Friday, February 09, 2007

Elgin Then & Now - The Henrietta Block

This article is courtesy of The Elginite.

Link to the location.

Henrietta Block

Henrietta Block today

The downtown Elgin Community College building-often referred to as the Sears building-was built in 1908. It first was called the Henrietta because of the name carved in stone on the pediment above the main entrance, in memory of Henrietta Hackerodt Burritt. She was the first wife of Peter Burritt, whose extensive real estate holdings in Elgin were inherited by Rebecca McBride Burritt Gilbert, his second wife. It was Rebecca who named the building for Henrietta.
The Henrietta was constructed for leasing to Swan's Department store, which occupied the building for 30 years. Theodore F. Swan began his Elgin mercantile career with- a grocery store on River Street (North Grove Avenue) in 1867. By 1880 he had added dry goods and shoes in larger quarters on South Grove. In 1893 he moved his growing business to the Spurling Block (now the Commerce Building) on the northwest corner of DuPage and Spring Streets.
Swan was the first Elgin merchant to introduce the "cash railway system" to send money from any part of the store to the cashier. He also was the first to abandon evening hours in the interest of his employees. Unlike many other stores of the time, Swan's terms were strictly cash. Carrie Jacobs Bond, the composer of "I Love You Truly","Just a Wearying for You", and "The End of a Perfect Day", plugged sheet music sales at Swan's in the early '90s.
Swan's move across the street to the Henrietta gave his operation a main floor of 25,000 square feet. The basement was initially used for storage. The second floor at one time housed the Elks Club. When Theodore F. Swan died in 1922, the business was carried on by his son, Theodore 1. Swan. The store closed in 1938.The Henrietta was then occupied by Sears, Roebuck & Company, which had arrived in Elgin ten years earlier. In 1941 the basement and second-floor selling areas were expanded, and a parking lot to accommodate 85 cars was developed. This compelled the removal of six small houses owned by Gilbert along the Fulton Street frontage. The Sears automotive wing was added in 1948.
The Henrietta block, was erected for $60,000. Its renovations for college use cost more than $2 million. (source:

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