Born on July 21, 1899 in a second-floor bedroom, Ernest Hemingway spent the first six years of his life in this Queen Anne style house with his parents, grandfather, and three sisters. Hemingway’s grandfather constructed the house in 1890 and it became the first residence in Oak Park to have electricity. When his grandfather died, the family sold the house on Oak Park Avenue and moved to a larger home on nearby 600 North Kenilworth Avenue where he remained throughout his adolescence. For many years, the house sat vacant and began deteriorating. In 1992, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park purchased the house and spent the next decade restoring the property to its condition during Hemingway’s childhood. The house now serves as a museum, open Wednesday through Sunday.
On July 21, 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway was born the second child and first son to a wealthy family in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park during the turn of the 20th-Century was a conservative Protestant refuge from the liberalness of Chicago. Frank Lloyd Wright and other influential architects were already leaving their modern marks on the small suburb when Hemingway came into the world. Urban legend has Hemingway describing Oak Park as “wide lawns and narrow minds,” but the authenticity of the quotes has never been determined.
Designed by architect Wesley Arnold and constructed in 1890, the Queen Anne style house in which lived his parents, great uncle Benjamin Tyley Hancock, and maternal grandfather was the first home in Oak Park to have electricity. He was named after his maternal grandfather Ernest Hall and Great Uncle Miller Hall. His father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, was a local physician and his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway, was an accomplished vocalist and pianist who taught musical lessons from home. Both parents exhibited bouts of manic-depression and psychological instability. It was during these formative years while living in the Oak Park Avenue house that his parents began influencing his personality and adult persona and subsequent literary style.
His father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, was a man’s man and a skilled outdoorsman. The Hemingways owned a summer home called Windemere on Lake Michigan, where the family would spend their summers. It was here that Clarence instilled in his son a love and appreciation of nature, teaching him how to hunt and fish. This love of nature became a common theme found in many of Hemingway’s literary works. However, Clarence was also a very rigid authoritarian who often exhibited violent outbursts towards his family and expected his son to exhibit manly behaviors. On the other hand, Hemingway’s mother Grace often displayed erratic behaviors and dressed his older sister and him as twins, sometimes as boys but often time as girls. These spontaneous and unwelcomed thrusts into gender fluidity combined with the forced manliness from his father created a conflicted identity for the author.
While suffering from the conflicting expectations from his parents, Hemingway often found refuge in the stories from his Uncle Tyley and Grandfather. Benjamin wTyley Hancock was a well-traveled man who recounted his stories and adventures to the young author, undoubtedly igniting Hemingway’s famous desire for adventure. When Benjamin Tyley Hancock passed away in 1933, Hemingway felt the loss deeply.
Ernest Hemingway spent only six years living in the Queen Anne house on Oak Park Avenue, but they were one of the most influential periods of his life. Hemingway was six years old when his live-in grandfather passed away. His parents sold the house and moved into a new, modern Prairie style house on nearby Kenilworth Street where Ernest lived until graduating from high school.
Throughout the rest of the 20th-Century, the former Hemingway residence fell into neglect. Then in December 1992, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park purchased the home and spent the next decade meticulously restoring the property to its Victorian Era condition during Hemingway’s childhood. The house now serves as a museum, open Wednesday through Sunday.