Ammon family story - Northwest Edgewater

Vol. XXV No. 1 - SPRING 2014

By: Kathy Gemperle

Ronald Ammon stopped by the museum to ask question, “When was Peirce School built?” This was a critical question because, when the school was built, his ancestors had to move from the house they were renting at 1425 West Bryn Mawr. There were a few houses there on the south side of Bryn Mawr and the land was needed for the playground just west of the school. Since Peirce was built in 1915, we guessed that they moved in 1913 or 1914. This was just another part of the puzzle of Ronald Ammon’s family history.

Ron can trace his family back to 1850, when Joseph Ammon came to the United States from Bavaria. According to the 1880 census, he first lived in Milwaukee and was married to Francisca. They had a 14 year old son, Joseph. By 1900, Joseph the son had moved to Edgewater and was living at the Matt Evert Saloon on Ravenswood, and working as a bartender. In 1901, he married Catherine Smitz who was the daughter of Henry and Anna Smitz.

In 1910, Joseph and Catherine were living at a house at 1425 Bryn Mawr with their three children, Al, Joseph and Kathleen. When they moved from Bryn Mawr around 1913-14, they bought a building at 5940 N. Hermitage, which was recently torn down by a developer.

Joseph Ammon, Ron’s uncle, lived at that two-unit building until 1961, when he died.

In 1925, Ron’s father, Al, met a local girl named Elsie Cleson and they were married. Elsie was one of four children of a Luxembourger, Joe Cleson and wife Barbara, who owned greenhouses and a farm house at the intersection of Damen and Norwood. Ron was able to share some pictures of the farm house and greenhouses with us at the museum. There were a number of greenhouses in the area. The soil of this area is a sandy loam that is part of the high sand dune known as the Rose Hill Spit. This ridge is one of the ridges left by the receding Lake Chicago, which eventually formed what we now call Lake Michigan. The Cleson Greenhouses were just off Peterson Avenue, which was a two-lane road at the time.

The Cleson family was part of a group of Luxembourger families that moved north of Chicago and bought farm land when the city limits were at Fullerton. These families pooled their resources to build the beautiful St. Henry Church at the corner of Ridge and Devon. The church that is standing today was built in 1905 before the Archdiocese of Chicago put an end to the ethnic organization of parishes in about 1912. The Archdiocese in 1928 sold the church to the Angel Guardian Orphanage which covered much of the land west of the church. Next to the church is a small graveyard where many early Luxembourgers are buried. It was opened in 1863.

As the city of Chicago grew, this type of graveyard was abandoned in favor of larger cemeteries on the outskirts of the city, such as St. Boniface cemetery on Clark Street and Rosehill Cemetery just west of Ravenswood and south of Peterson.

Ron’s parents were married at St. Henry’s Church in 1925, and they moved to a bungalow at 5817 N. Paulina. Al worked at the Swedish and Merchant’s Bank, but soon learned that the promotions were only going to those of Swedish decent. (In 1923 he was listed as working at the Capital Savings Bank prior to his marriage.) He thought about his future and decided to start looking for a job to support his growing family – two sons, Gilbert and Ron. He applied at the Bowman Dairy, located just north of Devon. He was hired and began his career as a Chicago milk man.

At first he drove a horse-drawn wagon and worked primarily residential routes in Rogers Park just north of Devon. When his boys were young and energetic, he would take them along to help by climbing the stairs to the third floor apartments with a full milk carrier. Al kept track of the orders and the billing, but his sons were a great help. There were many products available, including eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, half and half, butter and buttermilk. Another job was keeping an eye out for signs that people were moving, so Al could approach the new people to be his customers. Al’s world view was from the alley, so any changes in the trash were noted. A few extra boxes might mean someone new in an apartment.

After many years delivering milk by horse drawn wagon, Al finally got a truck. It was a 20 foot truck, driven while standing up, called a Divco. Al decided to become an independent delivery man. In his obituary he is credited with founding the Sunnybrook Farm Dairy. This meant that he had to work even harder to get new customers. During the start up of his new independent business, Elsie decided to get a job at the Ace Laundry, just a block away on Ravenswood. She only worked a few months and then the new business was producing enough income for her to return to homemaking.

Eventually Al invited his two sons to take over the business. It was easy for them, because they had gone along with their dad and they knew the routines. There were many independent milk delivery companies. Each one of them got their milk from a larger dairy that was located nearby. The nearest ones to Rogers Park and Edgewater were the Bowman Dairy on Ridge, the Wanzer Milk Company on Lawrence near the Sears store and the Hawthorne Melody Dairy on Chicago Avenue. All these companies sold their products to the delivery men. So the brothers started out as a partnership, each with their own routes. This lasted only a while and then they each decided to go their separate ways. Later they sold the business to another independent.

Ron went to work for the Hedlund Dairy. This was a dramatic change because now he was delivering milk to major institutions such as Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Cook County Jail and Cook County Hospital. Ron eventually retired from the milk delivery business and began thinking about the old days, all those customers and all those stairs.

Thanks Ron for telling us your story.

Editors note: the Divco truck

In 1922, George Bacon, Chief Engineer for the Detroit Electric Vehicle Company, designed a remarkable new milk delivery truck. It could be driven from four positions, front, rear or either running board. But battery power was no match for winter weather, heavy loads (such as milk) or long days on the city streets. His employer balked at making a gasoline powered truck, so Bacon and other investors formed the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company (D.I.V. Co.) to produce his invention using a LeRoi gasoline engine. After testing a prototype in 1924, and 25 more prototypes with the Detroit Creamery in 1925, Bacon and his investors were ready to go into business.

More information on the Divco truck can be found at the Divco Club of America: History, on the internet. There you will see many models of this innovative vehicle.