The Crusader Newspaper Group

It was the birthplace of the DuSable Museum of African American History and was once a Black social club for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; eight year years after pioneer Margaret Burroughs’s death, her mansion fell into the hands of several owners who left it to rot

By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

The overgrown grass is about three feet high. A large garbage bag lies on its side in the front yard. The green carpet on the steps leading to the front entrance is old and worn. One can only imagine what the inside of the former mansion of pioneer Margaret Burroughs looks like. In its heyday, it was the birthplace of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Today it’s a locked up, crumbling Chicago landmark that has been left to rot since its famous occupant died eight years ago.

It’s a sad chapter for a structure that’s steeped in history-one that connects Black Chicago’s past with its present. Without it, Black Chicago would not have been the home of the oldest Black public museum in the nation, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters would have been without a place to find support during the tumultuous days of segregation.

When Burroughs died in 2010, her beloved museum at 56th and Cottage Grove remained part of the Chicago Park District, but her home fell into the hands of owners who allowed the property to fall victim to time and the elements. Neglected and abandoned, Burroughs’ former home at 3806 S. Michigan has been vacant ever since her death. The future remains uncertain for the 126-old Chicago landmark. The building, which has plenty of history, is slowly becoming history.

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OVERGROWN GRASS as tall as three feet surround the historic mansion that was the birthplace of the DuSable Museum of African American History and the former home of its founder ,
Dr. Margaret Burroughs. (Photo by Kieth Chambers)

The mansion is one of many on Michigan Avenue, some of which were turned into thriving Black funeral homes and rooming houses when Black soldiers returned from World War II. One such estate is the former Dailey Hospital. In 1926, prominent physician Dr. Ulysses Grant Dailey opened the Dailey Hospital and Sanitarium one block north of the Burroughs mansion after growing frustrated by the politics of Provident Hospital. The Dailey Hospital, which treated Black patients, was forced to close in 1932 due to the Great Depression. The building has since been demolished.

Burroughs’ former home has the features of a fine French chateau, fit for nobility. Over 8,000 square feet, the 2½-story manse was built with grey limestone. It has 24 rooms, a basement and a two-story coach house in the back. It was built in 1892 before Bronzeville was established as Chicago’s “Black Belt.”

The building has a three-story corner tower with an elegant “candlesnuffer roof.” The front entrance has a pair of original wood-and-glass doors that sit in a Gothic-style decorated façade. The manse was designated a Chicago landmark in 2009 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Like the grand McGill Mansion at 49th and Drexel in Kenwood, the chateau-esque architectural style of Burroughs’ home was in vogue during an era of wealth and prestige for Chicago’s elite, when they lived on the South Side before establishing the Gold Coast as the city’s most privileged neighborhood.

Burroughs’ former home was built in 1892 for John W. Griffiths, a wealthy contractor whose company built Soldier Field, Cook County Hospital and parts of the State Street Marshall Field’s Department Store building now occupied by Macy’s. When Griffiths died in 1937, his estate sold the residence to the Quincy Club, an organization that represented Black railroad workers. It was a place for lavish parties and social events. But at a time when hotels in Chicago were segregated, the Quincy Club also served as a home-away-from-home for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and railroad workers who rested and slept there during layovers in the city.

According to city records, Burroughs and her husband lived in the coach house in the back in 1949. It was a time when Blacks were moving into the neighborhood and the boundaries of the “Black Belt” were expanding outside State and Federal streets. Eight years prior, Burroughs founded the South Side Community Art Center that still exists today across the street from the mansion.

In 1959, the Quincy Club sold the dwelling to Burroughs and her husband, Dr. Charles Burroughs. In 1961, Burroughs opened the “Ebony Museum of Negro History” in the home. The museum occupied three of the main first-floor rooms. According to the landmark documents, display cases were donated by several museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry. Most of the exhibit items were owned by Burroughs, and her friends.  In 1968, the museum was named after Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian-born settler who is considered the founder of Chicago.

The museum’s collection eventually outgrew its space in the estate before Burroughs moved it to its present location in Washington Park, which is a former Chicago Police Department district station. Burroughs lived in the mansion until she died in 2010. After her death, the residence gradually became an eyesore in the neighborhood.

According to Zillow, an online real estate data base company, the home is worth $1,277,743. In 2014, Atlanta media mogul Munsen Steed purchased the property for $200,000.  Sources told the Crusader that Munsen wanted to build a women’s facility across the street and wanted the South Side Community Art Center to help finance the project.

The property was often poorly maintained, littered with debris and overgrown grass. Last year, the dwelling was sold again for $200,000, to an undisclosed buyer. During several visits to the property, a Crusader staff member noticed grass that was higher than his knees in the front and side yards, and also in the backyard where the coach house is located.

With no renovation plans in sight, time and the elements continue to take their toll on the property. Zillow says that a complete gut rehab is required to restore the property to its grandeur.

With its elegant Gothic features, Burroughs’ former home is one of the few chateau-esque mansions that have survived on the south side. Dozens have been demolished and replaced with apartment structures.


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