Thursday, April 25, 2019

Market Days in Niles Centre (Skokie), Illinois. (1880-1920)

The small settlement of Niles Centre (Incorporated 1888), Americanized to Niles Center 1910 and renamed Skokie 1940, comprised just 57 households in 1880, although the township had a population of just over 2,500. It was, however, fast becoming a vital area marketplace around that time, the keystone of which was the area's first farmer's market.
Market Days in Niles Centre (Skokie). circa 1880s. West side of Lincoln Avenue north of Oakton Street; Blameuser Building on the far left.
For four decades beginning in 1880, the first Tuesday and third Thursday of each month were established as market days, and merchants from as far away as Chicago, as well as McHenry and Kane counties, came to meet with area farmers and purchase their produce. Pigs, poultry, horses and a variety of vegetables were offered for sale in large numbers on market days.

The idea for the market seems to have originated with Peter Blameuser, Jr., who had billboards printed advertising the earliest events. A description of the colorful Market Days:
“The market reached from the intersection of Lincoln and Oakton [north] to the fork at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. A major attraction for the children of the community, market day also attracted beggars, gypsy fortune tellers and thieves, who proved to be a challenge for the local law enforcers. Horse trading was a vigorous activity. A dispute regarding the merits of a pair of horses would most likely be settled by a horse race through town. The usual stakes were a round of drinks paid for by the loser. Wives often accompanied their husbands into town on market days to make sure the ‘pig money got home safely. After selling their stock, the farmers often decided to have a little fun in town before returning home. They had little trouble getting home; their horses knew the way!”
The soft farmlands of the area were ideal for Chicago workhorses made lame by the Chicago Street Paver Bricks. In the country fields, they would remain functional for years. They were a part of village life in the late 1800s, not only in labor and commerce but also in recreation. In addition to the races, the horses were sometimes pitted against one another in pulling contests, in which pairs of horses were harnessed to wagons loaded with gravel, their rear wheels locked by a board placed between the spokes.

Gypsies usually arrived at the edge of the settlement in caravans of wagons, where they camped for an evening or two. The outdoor market brought hundreds of other strangers to the area, too, including many merchants from Chicago, establishing Niles Centre as a true center of commerce.

Skokie runs a "Farmers Market," beginning around 1990, every Sunday, from June through October. The market is in the Skokie Public Library's parking lot on Oakton, just west of Lincoln Avenue.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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