Edgewater Historical Society Celebrates 20 Years
Twenty years ago, on January 23, 1988, at a meeting held in the Edgewater Library, 50 residents of Edgewater stood up to vote the Edgewater Historical Society into existence. It was a response to a need to preserve community history and a high level of interest in learning more about both history and historic preservation.
Many people who were there at the Library that day remember Dick Bjorklund of the Ravenswood-Lakeview Historical Society and Mary Jo Doyle of the Rogers Park Historical Society sharing their words of encouragement. The community must preserve its own history. We cannot depend on large, city-wide organizations to fulfill that responsibility. The history of our community is our story.
And so we began. Steps were taken to incorporate in the State of Illinois as a non-profit. Meetings were held to create the mission statement and the by-laws. Next, we met with the newly formed board to plan further outreach in the community. Without an office and prior to the possibility of a web site, we decided to create a newsletter, the Edgewater Scrapbook, as a means to tell the stories of the community and to share research. The newly formed Historic Sites Committee decided to offer a community walking tour of the historic areas of the Edgewater Beach neighborhood, which was once called the “North End” of Edgewater.
The Fundraising Committee met and decided that the most exciting event that we could present was a home tour in each of the Edgewater neighborhoods. The first Tour was in the Magnolia Glen neighborhood in 1989.
The program committee set about planning guest speakers for three general meetings per year. Some of our special events included: a Collectibles Auction in 1988; a benefit sale at the Colvin House; “Edgewater Lenscapes,” a photo exhibit at the North Lakeside Cultural Center; a tour of the Uptown Theater in 1991; a joint photo exhibit with the Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society called “Then and Now” in 1995; a lecture about Postcards in Edgewater by Kathleen Hamilton-Smith from the Curt Teich postcard archives; a tour of Graceland Cemetery with Al Walavich; an historic tour of Edgewater, with past photos in hand, called the “Then and Now Tour” in 1993; and “Chicago’s Changing Lakefront,” a slide program by Kathy Gemperle.
Through the years, we had a number of Chicago Authors and special community speakers come to our General Meetings, which were always held at the Edgewater Library.
What we learned in forming this organization is that there are many people in Edgewater who are very interested in community history.
Nearly every meeting held at the Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library was full to capacity with 40-50 people.
We began to receive donations from residents who attended the meetings. During the first year, someone gave us two maps showing the Edgewater area near Rosehill. On other occasions, people brought old photographs and post cards. After a while we realized that we needed to organize what we wanted to collect for the neighborhood. The Collections Committee met and created a collections policy. How to organize the collections was another matter.
In an effort to work on community outreach, we created a slide program about Edgewater history and offered it to the various block club organizations.
Student participants in the “Chicago History Fair” began contacting us through the Library for help with their research. This was difficult without having an office or place to meet.
After seven years of operating without a location, we began looking at buildings which had some historical character and might work as a small museum. We had a few favorites but, with only $24,000 saved from our previous years, it didn’t seem like we could afford to buy. But Board member Thom Greene was determined and, when Chris Grant from Alderman O’Connor’s organization offered to show us the essentially vacant firehouse at 5358 N. Ashland, we began to imagine our future. By 1996 we had purchased the building; we opened the Edgewater Historical Society Museum on October 6, 2002. On Page 6 in this publication is the final list of those who gave their cash to support this project.
Not listed as cash donors, but of premier importance, are the in-kind donations of several Edgewater businesses. At the top of that list is Greene and Proppe Design, for all the additional work they did on the project. Gethsemane Garden Center came in and landscaped the grounds before the Grand Opening. The City of Chicago reconfigured the front entrance sidewalk to go along with the landscaping. Finally, Charlie’s Ale House offered to host a fundraising event to pay off the remaining $10,000 to our contractor, M.P. Construction.