Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Lost Communities of Chicago - The Village of Pennock.

The little village of Pennock was founded in 1881. It was located at Diversey Street and Ballou (St. Louis Ave.), Fullerton, and Crawford (Pulaski Rd.) avenues. The village of Pennock was in Jefferson Township, a former civil township in Cook County, that existed as a separate municipality from 1850 until 1889 when it was annexed into the city of Chicago. Its borders were Devon Avenue on the north, Harlem Avenue on the west, Western Avenue to the east, and North Avenue to the south.

The village of Pennock was founded by Homer Pennock, a mining entrepreneur, and con man. He was going to make money, and if things didn’t work out the way they ought to, Pennock was not above cheating his way to a profit.

Perhaps the first scam Pennock pulled was in 1871 when he lied about having discovered an incredible amount of tin in a region of Canada not known for its tin. Pennock was ultimately jailed, but once he got out, he continued to pull more scams.

Pennock must have been persuasive and charismatic because he continually found financial supporters for his mining adventures. In the 1880s, Pennock, who, at that time owned a gold mine in Colorado, took over a chunk of Northwest Side farmland, from Diversey Street to Ballou Avenue (now St. Louis) and Fullerton and Crawford (now Pulaski) avenues, with the goal of building an industrial town there “that would cause the world to marvel,” according to a 1903 Chicago Tribune article below.

Pennock wasted no time getting to work. He brought carload after carload of bricks to the area and enlisted a lot of workmen to help him realize his dream. He dubbed Wrightwood Avenue “Pennock Boulevard.”

Osgood Manufacturing Company, a refrigerator and furniture maker, moved into one of Pennock’s plants, bringing about 500 workers to the area. Realizing the workers needed places to live, builders then constructed brick homes and shops to accommodate them.

That boom was short-lived.

Pennock’s main factory was destroyed in a fire and one of his mines flooded, which left him unable to finance construction. Those two setbacks combined marked the beginning of the end for Pennock and his “City of Dreams.”

With the factory gone, there was no reason for the existence of the village out on the prairie, and those who had cast their lots with Pennock flocked back to Chicago. Essentially, Pennock’s plan failed and the village crumbled. 

Pennock’s failure came at a time when farms across Chicago were transforming into clusters of factories and homes.
Wrightwood Avenue (Pennock Boulevard), Looking West, Chicago, Circa 1900.
The Village of Pennock was annexed by the City of Chicago in 1889.

The village of Pennock was annexed by the City of Chicago in 1889. Today's west side of Logan Square had many life cycles and was relabeled over time with distinctly different local identities—Avondale, Pennock, Polish Village, the Land of Koz (after Kosciuszko Park), and finally Logan Square, one of the official 77 communities of Chicago.
Few Houses from the Village of Pennock Still Stand.

In the ensuing years, most of the buildings in Pennock had reached a stage of decay which made them untenable to the most miserable squatter,” according to the Tribune, “A Deserted Village in Chicago,” reprinted below.

After his Chicago failure, Pennock went on to found Homer, Alaska in 1896. As the story goes, he “lured others to the Homer area with promises of gold, although the area was known for coal mining.

Chicago Sunday Tribune, June 14, 1903

Standing like tombstones over a village that now exists only in name, there are within Chicago's borders a dozen or more picturesque ruins which represent all that is left of what once promised to be a great manufacturing center.

And hanging about the crumbling bricks and rotting timber is an almost forgotten chapter in the city's history—a story of a boom that collapsed almost before it gains an impetus and left its promoter with little more than the valuable farmland to show for the money he had invested.

How many Chicagoans, as they are whisked by the station of Pennock on the St. Paul railway, have viewed the great ruins and wondered what they meant? And how many, to this day, can tell? Few of the oldest residents of the neighborhood are able to explain, and then in the vaguest way.

"There was a soap factory there once—a long, long time ago," one will say.

"No, it was a big warehouse—and it burned." another will impart.

But in all the neighborhood, which in most part has been peopled since the big plant and the once substantial brick houses which are adjacent to it were given over to the elements, not one person could be found who could recall the spectacular operations of Homer Pennock, who, in his dreams, saw on the prairie of the northwest side a manufacturing community that would cause the world to marvel.

It was twenty-two years ago that Pennock, then owner of a rich gold mine in Colorado, came to Chicago, intending to multiply his fortune and startle the financial world. He had the daring of a D'Artagnan [meaning; one who is exceptionally skilled in the use of sexual persuasion.] and was willing to risk his all in a single throw.

The mine was paying—how long it would continue to pay he did not know, but he planned to push his operations forward so rapidly that he would be prepared for any crash that might come.

Out at Fullerton and Fortieth avenues, Pennock found a stretch of level farm land that suited his needs. It was within easy access to the St. Paul railway and could be bought for a song, for in those days Chicago did not extend to the far northwest.

Pennock secured options on several thousand acres of land and almost before the farmers knew of his plans car-load after car-load of bricks was being dumped beside that track where the little frame railway station of Pennock now stands. Scores of workmen followed the building material and a foundation 600x650 feet had been erected.

"We'll have a car wheel factory there—the largest in the world," Pennock announced, as he stood by and proudly watched the workmen pilling brick upon brick. The foundation was completed and then came a halt. Perhaps word came from the west which delayed operations—but that is for Pennock himself to tell.

But the interested farmers had not long to wait, for Pennock again he was serenely confident that his City of Dreams would be carried to a glorious completion, put a force of men at work building what he called "the east wing" of his plant. "Thereat will come in time; it's sure to come—it must come," he mused.

When the "east wing" had been completed Pennock set about looking for a tenant, as for some reason or other his car wheel factory had not materialized. People were skeptical and hesitated in moving so far out of the city, but Pennock was not to be denied.

Soon the Osgood manufacturing company, makers of refrigerators, and certain articles of furniture moved into the plant, and then came the first breath of the short-lived boom. The factory employed many hands—as many as 500, some authorities say—and these men had to be housed and fed.

Small stores began to spring up around the neighborhood and the real estate men made a rush to be first on the field. Like other booms, things were overdone. Brick houses that cost $3,000 were erected—and these to accommodate the men of modest wages who were working in the plant Pennock had built!

But all this time Pennock would smile and say: "Better times are coming." and there was magic in his words.

It so happened that Pennock, whatever else he may have been, was no prophet. Better times did not come, either for Pennock or those who had staked their fortunes with his. The plant—already large—was not increased to cover the big foundation and one day all except the somber walls that are now standing went up in smoke. Pennock's dream was over and the awakening had come.

Then, according to men who were close to Pennock in his venture, the mine out west became unproductive and Pennock's cup of despair was filled to overflowing.

Just what caused the factory fire is not known, but if human handset it the torch might just as well have been applied to the other buildings that had been erected in the boomtown. With the factory gone, there was no reason for the existence of the village out on the prairie, and those who had cast their lots with Pennock flocked back to town.

Thus it came to pass that time and the elements, destroyers of the staunchest structures, laid hold of the buildings that the fire had spared. The brick houses began to crumble, and as Chicago began to spread toward Pennock's abandoned village the boys made pilgrimages to the ruins and aided in the destruction. First window panes and then window casings were broken from their fastenings till soon the elements had the once-proud houses at their mercy.

With the expansion of Chicago, a few of the brick residences were rescued and patched up, and are now tenanted by families who can afford no better shelter, but many of the $3,000 structures have reached a stage of decay which makes them untenable to the most miserable squatter.

Perhaps no resident of Chicago has a clearer recollection of Pennock and his operations than J. F. Keeney, who held stock in Pennock's mine and bought heavily of farmland in the vicinity of the Dream City.

"It's so long ago that even I have to search my memory," he said in speaking of the village that has gone to ruin. "Pennock came to Chicago fresh from the west, where he had made money in mining, and conceived the idea of building the factory and town out there on the prairie. He was enthusiastic and secured options on farmlands on every side of his plant-to-be. I had owned some stock in his mine—the 'Small Hopes,' I think he called it—and had made money, so I followed him in his new venture, putting some money into the factory and also buying farmland in the vicinity of the factory.

"As I remember it, the first trouble came when something went wrong with the mine. It filled with water or something of the sort, and Pennock was without the means to carry his operations to completion. He was resourceful, though, and it is hard to say what he might have succeeded in doing had it not been for the fire. As for myself, I held on to the land I had bought and several years after disposed of most of it at a good profit.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

1 comment:

  1. There was once a store on Wrightwood and Monticello called The Fair, does anyone remember what kind of business that was?


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