Sunday, December 23, 2018

Heinrich "Henry" Harms founder of Skokie and the Harms Park Restaurant and Picnic Grounds in Chicago, Illinois.

Henry Harms, 1914
Heinrich (Henry) Harms (1832-1914) is considered the founding father of Niles Centre (Niles Centre, Incorporated 1888; Americanized to Niles Center1910; Renamed to Skokie 1940).

Harms, born in Prussia immigrated to the United States in 1851. He purchased a farm and built a home on the current site of the Skokie Village Hall in 1854. In 1858, Harms became Skokie’s first merchant when he opened a general store at what is now the intersection of Lincoln and Oakton.

Throughout his life, Harms served in various civic positions: township constable, supervisor and commissioner of highways, and Cook County Drainage Commissioner.  He founded three school districts in Niles Township, and began operating Skokie’s first post office in 1863, becoming the area’s first postmaster.

Henry Harms First Home.
At one point, Harms owned 1,800 acres of Cook County real estate. Much of the area surrounding the current Lincoln and Oakton intersection to the west, south, and east was part of the Harms farm - Oakton Street was once called Harms Avenue. The Lincoln Avenue planked toll road, which ran between present day Galitz Avenue in Skokie and Halsted Street in Chicago, was developed by Harms. Harms’ many contributions earned him the title of founder. Father to fourteen children.

Henry Harms third and last house at 5319 Oakton Street, Skokie.
Oil painting depicts the house owned by Henry Harms. This 1869 farmhouse was built of hand-made bricks, located near the current site of the Skokie Public Library on Oakton Street. The house is shown with a porch and tall trees covered with colorful autumn leaves.
Harms Park was a privately-owned picnic grove located at the northeast corner of Western and Berteau Avenues in Chicago.
Harms Park Restaurant and Picnic Grounds became a park in 1893, lasting until 1946, when the land was re-developed for private housing.
Many events and festivals were held in Harms Park, most notably the Chicago Old Settlers’ Picnic, which celebrated Chicago’s oldest citizens. 1937 marked Chicago’s hundreth year as a city, and the Chicago Charter Jubilee held various celebrations and events, among them this picnic, which was held annually until 1946.
Present day Harms Road and Harms Woods are named in his honor.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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