Driehaus Museum in Chicago

Some of the best museums are historic homes, because they provide you with an immersive experience into another era.  Perhaps one of the most beautiful historic homes in Chicago is the Driehaus Museum.  Completed in 1883, the home first belonged to a banker named Samuel Nickerson.  However, over the years, it changed hands from private homeowners to the American College of Surgeons to art galleries, etc.  In 2003, a businessman and philanthropist named Richard H. Driehaus purchased the home, renamed it after himself, and completely restored it to its former glory.  Once the renovations were completed, the home opened to the public as a museum in 2008.

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum is located at 40 E. Erie Street in Chicago.

I first visited the Driehaus Museum in 2016, because I wanted to see an exhibit called “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times.”  This traveling exhibit displayed some of the elegant costumes worn on the British television series Downton Abbey.  The costumes were spread throughout the mansion, which allowed you to admire the home while also admiring the exhibit.  I remember receiving a headset during my visit, which provided an audio tour of both the house and, I believe, the Downton Abbey costumes.  Although the Driehaus mansion is certainly not as grand as the Grantham home in Downton Abbey, it still has a Downton Abbey aura about it.

This is the house’s drawing room. Most of the furniture in the home dates to the late 19th-century but did not necessarily belong to the home’s original owners.

I visited the Driehaus once more to go on a wonderful tour that the museum schedules occasionally.  This tour provides you with a servants’ perspective of the home.  Our tour was led by two guides who were dressed as maids and stayed in character throughout the entire visit.  They pretended that we were new hires, so they explained to us our tasks and what life was like in the home.  In reality, they were providing us with an excellent tour that included historical background and access to the servants’ area of the home, which is not usually open to the public.  After the tour, we were free to roam through the home on our own before leaving.

Admission to the Driehaus Museum is pricey, but worth visiting at least once.  Every detail, color, and design visible in the home is a feast to the eyes.  Keep in mind that the emphasis of the museum is not on the people who lived there before, although they are certainly mentioned, but on the beauty of the architecture and style of the late nineteenth century.  Driehaus is certainly a hidden gem in Chicago.

If you visit the Driehaus Museum, be sure to use the bathroom there. It has a Thomas Crapper toilet. Crapper was a British plumber who owned a sanitary equipment business. Legend says that the word “crap” originates from his name, but the word really predates him and originates from Middle English.

Sources and Further Reading

At Home in Chicago. http://www.chicagohousemuseums.org/ (accessed February 5, 2021).

Downton Abbey. Directed by Julian Fellowes. London: Carnival Films, 2010-2015.

“History of the Nickerson Mansion.” Driehaus Museum. https://driehausmuseum.org/about/history (accessed February 5, 2021).


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