“A little over 150 years ago, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed about 17,450 buildings in the city, but not this one. That’s because Richard Bellinger, a Chicago police officer, was determined to keep his two-year-old honeymoon cottage standing.
“To eliminate the fire’s fuel, Bellinger ripped out the wooden sidewalk and fence and cleared away leaf debris. An often-told legend says he wet down the roof with cider from a barrel in the basement, but a few decades after the fire, Bellinger’s widow tried to put that story to rest. ‘We did have a barrel of cider in the basement, sure enough, but we didn’t use it because we were able to get enough water’ from nearby ditches, Mrs. Bellinger, whose first name Crain’s could not find, said in 1915.
“With or without the cider, the house is a survivor, one of very few structures left standing in the Burnt District. The house has a sibling relationship of sorts with two more famous structures that survived the same conflagration: the Water Tower and Pumping Station on Michigan Avenue. All three buildings were the work of W.W. Boyington, one of the most prominent Chicago architects in the years before and after the fire.
“In the early 2000s, Sophia de la Mar and Brayton Gray lived a few blocks from the Bellinger Cottage in Lincoln Park, and ‘we used to say to each other, let’s walk past that pretty cottage,’ Gray recalls.
“In 2005, they bought the house, on North Hudson Avenue (which was called Lincoln Place at the time of the fire). They did an extensive rehab, adding a multi-story section in the back that makes it a four-bedroom, 3,650-square-foot house with an attached garage.
“The lot is 46 feet wide, nearly double the city norm. Putting the dining room at ground level ‘gave us the garden to walk out into,’ de la Mar says.
“Trees and evergreen shrubs provide some privacy for the terrace, particularly when history buffs gather on the sidewalk to debate the veracity of the cider-on-the-roof story.
“Although Gray says coyly that the legend about cider ‘is a very old story to be treated with skepticism, like the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow,’ a previous owner was not as doubtful.
“On the fire’s 90th anniversary in 1961, the Chicago Tribune published this photo of the house’s then-owner, Albert Liebrich, an architect, with a mural made of wire that depicted Richard Bellinger pouring cider on the roof. Liebrich and his wife, Lucille, also kept a cider press in the basement, as a tribute.” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/3/22)
A rare survivor of the Great Chicago Fire is for sale; One of few buildings left standing in the path of the conflagration of 1871, the legendary Bellinger Cottage has been expanded in the 21st century to include four bedrooms, a big kitchen and an attached garage, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/3/22