Cochran's Edgewater

Vol. XIV No. 2 - SPRING/SUMMER 2003

In 1885, John Lewis Cochran, a tobacco salesman for the McDowell Tobacco Company of Philadelphia began to purchase land along the lakeshore from Foster Avenue (once called 59th Street in the township of Lakeview) to Bryn Mawr, a street he named. This land west of what is now Sheridan Road was his first purchase and he named it Edgewater. He had a vision of a suburb much like the suburbs of Philadelphia that extended out from that city along a railroad called the Main Line. The train line that ran through Edgewater was the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul line and it had tracks at ground level. Cochran persuaded the railroad to open a station at Bryn Mawr which he had built of wood and stone in the Eastern architectural style called Shingle Style. At the same time he built a large recreation and business building he called the Guild Hall in the same style. He had engaged an architect, Joseph Lyman Silsbee to design this and some houses which were built on Kenmore and Winthrop.

Cochran subdivided the land and improved the area with sewers, stone sidewalks, macadam streets and electric power. He offered no-interest loans and advertised this community in the newspapers. He maintained an office in the Loop and one at the Guild Hall. Although he had persuaded the railroad to stop at Bryn Mawr there were only a few trains each day. He began by building homes along Winthrop and providing electricity to them so that those riding by the community would recognize it as an appealing place. The lots were fifty feet of frontage along the streets and many of those attracted to the area bought at least two lots; some purchased as many as four.

In 1887, Cochran completed the purchase of land north of Bryn Mawr to a point in the middle of the block between Ardmore and Thorndale. Cochran named these streets as well as Berwyn, Balmoral and Claremont, now Catalpa. In his next addition in 1889 he added the land from the first addition north to Devon with streets named Glenlake, Grand and Rosemont. After a short time working with Silsbee he found that many buyers wanted more options in the designs of their homes. He fired Silsbee and hired George Washington Maher as lead architect. Maher worked in the area for many years though any homes he designed for Cochran did not have his name as architect. Cochran was the holder of the building permit.

Every lot that Cochran sold had a covenant on it with a restriction that the buildings could only be single family homes. The length of time for this restriction was 20 years. When homes were resold after 20 years the restriction was lifted. This time limit on the restriction was the factor that changed Cochran’s beautiful suburb into the urban area it is today. Cochran himself lived to see this transformation which began in 1908 when the train tracks were elevated and Edgewater was connected by the “L” system to downtown Chicago. That connection created a pressure for more housing units and flats as more and more people moved to Chicago.

Even as some builders were building flat buildings other were building large single family homes along the newly opened section of Sheridan Road south of Bryn Mawr. Years later some owners began selling their side yards to builders of apartment hotels and the density of the area increased. On some of the remaining empty lots large apartment homes were built. The units in these buildings had three to five bedrooms and maid’s quarters. By the 1920s the variety of housing in the area ranged from large single family homes and two flats to large apartment homes and apartment hotels. Cochran’s suburb of Edgewater became an urban neighborhood.