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Evanston History Center

Evanston, IL


The Evanston History Center, or the Charles Gates Dawes House, is a lakefront mansion turned  museum and archive. This 1894 National Historic Landmark, albeit a historic gem, lacked air conditioning and humidity control, adequate insulation, and a modern electrical system. To address this “wish list,” a building makeover was launched in 2011 with the goal of maximizing the comfort of staff and visitors, as well as preserving the museum’s antique furniture, costumes, portraits, manuscripts, and other treasures.

Notable Nugget

At last count, the house contained 25 rooms, including 6 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms, and 11 fireplaces.

Green Upgrade Details

The overhaul, completed in 2013, focused on bringing the structure’s air circulation and electrical wiring up to date. Attic and piping insulation was added as well, and the outmoded mega-boiler exchanged for a smaller and far more energy-efficient one. The redesign team aimed to avoid damaging or altering the building’s elegantly furnished, oak-paneled rooms that remain much as they were in the first half of the 20th century when Vice President Dawes and his family lived there.

The centerpiece of the project was a new geothermal heating and cooling system. Sixteen 300-foot wells (boreholes) drilled under the Center's east lawn were connected via underground piping to the house. It required a good bit of ingenuity to conceal the heat pumps, ductwork, pipes, and vents: a majority of the geothermal equipment was hidden in out-of-the-way places in the basement and third floor, so that climate-controlled air could be supplied to the first and second floors. Where possible, grillwork for the upgraded ventilation was created to match the existing ornate air vents.

The renovation resulted in comfortable temperature and humidity ranges in the house year-round.

Major Players

  • AltusWorks

  • Architectural Consulting Engineers (ACE)

  • Bulley & Andrews  

  • Great Lakes Geothermal