The Last Farm in Edgewater

Vol. XXV No. 1 - SPRING 2014

By: LeRoy Blommaert

He was not one of Edgewater’s original farmers; nor did he purchase his farm from a previous farmer. And unlike other owners of Edgewater farm land such as Nicholas Kransz, he did not subdivide his land. Quite the contrary, he purchased his land from a subdivider and created his farm on the lots he bought. His name was Joseph Cornille and he came not from Luxemburg or Germany, as had other farmers such as Kransz and Weber, but from France.

His farm was the last to be created and it was the last to operate. It was located in the neighborhood we now call East Andersonville – at the northeast end, with the farm buildings and house in the 1400 block of Catalpa. Joseph Cornille purchased lots 12 through 15 in block 1 of Feinberg’s Addition to Edgewater on March 9, 1891; it was the first recorded purchase of lots in the subdivision. He later added to his land by purchasing lots 68 through 71 in block 1 on February 10, 1894. These lots were on the north side of Rascher, across the alley from his lots on the south side of Catalpa. In September 1909, he purchased lot 16 in block 1. Later, he evidently decided he did not need all the additional land, because in November 1913 he sold lots 68, 69 and the west 1 foot of lot 70. The land was a truck farm on which he grew vegetables for the local Chicago market. It had to be given its small size.

The 1905 Sanborn Fire Map shows where his house and farm buildings were located. See figure 1 on page 4 and note the fact that the map indicates that there was a windmill. Remarkably, a photo exists showing this windmill. See figure 2 on page 4. The photograph was one produced for John Lewis Cochran in the late 1890s or early 1900s. (Note the sign in front of the house on the west side of Wayne. Cochran used such signs in front of houses he built for sale.)

Joseph Cornille was born October 6, 1848 in Lille France. He emigrated to the United States in July 1881 from Havre, France. He was married twice. His first wife, Julienne Cauche, bore him three children. After her death he married Mary M. Arent, who was born November 1857 in Germany. She bore him three more children. A number of his sons (and grandsons and their sons) continued in the produce business.

The business started by his son George in 1925 is still operating today, run by his great grandson Tom (George J. Cornille & Sons Specialty Produce and Floral). One of Joseph’s great grand-daughters, Mary Cornille, graduated from St. Gregory High School, joined the order of the Sisters of Christian Charity, and later became principal of the school from which she had graduated, the only person to have done so. (See family photo below)

According to a written but unidentified source furnished to the author by Sister Cornille, he was known in the community as the “French Farmer” and a number of Edgewater residents purchased their produce from him on a regular basis. According to the same source, he was a match maker as well. A widow with seven children who worked part-time for him was encouraged to marry a single man who also worked for him. She did. The source was one of her children. The man she married was Ernest Van Dame. The 1910 City Directory shows him living at 5538 N. Glenwood.

Joseph Cornille died September 9, 1926, at the age of 78. The remaining lots of the farm remained in the Cornille family for only a short time after that.

The windmill is long gone, as are the farm buildings but, remarkably, the house at 1423 W. Catalpa still stands. This author remembers vividly being in it a long time ago. His high school classmate, Robert Kinder, used part of it as his private pad. As someone who lived in a one bedroom apartment, the author was very impressed. The house is now hidden from view from the street, due to the later construction of a single family home in front of it. Look for an article about Edgewater’s other “hidden houses” in a subsequent edition of the Scrapbook.

Sources: Census data, Cook County Recorder of Deeds records, ship arrival records, Chicago City Directories, conversation with Sister Mary Cornille and information supplied by her regarding family members.

This article has been amended to correct an error.  Update: The original farm house and the single family home that was later constructed in front of it were demolished in May 2017.