House of the Day #85: 8261 S. Buffalo

The house at 8261 South Buffalo is not atypical of buildings in the Bush section of South Chicago. Immediately adjacent to the old US Steel South Works, frame houses like this provided affordable housing for laborers. This one was built in 1898, according to tax records. Like much of the neighborhood, it is boarded up and has fallen on hard times since the closing of the mill.

I can find little about the house’s history. It enters the newspaper archives only twice, both in connection to one Joseph Szymanski. In 1947, he and 7 other inmates fled the Illinois State Training School for Boys, where they were serving time for parole violations. The 17-year-old and his accomplices were all quickly recaptured. His parents evidently packed him off to the Army in 1948, and he spent the next several years in Japan, through at least 1950, when his name surfaces again in a regular newspaper column about local members of the armed forces.

These modest, often shabby buildings, suffering years of neglect, seem to be disappearing with increasing frequency. Whether by lack of maintenance, vandalism, or deliberate demolition, the Bush is thinning out just as developers gear up to build out the South Works site. They have plastered the area with advertising, some of which looks rather ironic in the context. Will the vibrant histories of these buildings be lost and replaced by a vibrant future full of big-box shopping and identical houses and apartments for a middle class that backers desperately hope to attract? The development project timeline stretches to forty years, so we have a while to find out.

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