By: LeRoy Blommaert
It has been said that all politics is local. You can be sure that this is true in Edgewater. But how did it get this way? What follows is a look at the ward boundaries for Edgewater for the past 121 years. This information is the companion to the current exhibit Edgewater: Community and Politics 1889-2010 at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum. The exhibit will be available until September 25, 2010.
Prior to the great annexation of July 1889, Chicago was divided into 24 wards. After the great annexation it added 10 new wards to cover the new territories, which tripled its area. Edgewater (which was annexed as part of Lakeview) was included in two of the new wards: the 25th, covering all the territory east of Clark; and the 26th, covering the territory west of Clark. The southern boundary of both wards was Diversey Avenue, the pre-annexation northern boundary of the city. This east-west split down the middle of Clark Street has remained a constant throughout Edgewater’s political history although, in recent years, the Clark Street boundary has been breached at the north end.
Although the newly acquired territories grew enormously in population, the 1889 ward boundaries remained in place until 1921, when a new system of 50 wards, with one alderman per ward, was put in place. Prior to this, most wards had two aldermen. For Edgewater, however, there was no change in boundaries: the old 26th ward became the new 50th ward and the old 25th ward became the new 49th ward. Edgewater continued to be divided into two wards, with Clark Street being the sole boundary between them. The 48th ward, which was later to become the dominant Edgewater ward, was not even part of Edgewater.
It was not until 10 years later that Edgewater would be divided into more than two wards. In July 1931, the 48th ward first made its appearance. The territory west of Clark remained within the 50th ward; however, the area east of Clark was divided at Bryn Mawr between the 49th and 48th wards. This division would remain in place for many years. (See figure #1.)
The next change in city ward boundaries would not take place until September 1947. For Edgewater, the change would be relatively minor: the 48th ward would gain – and the 49th ward would lose – the Edgewater triangle bounded by Clark on the west, Ridge on the north and Bryn Mawr on the south. The Clark Street boundary would remain in place; however, a very small piece of territory at the southwest corner of Edgewater, south of Berwyn and west of Clark would become part of the 47th ward. For the first time, Edgewater was divided into four wards.
In July of 1961, the city ward boundaries were changed again. And again, the changes for Edgewater would remain minor: the 49th ward gained back – and the 48th ward surrendered – the Edgewater triangle area. Everything else remained the same on the western front.
The next change in city ward boundaries took place in November, 1970. This time, however, the changes for Edgewater were major. The 48th ward pushed its boundary north, at the expense of the 49th ward, and the 40th ward made its first appearance in Edgewater, taking in most of the territory west of Clark. The 47th ward disappeared from Edgewater and the 50th ward was now limited to the area north of Peterson. Clark Street again remained the east-west boundary. The 48th ward nearly doubled its Edgewater territory. Its north boundary, in a first for any Edgewater ward boundary, ran on more than one street. It ran east from Clark along Elmdale to Magnolia, south on Magnolia for one block to Thorndale, east on Thorndale to Winthrop, north on Winthrop to Glenlake, east on Glenlake to Sheridan, north on Sheridan to Granville and then east on Granville to Lake Michigan. (See figure #2.)
The next changes in ward boundaries were relatively minor for Edgewater. In November, 1981, the boundary between the 48th and 49th ward changed again with some small territorial gains for the 48th ward. For the first time, a portion of the Edgewater Glen neighborhood became part of the 48th ward. The new boundary ran east from Clark along Hood to Glenwood, south on Glenwood to Elmdale, east on Elmdale to Magnolia, south on Magnolia to Thorndale, east on Thorndale to Broadway, north on Broadway to Granville and east on Granville to Lake Michigan. On the western front, the Clark Street boundary was breached for the first time, though in a very small way: the 40th ward acquired the “parrot’s beak” formed on the north by Ridge and the south by Victoria. Otherwise the western front was not changed.
In the September, 1992, redistricting, the changes for Edgewater were more significant. The 50th ward disappeared from Edgewater and the 40th ward, which had first appeared in 1970, absorbed not only the Edgewater portion of the 50th ward but took over the major remaining Edgewater portion of the 49th ward, reducing that ward – which at one time had been Edgewater’s dominant ward – to a small territory at its northeast corner. The 48th ward gained a few blocks of territory, although its northern boundary remained mostly unchanged. The new boundary ran east from Clark along Hood, south on Glenwood to Norwood, east on Norwood to Broadway, north on Broadway to Granville and east on Granville to Lake Michigan. The 40th ward retained the “Parrot’s beak.” Edgewater was now back to three wards again. (See figure #3.)
At the next redistricting, in April of 2002, the 48th ward gained more Edgewater territory at the expense of both the 40th and 49th wards. The new northern boundary of the 48th ward ran from Clark east along Hood to Greenview, north on Greenview to Granville, east on Granville to Glenwood, north on Glenwood to Rosemont, east on Rosemont to Broadway, then south on Broadway to Granville, east on Granville to the CTA tracks, north along the CTA tracks to Sheridan/Devon, east on Sheridan/Devon to Kenmore, south on Kenmore to Rosemont, east on Rosemont to Sheridan, south on Sheridan to Granville and then east on Granville to Lake Michigan. For the first time, nearly all of the Edgewater Glen neighborhood was within the 48th ward. In addition, the 48th ward reclaimed from the 40th ward the “parrots beak,” which it lost in 1981. The 49th ward was reduced even further to three precincts. Also, for the first time since before 1930, one ward east of Clark stretched from Edgewater’s southern to its northern boundary.
Ward boundaries do matter and have implications beyond the merely political – elections and representation.
The division of Edgewater along Clark Street had the effect of further distancing the area west of Clark Street from the rest of Edgewater. As the least populated segment and the most removed from the Lake and the “L”, the area west of Clark was least integrated into the rest of Edgewater (and vice-versa). Whereas the “L” was a common transportation link for residents east and west of it, the western extent of that link faded beyond Clark Street. The political separation furthered the sense of not being part of Edgewater. In addition, since the area west of Clark Street represented only the outer fringes of the wards that included it, the residents often felt ignored or less than fully represented (whether justified or not). The Edgewater area west of Clark was never more than a small fraction of the total area and population of either the 50th or 40th ward.
A different dynamic presented itself with respect to the area east of Clark. For residents of this, the most populous part of Edgewater, that dynamic was the push/pull between Rogers Park on the north and Uptown on the south – at least after 1931. Residents north of the 49/48 ward boundary tended to identify with Rogers Park and those south with Uptown. Even if they did not identify with either, they were drawn into the issues and conflicts of those communities. The 49th ward, which always had its northern boundary at the city limits and its eastern boundary the Lake, was always considered the Rogers Park ward regardless of how much Edgewater territory it included. As the 49th ward lost Edgewater territory, that identification was enhanced. After 1931, the Edgewater portion of the 49th ward became the minority portion – in both area and population. That status was further enhanced beginning in 1970.
At the south end, the orientation was towards Uptown. From 1931 to 1970, the Edgewater portion of the 48th ward was the minority portion of the ward; Uptown was the majority. Beginning in 1970, the roles reversed and, in subsequent re-drawings of the boundaries, the 48th ward gained Edgewater and surrendered Uptown territory and population. The result was that the 48th ward became to be – and be seen as – the Edgewater ward. It is significant in this regard that every 48th ward alderman beginning in 1975 has been an Edgewater resident. In contrast, the last alderman of the 49th ward who was an Edgewater resident was George A. Williston, and he last served in 1935! The 40th and 50th wards that covered the west of Clark Street area of Edgewater never had an alderman who was an Edgewater resident.
The 2002 map represents the closest Edgewater has ever approached to being in a single ward and having that single ward being composed of mostly Edgewater territory. Prior to 1931, Edgewater was less divided, all the area east of Clark being first in the 25th ward and then the 49th ward; however, those wards were much larger in area than the 48th ward is in 2010 and included large portions of other communities.
Editor’s Note: Click here to see the full set of ward maps described in the article.