Rincker Bell Foundry in Chicago

As a Chicago resident, baptized by the bounteous snow, I naturally seek out information on the bell scene in my town. On the agenda for today is the bell founder Henry Rincker.*

What I know: Henry Rincker was born in Germany in 1818 to a family of bell founders who had been casting bells since the 1590s. He emigrated to Chicago, IL in 1846 and promptly set up his own bell foundry. Some of the bells he cast included the alarm bell for the second court house in Chicago (where the current court house is located) and the bell for Saint Peter’s Church (I assume the church known as St. Peter’s Church in the Loop?). He had two locations for his foundry, one on Randolph Street and one on Canal Street between Monroe and Adams streets (both of these locations are downtown). In 1856 he moved out of Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend the Lutheran seminary. After he became a preacher, he set up a bell foundry in Sigel, IL and cast bells for his church there and for several Lutheran churches in St. Louis, MO.

What I don’t know: Well, certainly a lot of questions remain. What are the specifics of the bells he cast in Chicago? And down state at his second bell foundry? What has happened to the bell of St. Peter’s Church and the Chicago court house bell? Detective work needs to be done!

Henry Rincker is known to us today primarily because of his house that stood at 6366 North Milwaukee Avenue. It was the second-oldest residence in Chicago dating from 1851, until it was demolished in 1980. The property owner was mistakenly granted a demolition permit, even though the house was designated a Chicago landmark one year earlier.

*Information on Henry Rincker comes from Carl Zimmerman via his treasure trove TowerBells.org and from the City of Chicago Landmark Designation Report on the Henry W. Rincker House.

16 thoughts on “Rincker Bell Foundry in Chicago

  1. There was a fire at the house a year before it was “accidentally” demolished. A Dunkin Donuts is there now, which doesn’t seem adequate to this speculation, but maybe it wasn’t oversight and someone wanted the building gone in the usual style of such things Chicago.

    1. I have a picture of the Rincker House, but am not sure whether I took it before or after the fire. I think I took it in 1980.

      Jim Saenger

  2. I think that is the usual speculation about the Rincker house. It sounds about right. But demolishing it to put up a Dunkin’ Donuts? Perhaps the property owner just really didn’t like the eyesore.

  3. I am a descendant of Henry Rincker. He did have a foundery in Sigel, IL. The church I attend in Strasburg, IL., St Paul”s Lutheran, is one of the churches he helped found in Shelby County, IL. Our church still has the original bell from H.W.’s foundry in Sigel, IL. The church also has 2 more bells that were cast in the Rincker Foundry in Sinn, Germany. The 2 newer bells were added sometime in the 1970s or 80s.

      1. Sorry, I did not receive a notification of your reply to my comment. I will search for or take photos to share.

  4. I do historic research in the Norwood Park area, was involved in researching the house for the landmarking effort and covered the 1980 demise of the house and the subsequent trial, which took place the same week Pope John Paul II was shot, The house was left unsecured far too long after the corner was sold to a developer and some of the local teens then only now are realizing what their vandalism and multiple fires did to ruin what was once a classic Carpenter Gothic house, lined with bricks in 1851 to make it fireproof… it survived nearly 130 years. Read the trial transcripts to understand how city protections were circumvented and a Greylord judge presided at the bench trial. It was the first designated Chicago landmark to be destroyed.

    The Dunkin Donuts is not on this corner. It is across the street. The Lilac Farm shopping center built along the front of the Rincker House in the 1940s faced east along the west side of Nagle. Dunkin Donuts is in a triangular shopping center between Nagle and Milwaukee, while Superdawg is on the east side of Milwaukee, all south of Devon.

    The downtown courthouse and its Rincker bell were lost in the Chicago Fire. There are contemporary accounts describing the view from the bell tower before 1871 that also discuss the damage afterwards. There are also surviving city street directories from before the fire which can identify possible locations for other Rincker bells, but convert the addresses to post 1909.

    Some consider Heinrich “Henry” Rincker to be the first bell maker in Chicago, but I have not found an address for the business. A contemporary who arrived later said that Rincker borrowed spaces to make his bells because there was not enough regular work to operate a regular foundry. That could be a reason he bought a piece of farmland this far outside of Chicago’s central settlement to live.

    The farmer who bought from him later was annexed to the Norwood Park Village and came into the city with Norwood Park in 1893. It was not part of the 1868 Norwood Land and Building Association subdivision.

    In 1979-80 the Rincker house was considered by local architectural historians to be the oldest surviving example of balloon frame construction in Chicago, where this style of building had been developed. It was not the second oldest house. It had to be at least the third oldest, because the Mark Noble Sr. House (1833) which is the Norwood Park Historical Society’s headquarters, is older than the Widow Clarke House by several years. None of them were built “within” the Chicago city limits (for Clarke and Noble the city had not been incorporated yet). By 1980 the Clarke house had already been moved several times, ending up on Prairie Avenue on the South Side. Both the Rincker and Noble houses were still on original foundations, and the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House still is.

  5. Thanks, Anne, for your comments! It sounds like the Rincker house suffered from neglect for years before it was demolished–sad situation all around. Thanks also for correcting the record on its historical distinction. At least third oldest, not second.

    I wrote about the Rincker bell in the Chicago Fire in another blog post–check it out and the great pics at https://belladvocate.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/the-bell-of-the-great-chicago-fire/.

    Did you have anything to do with writing the City of Chicago Landmark Designation Report on the Rincker house? https://archive.org/stream/CityOfChicagoLandmarkDesignationReports/HenryW.RinckerHouse_djvu.txt. That’s where it lists the two addresses for the Rincker foundry. It writes that the Hatheway and J.H. Taylor Directory for 1849-50 and the Hall and Company Chicago Directory of 1853-54 as listing these addresses. Not sure I have the time to track these listings down to confirm, but those are the sources I found.

    1. I worked with the Landmark commission staffer who did the downtown researches and she and I both waded through the giant plat books (before they were photographed and the records were microfilmed) Access to specialty collections like original directories was very limited then. A lot of directories have been scanned and posted online since then.

      That’s close to 40 years ago, before anything was around on the internet. I tracked different things from more local sources. I’ve learned a lot more in recent years.

  6. Thanks again, Anne. So were these two Rincker foundry addresses in the Landmark Designation Report places that Rincker borrowed (or leased?), as you mentioned in your first comment? Sounds like you do fascinating research–thanks for keeping us informed about Chicago history!

  7. I was doing research on the first Oswego Congregational Church this morning and found a reference to H.W. Rincker’s Foundry. The Oswego Congregational Church was built in 1848 and was destroyed by fire on July 17, 1894. Rincker cast the bell for the church. We have a photo of a large fragment of the bell–now lost–with the following cast into it: “H.W. Rincker’s Foundry. Chicago, Ill. 1850.”

    According to an article in the Aug. 8, 1894 Kendall County Record: “The bell, also procured by [Oswego’s founder, Lewis B.] Judson, was the first cast in Chicago, as it was kept and hung up for awhile at the just then started foundry as a sample; the man said he had put three times the amount of silver in it than was usual.”

    Have no idea how accurate the story about the bell is, but it is certainly interesting.

    1. Wow! Indeed a fascinating story. Thank you so much for sharing. I’d love to see pics of the bell and the county record. If it’s convenient for you, please send to schaferk80 at gmail dot com.

  8. Hello. In Steuben County, NY, south of Perkinsville, is a hill called Sandy Hill. There was a settlement run by German settlers from St. Wendel County, Saarland, Germany. In 1838 a log church was erected being the “mother church” of all churches in the area (like Wayland, Dansville, etc.). In 1852 they got a bell from “Rincker foundry”, Chicago, Illinois. I don’t know what happened to the bell after the church was “closed” a couple of years later when the settlement was abandoned and the settlers moved downhill into Perkinsville. But I will be there in two weeks and ask them.
    Roland Geiger, St. Wendel, Germany

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