Andersonville or Andersenville - What difference does a letter make?

Vol. XXII No. 2 - SUMMER 2011

By: LeRoy Blommaert

The answer is: quite a bit, particularly if one is either a Swede or a Norwegian (or an American of either extraction) as “sen” is viewed as indicative of a Norwegian surname and “son” that of a Swedish surname. It makes a difference to us today too, as we want to be historically accurate.

At least one thing is beyond dispute, and that is that the Clark Street commercial district was named Andersonville in the early 1960s by some of the merchants along the street to give their district a distinct flair by capitalizing on the Swedish heritage of the area. A June 20, 1969, Chicago Tribune article by Mary Daniels gives the credit for the naming to Dr. Grant Johnson, who got the idea from the name of the old school that once stood at the southwest corner of Clark and Foster. A bronze plaque on the building that replaced the school commemorates that school and the Lake View township organizing meeting that was held there in 1857. The plaque was placed there in 1937 by Chicago’s Charter Jubilee Committee as part of a celebration and commemoration of the centennial of Chicago’s obtaining a city charter. The name of the school on the plaque is Andersonville, and it is undoubtedly the plaque rather than any historical knowledge on Dr. Johnson’s part that led him to use the name for the commercial district (see figure 1). It is interesting to speculate on the course of local history in the last 50 plus years had the plaque not been affixed.

But is the name on the plaque accurate? Was the school really named Andersonville? Might it have been named Andersenville? Unfortunately, the Chicago Historical Society (now renamed the Chicago History Museum), which did the research for the plaque, has no records relating to the research it did. Here things become somewhat confusing, even in references that are nearly 100 years old or older. Consider the following reference:

A Chicago Tribune article from January 20, 1912, refers to the deplorable condition of the school and cites a petition of some 1,500 people to have the school condemned and an addition made to the nearby Trumbull school (which was done). The name of the school is given as Andersonville.

Weston A. Goodspeed and Daniel D. Healy, in their 1903 book “History of Cook County,” state as follows: “Another settlement in the old township of Lake View was called Andersonville. All of these settlements have long since become part of the North Side. One of the first school houses was built at Andersonville.” Score another for the Swedes.

A year before, an extensive Chicago Tribune article on plumbing conditions in Chicago schools (11/3/1902) refers to the school as both Andersenville and Andersonville. Yes, in the same article. Another Chicago Tribune article (2/6/1892) on Chicago Board of Education land holdings, refers to the school as Andersonville.

The Lake View directories for 1883-84, 1886 and 1887 also show the school as Andersonville.

Thus far, it appears that the school was named Andersonville. But wait. In three separate official Chicago Board of Education (CBOE) publications, the name is given as Andersenville. The annual reports for the years ending June 30, 1891 and 1892 refer to the school as Andersenville, as does a CBOE proceedings on dedication to the city of the street in front of the school.

But consistency is not a hallmark of even the CBOE. In two other CBOE reports, those for the years 1890-91 and 1892, the name is spelled Andersonville. It is also spelled Andersonville in the 1894 and 1895 CBOE reports.

However, a more comprehensive review of the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education and the annual reports reveals that the overwhelming majority of the references to the school use the E spelling.

And then there is that undated photo of the school building. It shows Andersenville in large letters above the door on the building itself (see figure 2). And there is also the class photo of Room No. 1, dated September 26, 1890, where the spelling of the school on the slate board is “Andersenville.” And another, dated September 26, 1892, that also shows the E spelling. But countering this is a photo of an 1894 class assembled in front of the building just below the sign (which is not shown). The small slate board shows “Andersonville School, Branch of W.C. Goudy” (see figures 3 and 4).

Resolution of the conflicting spellings must turn to an inquiry as to how the school got its name in the first place. And here there is not just one version but two – nothing is simple and clear cut. One version is that the school is named for the subdivision in which it was located. The other is that it was named for Reverend Paul Andersen.

That the subdivision (as opposed to the school) was named Andersonville there appears to be little doubt. All subsequent re-subdivisions of the original subdivision (of which there were many in the 1880s and 1890s) all refer to it with the O spelling. None refer to it as Andersenville and no other references to it with the E spelling have been found either. And the earliest history of Cook County known to us – A.T. Andreas’ “History of Cook County,” published in 1884 (five years before the annexation) – refers to it as Andersonville. An 1883 map of Lake View refers to the subdivision as Andersonville, as does also a map published in 1879 by R.W. Dobson and George W. Waite, in possession of the Chicago History Museum.

While the location of the subdivision is clear (see figure 5), the origins of the subdivision are not. The Cook County Recorder of Deeds’ only map of it refers to it as ante-fire, meaning that it was recorded before the great Chicago fire of October of 1871. The map shows that it was located in the town of Ridgville [sic]. The township of Ridgeville was established in 1850, pursuant to an 1849 Act of the Illinois State Legislature providing for the establishment of township governments. It extended from Irving Park Boulevard on the south and into Evanston on the north. Since this town or township apparently lasted only until 1857, when the town of Evanston and the township of Lake View were carved out of it, the subdivision must have been platted and recorded during the 1850-1857 period – assuming that the map is correct. And that is an assumption, as it is not the original map, but one created after the fire. Presumably, it was named for its developer, but we don’t have his name. Yes, there was a farmer named Anderson who lived in the general area, and an 1850 map of Ridgeville township roads shows the location of his farm along Clark Street, but further north, near Granville. We don’t know whether he platted and recorded the subdivision further south that bears his name, but probably not. Anderson was not an uncommon name.

Finally, in support of the proposition that the subdivision was named Andersonville and not Andersenville, the 1883-1884 Lake View directory of individuals uses the Andersonville spelling when noting the location of individuals within Lakeview.

As for the school, some recent histories state it was built in 1855, but the source is not given; however, we know it existed in 1857, because A.T. Andreas states that it was at the school that the first organizing meeting of Lakeview Township was held. He referred to it as “the school at Andersonville.” And all three of his references to it use the O spelling. Thus, it appears the school was named not for a person, but for a place – the subdivision of Andersonville. Otherwise it would have been known as “the Anderson school.” At least initially that appears to be the case.

The second version is that the school was named for Reverend Paul Andersen. This version appears to be more recent. It is found on the Chicago Public Schools Alumni website ( For the Andersenville school, the following is given: “The Andersenville school was named in honor of Reverend Paul Andersen.”

The author’s conversation with Michael Manning, editor of the website, revealed that no source was given for the above statement. A subsequent conversation with the Board of Education’s Archivist, Richard R. Seidel, also revealed no source for the statement.

Mary Daniels, in her June 20, 1969, Chicago Tribune article about Andersonville (referenced above), contains the following: “The intersection of Foster and Clark is the heart of Andersonville. This was already a Scandinavian neighborhood, predominantly Swedish, in the 1840s, when a Paul Andersen Norland arrived. He became a minister and a leading citizen and inspired the slightly-changed-in-transition naming of the area.” Since the Andersonville subdivision was not recorded until sometime in the 1850s – not the 1840s and, because it remained undeveloped until much later, the mid 1890s at the earliest, one has to doubt the accuracy of the statement as to the naming.

The October 7, 1964, special “Andersonville” edition of the Swedish American Tribune, published in English, states unequivocally that “Andersonville owes its name to Rev. Paul Andersen” and that the school was named for him. Unfortunately, it gives no source for this claim; nor do any of the several articles in the edition have a by-line.

There was a Reverend Paul Andersen, however, and A.T. Andreas in his “History of Chicago (Vol. 1)” published in 1884, provides a short history of his life and work. He was born in Norway in 1821 and came to Chicago in January, 1848, where he soon founded the First Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. He also assisted a group of new Swedish immigrants to Chicago. This group would eventually become the first Swedish Lutheran Church established in Chicago, the Swedish Immanuel Lutheran Church now in Edgewater at Elmdale and Greenleaf (Editor’s note: street is Greenview.)

His major claim to fame (written from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant perspective) is that he was responsible for having at least some services conducted in the English language. He was a pastor in Chicago for 12 years. In 1860, for health reasons, he left Chicago for Europe intending, according to sources at the time, to live out the remainder of his years there, but he came back in 1864. Back in the United States, he worked not in the ministry but in “revenue service.” In 1876, he answered a call to ministry from the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee and served as pastor there until July, 1883, when he retired permanently from the ministry and returned to the Chicago area. And here is where the story becomes interesting. Andreas says “He now lives in Lake View, on North Clark St, near North Fifty-Ninth St.” Fifty-Ninth St. is now as Foster Ave.

Thus, Reverend Andersen lived in or near Andersonville and, sure enough, the 1883-84 Lake View Directory shows him at that location but, in a delicious bit of irony for us today, spells his name as Anderson – with an O! The 1886 directory did the same. He is absent from the 1887 directory. His obituary in the Chicago Tribune (10/15/1891), using the E spelling, confirms most of Andreas’ narrative and adds that he later moved to Colorado and died there at La Jara on October 11, 1891.

Even though it appears from all the evidence thus far found that the school was originally named Andersonville for the subdivision in which it was located, could it later have been renamed Andersenville to honor the Reverend Paul Andersen? If this had been done, it had to have been done by some official act of the body that had jurisdiction over the school. If such renaming had been done after July, 1889 (the month of the vote on annexation of Lake View to Chicago), that body would have been the Chicago Board of Education. A review of the indexes of the proceedings of that board from July 1889 through 1912 reveals that no such renaming took place. The index for each year is very detailed and reveals naming and renaming of other schools, so it is extremely unlikely that the indexer would have missed such an important action.

If not the Chicago Board of Education, could such renaming have been done by the body that had jurisdiction of the school before the annexation in July 1889? It’s possible but very unlikely. For one, the Reverend Paul Andersen died in October, 1891, so if such renaming in his honor had taken place before the annexation, it would have been done while he was alive. Such practices are very unusual. And if it had been done, it presumably would have been done after he returned from Milwaukee in July, 1883, and while a resident of Lake View and not before. That is a short window of time: 1883-1889. And as been mentioned above, the Lake View directories for the years 1883-84, 1885, 1886, and 1887 all show the school as Andersonville, spelled with an O. Unfortunately, the author was not able to find any records of the body that had jurisdiction over the schools of Lake View, nor even the name of such a body. It definitely was not that of the city or town of Lake View, as the reports of the officers for those years do not mention the schools.

But if the school was not renamed Andersenville for Reverend Paul Andersen, how then does one explain the spelling of Andersenville in the Chicago Board of Education proceedings? There is really no satisfactory answer. The most probable explanation is carelessness. It is interesting that the oldest source bearing on this controversy, an August 25, 1856, article in the Chicago Tribune reporting on a gathering of Scandinavians for Presidential candidate John Fremont, at which the Reverend Paul Andersen spoke out against slavery, has his name spelled Anderson!!! Neither Swedes nor Norwegians were in charge of the school at the time so, to those who were, the correct spelling was not all that important and, once the school was spelled one way in one official document, it tended to be spelled that way in succeeding ones. In Chicago, before the annexation, there was a school called the Andersen school (named for Hans Christian Andersen, the author of children’s tales). Perhaps, for those in charge during the short transition period when the schools in the annexed territories were not yet fully integrated into the city’s school system, it was natural to spell the name Andersenville with an E as that was the spelling of the Andersen school. We will never know.

More difficult to resolve is the Andersenville spelling of the name on the school building itself. The source of the several photos of the school is a real photo postcard by ML Photo in the possession of the Swedish American Museum. It was never mailed. The author collects these photo postcards of Chicago and has done research on the photographers. The earliest the photo could have been taken was 1907 and the latest 1914. A close examination of the photo and an earlier copy made of it shows the name of the school not on a sign affixed to the building but as part of the building itself – in what appears to be a piece of molded brick or terra cotta above the door! If this was a mistake, it was a serious mistake and one not easily remedied!

This raises the interesting question whether the brick building in the photo was the original building – the one where the first organizing meeting of Lake View township was held – or whether it was a replacement building.

There are several reasons to think that it was a replacement building and not the original. One is that it would not have made sense for such a large brick building to have been constructed in the 1850s. It would have been very expensive for a new township and the school population in the area couldn’t have been very great. Though on Green Bay Road, the school, as well as the subdivision itself, was in the middle of nowhere. The students would have had to come from the nearby farms, of which there were few at the time. Another is that the Swedish American Tribune’s special Andersonville edition of October 7, 1964, states without qualification that the building replaced a small frame school house that was painted green and white (unfortunately, no source was given). The most persuasive of the reasons is a piece of documentary evidence. A table of school buildings in the Chicago Board of Education’s 1891 Annual Report shows 1888 as the year of construction for the Andersenville school. Of course the date could have been entered in error. It could have been 1868 or 1878 or another year entirely. However, a data entry error seems unlikely, as it was listed in the next year’s table with the same date. If the date in the first table had been in error, it is not unreasonable to believe that the error would have been noticed and then corrected the following year. Then too, the year 1888 was just one year before the annexation and only three years before the table was published. Given the continuity of principals at the Andersenville school, it is very likely that the source of the 1888 date was the school’s principal. This surprising late date also gives credence to the Swedish American Tribune’s account that it replaced a white and green frame building, in that the information could have been a first hand account by someone who went to the school and was living at the time. A person 8 years old in 1888 would have been 84 in 1964, when the article was written. If not a first hand account, then certainly a second hand account from a son or daughter of a person who went to the school could have been the source of the statement.

The bottom line: Unfortunately, not all discrepancies can be resolved definitively or satisfactorily. If additional information is discovered that sheds light on the question, we will publish a follow-up article.