Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Intertwined History of Rogers Park and the West Ridge Communities of Chicago.

Rogers Park originated when the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis was signed by the tribes of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomi Indians stating they were to cede a 20 mile wide and 70 miles long strip of land to the United States which connected Chicago and Lake Michigan with the Illinois River. The northern Indian Boundary Line ran west by southwest, from what is now Rogers Avenue from Lake Michigan through what is now Indian Boundary Park in the West Ridge community and eventually to the Des Plaines River.
Map of the Rogers Park community of Chicago showing Indian Boundary Road.
Between the late 1830s and his death in 1856 Irishman Phillip Rogers purchased approximately 1,600 acres of government land, part of which formed the basis of Rogers Park. 

During the 1830s and 1840s German and Luxembourger farmers settled in the area and a small community known as Ridgevill (encompassing parts of Rogers Park and Evanston) grew up around the intersection of Ridge and Church Road. (Church Road was the original name of Devon Avenue before being renamed in the 1880s by Edgewater developer John Lewis Cochran who named it after 'Devon Station' on the Main Line north of Philadelphia.)

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 brought a wave of people to the Rogers Park area, looking for new homesteads. In 1872 Rogers' son-in-law, Patrick Touhy, subdivided part of Rogers Park and sold 225 acres of land east of Ridge to a group of businessmen.

The Chicago and North Western (CNW) Railroad's Milwaukee Line came through Rogers Park in 1873. The Rogers Park Building & Land Company was also organized the same year. The water works system, fire department, school and an active business district were located at Lunt Avenue and Market Street (now called Ravenswood Avenue) at the CNW Railroad station.

Several hundred people lived in the area, many still farming but many others were commuting to jobs in Chicago. Rogers Park extended west to the larger of two geological ridges running fairly parallel with Lake Michigan's shoreline. The smaller ridge is known today as Clark Street, while the larger is Ridge Boulevard. The village of Rogers Park was incorporated in 1878 by original members of Rogers Park Building & Land Company; John Villiers Farwell, Luther Greenleaf, Stephen Purrington Lunt, Charles H. Morse, and the brothers Paul Pratt and George Pratt, all of whom have a street named after them.

As early as 1886, some of the farms gave way to buildings and two story homes; others were to continue into the 1900's, with fields and greenhouses "neighboring" comfortably with newer brick buildings.

The number of Rogers Park residents increased steadily with the population reaching about 3,500 in 1890.

West of Rogers Park was unincorporated land. While considered an extension of Rogers Park, "North Town" really didn’t have an identity of its own and remained relatively rural throughtout the 19th century. St. Henry's Roman Catholic Church served as both the religious and social center of the community. West Ridge (inaccurately called "West Rogers Park" by some today; which is a neighborhood within the West Ridge community), as it's named, was home to Rosehill and St. Henry's cemeteries, and the Angel Guardian Orphanage. Truck farms, greenhouses, and the open prairie characterized much of the area. Disagreements with Rogers Park about taxes for local improvements led to the incorporation of West Ridge as a village in 1890.

Chicago annexed Rogers Park and West Ridge on April 4, 1893. Unlike in Rogers Park, annexation did not bring immediate growth to West Ridge. The number of residents remained under 500 until after 1900. No prominent business districts existed, as community members relied on either Rogers Park or Evanston for their goods and services.
On August 8,  1894, at 9:30am an entire block of Rogers Park was wiped-out by fire. The Town Hall, Livery Stable, John Lindley's Store, Phillips Mill, Sharp Bros' Store, Drug Store, and Foote's Grocery, along with factories and dwellings, fourteen in all, while ten families were driven out homeless.
The loss of property was estimates at $34,550 ($993,410 today), but during the excitement many persons narrowly escaped injury while five were hurt.
During the rebuilding process, West Ridge and Rogers Park split over a park permit issued to Rogers Park in 1895. The West Ridge farmers opposed the permit because they did not wish their tax money used to improve the lakefront property. They subsequently applied for a permit for their own park district west of the Chicago and North Western tracks. Notably, at this time, there was no unified Chicago Park District, and it was common for local communities to create separate park authorities, which would sometimes compete for tax dollars to create and maintain parks.

In 1896 a bitter fight called the "Cabbage War" ensued, with the West Ridge farmers being called "cabbage heads."  The West Ridge district won, and in 1897, Ridge Avenue Park District was born, thus Indian Boundary Park and Pottawatomie Park are in West Ridge.
Rogers Park eastern area was a marshy birch forest, which is commemorated with the street named Birchwood Avenue.
The construction of Sheridan Road led to some development, but the area’s population was relatively sparse until 1906 when the Jesuits founded Saint Ignatius Parish and Loyola University. Developments in 1908 inspired the real transformative year for Rogers Park. The city of Chicago extended the Red Line from Wilson to Evanston, adding four stops in Rogers Park.

The pace of growth quickened in West Ridge after 1900. Brickyards formerly located along the North Branch of the Chicago River moved into the area of present-day Kedzie Avenue to take advantage of the sand and natural clay deposits. The construction of the North Shore Channel of the Sanitary District of Chicago in 1909 increased the amount of clay available. Scandinavian and German workers moved from other parts of Chicago to find jobs in the expanding brickyard operations, and workers' cottages appeared in the western part of the community. Real-estate interests began to market West Ridge both locally and nationally.

On May 5, 1915 Chicago annexed the area north of Howard Street, east of the “L” tracks, and south of Calvary Cemetery, known as "No Man's Land." The South Evanston area became known as 'Germania' and became home to well-off German and Jewish residents and brought Rogers Park and Chicago a new northern boundary. No Man's Land was identified by the United States Geological Survey as being a variant name of the Howard District.

Just after the "L" was extended, between 1910 and 1930, the demand for townhouses and apartment buildings skyrocketed. Rogers Park was able to stand as a neighborhood of its own as the "L" made nightlife activities easily accessible and the construction of theaters gave Rogers Park dwellers constant entertainment. Industry throughout the area meant workers could work close to home, and Catholic and Protestant churches and the Jewish synagogues accentuated the neighborhood with religious diversity.

The end of World War I triggered a real-estate boom in West Ridge. Brick bungalows and two-flats became the dominant residential structures in the neighborhood. Apartment buildings also appeared, but relatively poor transportation facilities in the area before 1930 limited the demand for large multiunit buildings. By the end of the 1920s Park Gables and a number of Tudor revival apartment buildings clustered around Indian Boundary Park. A tennis club built in the Tudor revival style opened at 1925 West Thome. A business district along Devon Avenue also developed during this period as the area's population swelled from about 7,500 in 1920 to almost 40,000 by 1930 and local residents looked to their own community for goods and services.

Unlike many Chicago communities, West Ridge grew steadily during the 1930s. Population growth and economic development, however, did not alter the overwhelming residential character of the community. The area possesses no manufacturing establishments and its economic base remains primarily commercial in orientation. Population growth necessitated more housing units and larger, multiunit structures appeared. One of the largest residential construction projects in Chicago during the 1930s, the Granville Garden Apartments in the 6200 block of Hoyne Avenue, was built in 1938 to help meet the need for housing.

A small part of West Ridge's, West Rogers Park neighborhood was known as the "Golden Ghetto." The boundaries were Pratt Boulevard to the north, Western Avenue to the east, Peterson Avenue to the south and Kedzie Avenue to the west. The name came from the thriving Jewish community from about 1930 to the mid-1970s, when migrating to the northern and northwestern suburbs in the mid-1960s became noticeable.

NOTE: Chicago NEVER referred to its communities or neighborhoods as "Parish" names.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

2 comments:

  1. Since my Italian family came West to live Northwest when my Irish and Swiss family lived in the center of town to migrate and farm in Wisconsin...Great Grandpa came to live North Chicago, but worked as a Streetcar conductor, while my Italian Grandfather developed a wonderful restaurant by the Harding theater....I am most interested in the families that began west or northwest to migrate North! Thank you for this wonderful article!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My parents and maternal grandmother lived in the Granville Garden Apartment complex in the 40's and 50's. So exciting to see this mentioned. Very informative article, thanks for researching this!

    ReplyDelete

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