Woodridge was originally built as the Florence Crittenton Home for un-wed mothers in 1937. "The palatial Georgian type home placed in the middle of a wide sweeping lawn is the realization of a 10-year dream," (Peoria Journal Transcript, June 20, 1938).
Peoria's Crittenton Home is an outgrowth of the House of Blessing which opened in 1892 at 429 West Richmond Avenue. The mission of the House of Blessing was to assist women in need, however the organization suffered from financial troubles and was on the verge of closing by 1900. In 1902, through the efforts of Charles Crittenton, the home was renamed the Florence Crittenton Mission.
By the mid-1920's it was clear to the Board that a new facility was needed. The Richmond Avenue building was described in news accounts with words such as "inadequate," "unsanitary," "crowded," "unsafe" and "a fire hazard." The Crittenton Board of Director's set about to build a new building to accommodate up to 45 young ladies and their babies.
In 1936, the Board purchased 167 frontage feet along Heading Avenue from George and Ethel Schoenbeck. The property extends 1,100 feet toward Farmington Road across Dry Run Creek. Later that year, the Board contracted Peoria architect Frank Emerson to design a new building suitable for their growing needs. They needed something large enough to house all the young women and their babies to adequately provide for their care.
They designed a building with a complete hospital wing for birthing with pre and post delivery rooms, nine dormitories, shower rooms, four nurseries with separate bathing and sleeping space, sewing room, classroom, living room, quiet room, kitchen, dining room, recreation room, sick ward, laundry facilities and more.
After a few revisions the Crittenton Board approved the plans and construction was underway.
The cornerstone was laid September 25, 1937 by Board members (left to right) Mrs. Arthur Keithley, Mrs. William Steinbach, Mrs. Walter Martin, Mrs. Edward Sedgwick, and Mrs. T.S. Page. Preserved within the sealed copper box time capsule was a doorknob and bell from Crittenton's first home, a volume of the national history of the Crittenton Homes and records of the fundraising efforts for the new building. Remarks and prayers marked the ceremony. Mrs. Steinbach spoke on their mission to assist in the "rehabilitation of unfortunate women." "It is our aim to bring to weary minds relief from dark despair; to give to aching hearts solace; to strengthen by confidence and trust the wavering ones; to give to all fresh, new inspiration; to make a baby smile through tear-stained eyes, and to teach the gospel of the second chance," (Peoria Star, September 26, 1936).
The new home, located at 801 West Heading Avenue (later renumber to 2619 West Heading Avenue) was opened to the public on June 19, 1938. The structure was erected at a cost of $110,000. The home would be heralded as one "of the finest institutions of its kind in this country," (Peoria Journal Star, September 29, 1952). "The spacious lawn, its formal gardens and gracious architecture suggesting a country estate rather than a hospital," (Peoria Journal Transcript, June 4, 1946).
Board members and other women of society would arrange a monthly social afternoon with the young ladies in an effort to mentor them in their social skills. It wasn't until 1965 that men were allowed to sit on the board. Even then, they were only associate board members. Prior to that, five men were allowed to serve on an advisory board in the late 1950's.
School work continued for the young ladies during their stay. Classes in sewing and art as well as science, English, history and other subjects were taught by Mrs. Drayer in the late 1950's. Drayer would eventually become the Executive Director (Peoria Journal Star, August 18, 1959). In 1965, classes would be "accredited and taught by teaching personnel certified by Peoria District 150 board of education," (Peoria Journal Star, January 13, 1966). College extension work was also conducted on site (Peoria Journal Star, January 10, 1963).
Between 1938 and April of 1965 over 4000 babies were born in the Crittenton Home hospital on Heading Avenue. The home had a full time doctor and around-the-clock nursing staff. Starting in 1965, deliveries were performed at the downtown hospitals, Methodist Medical Center or St. Francis Hospital. "'Recommended good social practice plus the cost of maintenance'" (Peoria Journal Star, April 13, 1965) contributed to the closure of the hospital. Over the years, the hospital would also care for babies not born in their facility. In 1946 an amoebic dysentery epidemic shut down St. Francis ward for six weeks and forced the relocation to the Crittenton hospital. Additionally, the hospital cared for premature babies after they were discharged from St. Francis (Peoria Journal Star, October, 10, 1949). "The modern, well-equipped hospital," (Peoria Star, October 10, 1949) was licensed by the Illinois board of health and approved by the American Medical Association.
Crisis Nursery was founded in 1980 to help prevent child abuse. Such a service was the first in the state to offer this type of support. In the mid-1990's, services provided by Crittenton changed somewhat. Young ladies no longer stayed at the home and the nursery focused more on crisis care. Daycare was also an on-going service. Crittenton developed more prevention programs and family classes to help new parents.
In 2003, Crittenton started planning a new building at 442 John Gwynn, Jr. Avenue near downtown Peoria to better suit their needs. While Crittenton was finalizing their plans local West Peoria residents Dan and Barb Kerns approached the executive director about purchasing the Heading Avenue building. The Kerns saw the building as a beautiful asset to the West Peoria community and wanted to see it repurposed as an office building to draw new businesses to the area.
In early summer of 2004, Crittenton moved into a new building and the Kerns, now incorporated as The Bailey Group, started restoring and developing Woodridge Professional Building.
As the use of the building changes, it is important to maintain the historical heritage of the Crittenton Home. The building provides a link to the past for many adoptees and clients that have been served at that location. Over 4,000 lives began and many, many more changed within the walls of the building that is now Woodridge. The Bailey Group extends an invitation to those who wish to visit the building to do. Please send us an email.
Please see Restoration & Rejuvenation for more information about the make-over to professional office building.