Neighbors Caring for Neighbors

by Jonathan Wright

More than 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States between 1836 and 1914. With this influx of new arrivals, many of whom did not speak English, the “settlement house” movement got its start in the late 1800s. By 1918, there would be more than 500 of them across the nation. The most famous, Jane Addams’ Hull House, was established in Chicago in 1889 to provide social and educational opportunities for the working class in the surrounding neighborhoods.

In 1896, Peoria’s own Neighborhood House began with a church service held in a vacant store building at 2009 South Washington Street. With two-thirds of the area’s residents foreign-born or of foreign parentage, there was a great need to help them find refuge, learn English and realize a better way of living—and Neighborhood House became an integral force in their lives.

After two students from Bradley Polytechnic Institute started a class in fret wood sawing in 1899, Neighborhood House became a hub for such training. In 1900, a class in bent-iron and woodcarving was offered for boys, while a sewing class was formed for girls. The following year, a handicraft club started up; three years later, it evolved into the Furniture Guild of Woodworkers, whose members produced furniture and received a portion of the sales for their labor.

Over the years, classes in cooking, nursing, architecture, mechanical drawing and other manual arts—in addition to the food and medical programs available at Neighborhood House—helped many of these new Peorians gain the skills they needed to thrive in their new home. a&s