Edgewater Then and Now
The past in Edgewater reaches back to the 1850s and the formation of Lakeview township at the Andersonville school house at the southwest corner of Foster (then 59th street) and Clark (once called Green Bay Road). From that time forward, there have been photos taken of the community of Edgewater which, since 1980, is defined as north of Foster, south of Devon Avenue, from the lake to Ravenswood Avenue. The name Edgewater originated with John Lewis Cochran who used the name for the area in 1885. In an effort to review the development since the early days, we have paired our historical photos with current day photos for an exhibit entitled “Edgewater Then and Now.”
Each paired photo reflects the urbanization of the area. The photo of the Andersonville school next to the photos of the Haglund Block (the building that replaced it) shows the change of an intersection from the crossing of a quiet neighborhood street and a thoroughfare to a busy intersection with a combination of commercial and residential uses. As expected, the transformation from smaller settlements to the urban neighborhoods of Edgewater began early, at the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps the most significant change was brought on by transportation improvements. Prior to the construction of the “L”, Edgewater/Andersonville was served by the Chicago Northwestern along the Ravenswood tracks with stops at Summerdale and Rosehill. Along the lake shore, the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad ran from Union Station to Evanston with few neighborhood stops.
In a nationwide effort to prevent grade level accidents with trains in urban areas, these train tracks were raised to embankments. A more significant change came with the construction of the “L” which connected the electric trains to the center of downtown Chicago. By 1908, much of the empty land in Edgewater/Andersonville had been purchased for construction of both residential and commercial use. This change brought about a change in the type of building constructed in some areas of Edgewater.
Along the lake shore, John Lewis Cochran was selling lots to upper middle class families to build the grand mansions in his Edgewater development. West of Broadway, the housing was of a more modest design on smaller lots. West of Ashland, the single family homes were smaller, often 1-1/2 stories with smaller lots. A photo in the exhibit shows the 1700 block of Bryn Mawr with a development of shingled homes built in the bungalow style in 1910.
Around 1900, Edgewater saw the construction of the first two-flats. Soon, two-flats were being built all over the community on some of the few remaining lots. By 1910, three-flats appeared and, a few years later, six-flats and larger buildings appeared on the many vacant corners.
The commercial development of the area began early with bars, bakeries, groceries and drug stores. The center of this activity was on Clark Street. Few buildings on Clark Street date from before 1900. The oldest ones have been torn down, save what is now the Wild Pansy Shop of the Gethsemane Garden Center. Old photos of that building in the exhibit show it as a bar and later Dave’s. It served as a VFW post before Gethsemane restored it and transformed it. Other transformations of note include the adaptation by Andies Restaurant of a unique Andersonville building that was sadly modernized in the mid-century. When Andies uncovered the false front it showed that the complicated brick work shown in the photo from the 1910s had been removed.
Other old restaurants in the area have retained a lot of their historic character. A photo of the Fireside Restaurant building from more than 75 years ago shows some of the changes made to the façade of this wooden building, a favorite gathering place in Edgewater in close proximity to the Rosehill Cemetery Gate.
Some photos also tell of the improvements that come with urbanization. The photo of Foster Avenue in 1947 and the photo taken in October 2004 show a remarkable contrast. In 1947, the outer drive ended at Foster and five lanes of traffic traveled west on Foster to be dispersed to destinations to the north and west. The 2004 photo shows a virtually empty street.
Other photos in the collection show some historic views like the view from the “L” platform taken by Ray Jonas in 1932 and the one taken by Larry Rosen in 2004. There are others that focus on Bryn Mawr. Three photos of the southeast corner of Bryn Mawr and Winthrop show dramatic change. First, there was a six-flat there facing west. Next the Brann building was built in 1932 in an Art Moderne style. Lastly the replacement building under construction is shown with a corner curve that is smaller than the original.
Many areas of Edgewater are shown in the exhibit. We did not include empty lots waiting for development, although they have been photographed. We are still looking for old photographs and would be happy to copy them and return them. If you have a photo that you are willing to share please contact us at the museum voicemail: 773-506-4849 or by email.