Perhaps, no other family in Chicago can match the Fortman claim of uninterrupted property ownership since 1842. This is why Joseph "Bill" Fortman stipulated, before he died in 1990, that 6836 N. Ridge Boulevard be left to his son, David, with the condition that it may not be sold to a non-family member. The property may have been settled as early as 1834, with two homes erected on the land before Peter Smith, Sr. built this dignified Italianate architecture home.
Peter Smith, Sr. was a master bricklayer who recycled bricks from the Great Chicago Fire to build his home in late 1871. Scorching and soot stains from the Great Chicago Fire are still evident on the brickwork! Even more incredible is the fact that the house has never been tuckpointed. The long-lost formula for Smith's mortar cold make some entrepreneur very wealthy today.
Peter Smith, Sr. was a prominent member of the community, then called Ridgeville Township, and served as Justice of the Peace prior to his death in 1876. His son, Peter Smith, Jr. had a daughter Louise who married Fred Fortman and thus began the Fortman family ownership from 1894 to at least 1995. The Smith and Fortman families were originally from Prussia and devout Roman Catholics who worshiped at St. Henry Church a half-mile South at Ridge Avenue and Devon Avenue.
The owner, in 1995, was David Fortman who had lived on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and returned periodically to visit. His father, Bill had lived in the house for all except one year of his life. When Bill moved back in 1935, the second floor was converted into an apartment while his parents lived below.
Since Bill's death, David has rented the house to the Cila Program, an offshoot of Esperanza Community Services. The Service managed a half-dozen programs for approximately 280 (1995 numbers) clients (from newborn to the elderly) who have varying degrees of developmental disabilities. The ultimate goal for residents members is an independent, productive life. Jerry Belanger, program coordinator of this unit, moved in with his wife Audile, a nurse, and two sons Marc and Eric-Paul in 1991. The facility housed five resident clients.
The Smith/Fortman property is now a single large corner lot facing Ridge Boulevard, south of Farwell Avenue. The two enormous poplars were planted when the house was built and the yard and exterior porches were well shaded.
The home,itself, is a very restrained example of Italianate style architecture with a barely visible hip roof attic that has intriguing oval cornice line windows for light and ventilation. All-brick wall construction is punctuated by rounded crown windows, custom wood shutters, and a full-width front porch. The porch has a dentillated upper frieze with small brackets that mimic the attic-cornice ornamentation and is supported by unfluted Tuscan-style columns.
The front entrance has a grand double door topped by a half-moon window. Above the door is a plaque, presented by the Chicago Real Estate Board, that commemorates the home's 100th anniversary in 1971.
As you enter, there's a side hallway and a curved wooden staircase illuminated by a narrow stained-glass window. The mirrored hall table is built-in and is one of the few original furnishings that remains. The second floor layout is somewhat unusual, possibly due to the period when it was used as an apartment. Three bedrooms, a parlor, bathroom, and laundry room occupy this level.
Gaslight-era 13-foot ceilings make the rooms seem large and the front parlor can be separated from the dining room by huge pocket doors. Ornate plaster ceiling trim and a chandelier medallion give this room a forma feel. Note the simple, elegant marble fireplace with an extremely shallow brass firebox.
The dining parlor has several notable features such as a southern bay window, a religious creche in the wall and a bedroom addition circa 1873. Proceeding to the rear you pass another bedroom on the North side opposite a modern full bathroom. The "winter" kitchen at the back of the house was another 1873 addition that was not always attached to the house. The original "summer" kitchen was in the basement accessed through a trap door. The first floor kitchen was completely redone in 1956 including the corner fireplace and custom-made windows.
Exiting north from the kitchen, one passes the steep servants' stairwell and out onto a porch. Dave Fortman made other improvements such as a garage, chimney and drainage line.