-story trapezoidal bay on the south side. The A. S. Phleps House (1887) is another Italianate style house found in the district.
The Upper Bluff Historic District is significant under the National Register criterion for its architecture, because of the following factors: the district is illustrative of the wide variety of architectural styles available in residential housing between 1873-1940 located primarily within the Upper Bluff Historic District; because much of the district developed as a distinct neighborhood within an expanding city; and because of the degree to which the structures are intact with a minimum of alterations (85% of all structures in the district are contributing).
The development of the Upper Bluff Historic District, which for the most part, took place after 1873 and well into the 1930's, mirrors the difficult times as well as the times of progress within the city, the state and the nation. The neighborhood was a distinctively upper class subdivision where prominent members of the community built their family houses.