Draper property owner worries for land’s future
Harlan Pace stands amidst his prized roses, 21 varieties he planted 20 years ago. Pace lives in the house his partner Robert Draper grew up in, built in 1883 by Draper's family, one of Franklin Park's founding families. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:44AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Harlan Pace showed off Hawthorne, crab apple and walnut trees and a spot where two pear trees once grew. Where the barn once stood, late season tomatoes ripened.
The Maple Street property Pace lives on is located across from the School District 84 administration center. At one acre, it is perhaps the largest residential lot in Franklin Park, large enough that Pace pays three times the property taxes of an average homeowner.
But back when Andrew Jackson was president, it was a miniscule portion of the property owned by the Draper family.
Pace, 78, worries about what will become of the land when he dies. He’s received offers from developers who want to build three houses on the property, but he finds that unappealing. He’d like the village to buy the property and maintain the home on it as a historical house.
“It bothers me that someone might come in and knock it down,” Pace said. “It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and the history of it … “
The Draper family’s history in the area started with an Englishman named William Draper, born in 1805. He immigrated to the United States in the 1830s, and as the first European settler in the area, he purchased 500 acres of what would eventually become a large part of Franklin Park.
Draper built a house along the Des Plaines River and became active in the town that formed, serving as town supervisor, clerk, assessor and justice of the peace.
He married in 1840, and the couple had six children. One, Hiram, farmed 400 acres. Franklin Park was incorporated in 1892 and Hiram was elected to the first Village Board and later as Franklin Park’s third village president.
In either 1879 or 1883, Hiram built the house on Maple Street. Later, Hiram built another house next door for his daughter Mary and her husband Walter Schutt, a founder of Leyden High School.
One of Hiram’s sons, Charles, started off as a farmer. The family property was still large at the time, according to historical papers from the Franklin Park Public Library. But Charles evidently didn’t care to remain a farmer and sold much of his property for industrial use. The Maple Street property remained.
The family continued its prominence in local affairs. Wesley Draper, another son of Hiram’s, started a bank in what is now the Sax-Tiedmann funeral home on Belmont Avenue. The bank closed during the Great Depression.
Wesley and his wife had three children: Mary, Lee and Robert. Mary died in 1941 at age 5 when she was hit by a train while returning from school.
Lee and Robert grew up in the family home on Maple Street. Their father Wesley died in 1936 and their mother Myrtle died in 1940. Lee and Robert inherited the family home, but Robert sold his half to Lee. Lee rented the house out for the next 39 years.
The brothers still owned a significant amount of family property. To the east they owned all the land bordered by Maple Street, Elm Street, Parklane Avenue and Chestnut. It was once the Draper family garden.
“Bob and Lee sold it for back taxes,” Pace said. The property became a public school and now houses the administration center for the Franklin Park schools and the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.
Lee and Robert later proposed moving the River Road home to their Maple Street property, but other relatives objected. In the 1950s, the oldest house in Franklin Park was razed. Eventually, Dean Foods bought the property.
In 1971, Lee tried to rezone the property on Maple Street so he could build an apartment building.
“The neighbors put up a petition,” Pace said. “They wouldn’t let it happen.”
Pace met Robert in Korea during the war. Robert worked with radar and Pace was in charge of ammunition. He also oversaw the library. One day, Robert came in.
The two lived together in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood until 1994, when Lee asked if the two would like to buy the family house. Lee was moving to Florida.
“When the realtors appraised it, they wrote in big letters “TEAR DOWN,” Pace said.
Instead, the two rehabilitated the century-old house. It took about a year.
On May 4, 2009, Robert died. There are still three Drapers, Pace said, but none in Franklin Park. Outside the papers in library’s local history room, there’s little information about this founding family.
“There’s not a Draper Street in Franklin Park,” Pace said. “And yet they were prominent.”