Monday, October 27, 2014


Indians once roamed the natural trails of the com­munity we know as Rogers Park. The trails were formed after Lake Michigan rolled back to reveal a high ridge. White settlement began on the north side in the early 1800's and history notes that in 1809 a tavern on top of the "ridge" was used for a rest stop for weary stagecoach travelers. By 1821, white settlers had pushed north to settle in Rogers Park. The Indians were persuaded to move north of the Indian Boundary Line (Rogers Ave.). The land south of the line was purchased by the govern­ment in a treaty dated 1816 to encourage homesteaders to buy parcels of land.

Phillip Rogers was one of these homesteaders. He was an Irishman who had come west from New York in 1836. He was able to buy land for $1.25 per acre, and eventually increased his holdings to 1,600 acres before he died in 1856, having become a very successful truck farmer. Patrick Leonard Touhy was an employee of Rogers, and later married the daughter of Rogers. It was Touhy who developed the area and named the town Rogers Park in 1869.

Settlement did not pro­gress rapidly in the 1840-50 period, although truck farm­ers coming from Luxem­bourg moved into the area at Ridge and Devon starting about 1845. When the St. Paul Railroad came through, Indians still remained in Ro­gers Park and wolves roamed what is now Greenleaf Avenue. By 1870, however, Rogers Park had begun to grow. The Ravenswood Land Company established the community as a suburb on the Northwestern Railroad Line and after the Chicago fire in 1871, land became more expensive as people began to look "outside" of the city for buildable land.

As a result, in 1873, the Rogers Park Building & Land Co. was organized. Rogers Park was incorporated in 1878 by original members of the group Touhy, John Farwell, Luther Greenleaf, Stephen Lunt, Charles Morse, and George Estes, all of whom have streets named after them. The water works system, fire department, school and an active business district were located at Lunt and Ravenswood (then called Market Street) at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad station.

Meanwhile, in West Ridge, settlers had devoted themselves to truck gardening and raising flowers. As early as 1886, some of the farms gave way to buildings and two story homes; others were to continue into the mid-1900's, with fields and green­houses "neighboring" comfortably with newer brick buildings.

Rogers Park decided to annex itself to Chicago in April of 1893. And then in August of 1894, on a very hot afternoon, the entire business district of Rogers Park was destroyed by fire. During the rebuilding process, Rogers Park and West Ridge residents 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 Northwestern tracks. A bitter fight ensued, with the West Ridge farmers being called "cabbage heads." The West Ridge district won, and in 1897, the Ridge Avenue Park District was born.

Another important date in Rogers Park history is 1915, for it was in this year that the state legislature decided that the "no man's land" near Calvary cemetery should be annexed to Chicago. It was about this period, also, that the North Shore beaches became immensely popular as a summer recreational area.

Soon theaters, ballrooms, restaurants and bowling alleys opened to accommodate those who did not wish to swim, and Rogers Park boomed right through the roaring 20's. It was not until Rogers Park "went to war" during the early 40's that the dowager community fell on hard times. Taverns on Howard Street were populated with soldiers and sailors, causing that once prestigious street to slowly decline.

However, as Chicagoans know, ups follow downs, and today as Rogers Park enters 2010's plans are underway and evolving regarding the revitalization of Howard Street, Morse Avenue and Clark Street. New homes are being built as stately older buildings are rehabbed. Families fill the beaches on sunny summer days. Young professional people scour the area for spacious apartments close to transportation, the hallmark of Rogers Park living. And all breathe new life into Rogers Park, bringing with them their faith in Chicago, "the city that works."

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