Meet the Kranszes - Part 1
In the Right Place at the Right Time
By: Gloria L. Evenson
Nicholas Kransz always had a way of being in the right place at the right time and it is no surprise he is credited with being the first settler in Edgewater. Originally from Central-European Luxembourg, Nicholas was born in 1816. His family were linen weavers. According to great-granddaughter, Lois Kransz of Niles, Nicholas came to the United States about 1843, presumably to avoid crossfire from European wars going on around Luxembourg at the time. He was accompanied by a brother and a cousin, the names of whom are not known.
The three men found work with a Mr. Riess, who owned farmland north of very young Chicago. After laboring without pay several years, in 1846 they were compensated with 120 acres of land, bounded by Clark Street (then a trail known as Green Bay Road) and what are now Edgewater, Glenwood and Devon Avenues. They built a standard frame farmhouse on the northeast corner of Clark and Ridge, which became known as Seven Mile House, since it was seven miles from downtown Chicago.
This Seven Mile House has been reputed as a local tavern, inn, and meeting place; however, as Lois Kransz points out, it was never operated as an official business. The Kranszes provided food, drink, and lodging to travelers passing through the area (for a small fee), as was the custom in sparsely-populated areas. Many of these guests were funeral processions from Calvary Cemetery in Evanston.
With Nicholas’s reputation for being in the right place at the right time, he was an obvious participant in local politics and civic affairs, and often provided his home as a meeting place for such activities.
The story that Abraham Lincoln stopped at Seven Mile House during his 1860 campaign travels is probably true, according to Lois. Gatherings were often held in small communities to introduce politicians to local citizens.
Lois heard many recollections of the event from her grandfather, Peter Kransz, who had been a child at the time. However, Lois says, “Peter was known to exaggerate and his stories became embellished with time.” Lois believes a Lincoln campaign rally was actually held at the house, since it was a popular meeting ground (and Nicholas was then Justice of the Peace), but will admit to no further details of the event.
Most of the time at Seven Mile House, however, was spent in daily activities of clearing and farming the recently acquired land. The three men did very well in “truck farming” (a Luxembourg ethnic trade) and sold their vegetables at the South Water Street market in downtown Chicago. It is believed celery was a major crop and the area now occupied by Senn Metropolitan Academy was choice for growing this product.
A family story Lois tells is that the men at Seven Mile House eventually got tired of each other’s housekeeping, and decided one of them should marry. A family named Faber to the northwest had a daughter, Margareth, who was the most likely prospect. A slight problem, however, was that all three men were confirmed bachelors. They finally settled the question by drawing straws and Nicholas got the short end.
When asked how one proposes to a girl whom he had practically been “sentenced” to marry, Lois replied that marriage prospects in the area were so few that Margareth was, no doubt, thankful for an offer. (The Fabers, incidentally, were relatives of the Birrens of Birren Funeral Home, now at Clark and Hood.)
Shortly after Nicholas’s marriage, the other two men began to feel the house had become too crowded and left for other ventures. The brother headed west to California and then emigrated to Australia, where he died. The cousin went into the Black Hills gold rush area and was never heard from again. The Kranszes were not people who kept in touch. Ambitious and competitive, their interests were in business and civic affairs, not close family ties.
Six children were born to Nicholas and Margareth: Nicholas Jr., Peter (grandfather to Lois), Henry, Mary, Annie and a girl who drowned in a creek that ran along Ravenswood. The children attended school in a frame building across from St. Henry’s Church on Devon and Ridge (the first Catholic church in the area, where the family were members).
Nicholas Senior enjoyed continued success with his farm and civic duties. According to an “Edgewater History Series” article written by EHS member LeRoy Blommaert for the Edgewater Community Council, “…in 1886 (Kransz) endowed a school in his native village in Luxembourg with $1,500 for the education of poor children.” The article also notes that “He became active in the insurance business and in public affairs, holding every township office except that of supervisor.”
Marriages of daughters Mary, to a Mr. Weber of National Brick Company, and Annie, to a Mr. Schrup in the fire insurance business, provided convenient resources to Nicholas Senior for developing and building on his land when the area became more populated. (Once again, Nicholas was in the right place at the right time.)
Per the “Edgewater History Series,” the first division of the Kransz property occurred in 1883, when Nicholas had the area south of Ridge subdivided and platted. Lois adds, however, that the land north of Granville had been disposed of very early on, as it was peat bog, constantly burning, and not of much use.
None of the Kransz children remained at Seven Mile House as adults. Progressive as they were, Seven Mile was just too plain for their tastes. They all became successful and had nice homes in the area (more on the Kransz children later).
Nicholas Senior lived out his days at Seven Mile House and died there peacefully in 1896. He is laid to rest in St. Henry’s Cemetery on Devon and Ridge.
Margareth lived with her children after Nicholas’s death, spending most of the time at Peter’s house, 5896 N. Ridge, until she died in 1921 at age 93. Margareth, it is said, was quite sharp in her old age, but had earned the right to be a bit crotchety by longevity. (Lois’s mother had remembered her as “a nice sweet little old lady who had her peculiarities.”)
Seven Mile House was willed to the surviving children in joint tenancy, with a requirement that they all be in agreement in order for the property to be sold. With the Kranszes’ basic competitiveness, agreement was not in their nature, and the house saw several tenants before it eventually became so antiquated it had to be torn down in 1936.
A family named Welter (also Luxembourgers) were tenants for several years, as was a Mrs. Kanter who added a flower shop in the 1930s. When the last dissenter against sale of the property died in the 1940s, the lot was purchased by its tenant at the time, Henry Vinci, who owned a vegetable market and was later a founder of the Certified grocery store chain.
Two remnants of Seven Mile House survive: one a walnut stair railing and the other a hope chest made from the cherry bar used when the house served as an inn. Both items are in the possession of the Kransz family and probably represent the oldest Edgewater artifacts.