A little slice of Evanston history from Brown Avenue

When Carol Voogd sent a letter to the current owner of her childhood home, she wasn’t expecting much. She moved from Evanston in 1964 but grew up on Brown Avenue for 14 years in the first house on the street.

In 1949, the house was moved from Howard Street and set on a new foundation. Voogd and her family were the first and only residents on Brown Avenue until the mid-1950s. Voogd said she was in the first class at Dawes Elementary School. Her older siblings had to walk more than a mile to Oakton Elementary School years before.

“It was an ideal childhood,” she told the RoundTable. “I climbed trees and rode my bike everywhere and we never came in before dark except in the winter. It was a different time. There were long and wonderful summer nights, and we could see the Milky Way.”

A few days after Voogd sent her letter explaining her history, the house’s current owner, Abby Brown, saw an envelope fall through the mail slot in her front door.

Carol Voogd sent a letter to Abby Brown, the current owner of the house, in March. Credit: Photo provided

“I came downstairs after work and saw it come through the mail. I thought it was weird it was just one letter,” Brown said. “And then, it said, ‘To the owners of my childhood home’ – my heart stopped – and then I sat down and slowly opened it.”

Voogd said she hoped Brown would acknowledge the picture she sent and the little slice of neighborhood history she shared, but what she was not expecting was a RoundTable investigation into the Brown Avenue house that has touched the lives of its past owners.

Brown said she and her husband were looking for houses after moving from a condo in 2020. She was exhausted from all the tours, but her husband insisted on one more. After all, how could the Browns say no to a house on Brown Avenue?

“It was a super rainy day and we had already looked at a ton of houses and I was just done, I didn’t even want to go but then we walked through the door and it was the most quaint and charming home and we knew immediately that we wanted it,” she said.

Brown said the previous owners had left a note explaining how much the house had meant to them and Brown began to notice a theme.

A lot has changed in the house since it was moved in 1949. The house was from the last farm in the area and kept its traditional barn shape. Over the years, each family changed the house to their liking, with the most recent addition being a new bathroom and kitchen remodel by the Browns.

While Abby Brown says they have modernized the house a bit, she says her favorite part is the nostalgic feeling it embodies.

“When you come to the street, you notice it does not really belong. I had heard the rumors of the house and we thought it was just a cute story, but it is all an origin story of the previous owners,” she said.

The past owners of the Brown Avenue house have described their special relationship with the residence over the years. Credit: Photo by Abby Brown

Before the Browns, there was Rabbi Reni Dickman and her husband, Aaron Nessel. Dickman and Nessel lived in the house for 14 years. As with Brown, the house was a special place to their family. Dickman remembers bringing both of her sons home from the hospital, first-day-of-school photos by the front door and the yard her children played in.

“When we brought our first baby to the house, one of our dogs, a big German Shepherd, was so excited he was jumping up and down,” she said. 

The basement was Dickman’s favorite part of the house, with arched doorways and wallpaper with Shakespeare quotes scribbled on it leading to the stairs going down to the basement.

Reni Dickman and Aaron Nessel’s son poses in front of the front door for a back-to-school photo. Credit: Photo provided

Dickman and Nessel loved their neighbors and living on Brown Avenue but, eventually, they needed a bigger space. Dickman made sure to leave the future owner a letter, the one Brown received, to keep the memory afloat.

When Dorit Rogan started teaching at Chicago Jewish Day school, a sixth-grader came up to her and asked if she had ever lived on Brown Avenue. She replied yes, and he said his parents, Dickman and Nessel, bought the house from her and her ex-husband.

Dorit and her ex-husband, Terry Rogan, lived in the house from 2001 to 2006. They said they “completely fell in love with the house” when they toured it. Rogan, an artist, painted the children’s bedroom like an ocean. They put a playground and a kiddie pool in the backyard.

“I fell head over heels with the house and told Terry he had to come see it because they had not shown it to anyone yet. We knew someone else would take it. It was so retro,” Dorit said.

Dorit and Terry Rogan soon found a time capsule hidden in the house. In the master bedroom, there was a fake wall with shelves in the back. Inside was a family photo and drawings and a note from a previous family.

They had a daughter in 2002 and a son in 2004. Their children do not remember a lot from the Brown Avenue house, but Terry Rogan said there’s one memory he will never forget.

They bought the house a month before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Terry used to go out and sit on the deck and watch the planes fly overhead. Where they were located, many planes would follow the track coming over Lake Michigan and Terry says he could see up to 25 planes a night overhead. On Sept. 11, though, it all stopped.

“I used to watch the stars and planes all in the evening, but after 9/11, I didn’t see a plane for two weeks,” he said.

Terry and Dorit Rogan pose for a photo shortly after they bought the Brown Avenue house. Credit: Photo provided

In 2006, another current event hit Dorit and Terry Rogan – the beginning of the Great Recession. They could not afford to keep living on Brown Avenue, so they decided to put the house up for sale.

Yet they say they always thought the house was special.

“I think it is nice that someone is paying attention to the house. We’ve always thought people should know more about it,” Terry Rogan said.

Twenty-two years after the house was moved on rollers to its new location, Robert and Joyce Schulein purchased the house in 1971 and lived there for 30 years. Both of the Schuleins recently died, but one of their daughters, Heather Schulein-Davis, shared with the RoundTable her family’s history with Brown Avenue, including the time capsule they left there in the 1970s.

“Our dad was an acoustical engineer, so the holidays were always a fun time when my sister and I were kids,” she said. “He set up the house to play music in every room so when it was time to put up the Christmas tree, he would start pumping albums throughout the house while my sister and I sorted color-coded branches. Christmas albums from the Jackson 5, The Carpenters and The Chipmunks filled the house.”

Robert didn’t stop there. In the 1980s, he installed a big-screen television and surround sound audio system in the basement where the family would watch movies. He set up microphones in the basement for Heather and her sister to put on their own personal concerts.

Heather (left) and her sister Jennifer pose for a photo at the Brown Avenue house at Easter time. Credit: Photo provided

Whenever Robert and Joyce redecorated, they would write something behind the wallpaper or include a photo – cue the time capsule and Shakespeare quotes. While Aaron Nessel did not move into Brown Avenue until 2006, Heather and Nessel attended school together.

Nearly 75 years after arriving on Brown Avenue, a special house affected the lives of each owner, but Abby Brown says the story is really just beginning.