Chicago's Oldest Sidewalks in Edgewater
By: Robert Remer
This past Fall an inquisitive WBEZ (91.5 FM) radio listener asked where were Chicago’s oldest sidewalks. The inestimable sleuths of the station’s Curious City program landed in Edgewater and found the answer on Kenmore Avenue right in front of EHS President Bob Remer’s two-flat.
We always knew our few remaining slate sidewalks in the early John Cochran additions dated to about 1889, but early sidewalks were not dated (as later 20th century versions of concrete sidewalk contractors were required to do by municipal code.)
On November 27, 2012, listeners to Rick Kogan’s show, The Afternoon Shift on WBEZ heard the big news, that after a city wide search, it seemed our blue and grey stones underfoot were declared Chicago’s oldest.
The quest was aided by an article that appeared in this publication back in 2006 (Vol. XVII No. 1 - SPRING 2006, Edgewater’s Oldest Sidewalks) listing the dwindling inventory done by Jack Winans in 2002; you can find the list on our website. We know the list has dwindled more since then and many have been replaced as home and building owners partake of the city’s “shared sidewalk program”, not knowing their monetary value and history. While more expensive to replace, they last many decades beyond concrete. How many concrete sidewalks can you find that have lasted over 120 years?
Edgewater resident Dorian Bezanis, who owns the vintage building at Ardmore and Kenmore, recently had his Kenmore blue-stone slate slabs reset, and he replaced cracked units with replacement stone; he also put the replaced/cracked units in the adjacent garden in a very attractive display. Now he is good for another 100 years or so, certainly a lot longer than concrete. Kudos to Dorian who also reports that bluestone is actually the correct nomenclature for what we have been calling slate. We’ll do some more sleuthing on the chemical and geological heritage.
Bluestone slate sidewalks were much more common in east coast port cities in the 19th century; their respective historical societies and districts endeavor to preserve and protect them from the municipal concrete tsunamis.
Our own Alderman Harry Osterman (48th Ward) has expressed interest in seeing the sidewalks for himself and helping us update our inventory. Perhaps we can work with the city’s sidewalk sharing program to find ways to protect and rehabilitate those sections that have survived or may just need resetting. One could certainly argue that stone sidewalks are much more in keeping with the community’s goal of a sustainable environment.
If you have interest in this subject, please let us know. You can also see a short video of the WBEZ site visit including a stroll on Dorian’s sidewalk at www.vimeo.com/54305635
The full radio show and article can be heard and seen at www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/questions-answered-chicago’s-flower-costs-oldest-sidewalk-and-why-no-ketchup-our (where you will also learn about the cost of Chicago’s median planters, and why we don’t put ketchup on our hot dogs!)