Motoring through Edgewater (Past)

The current exhibit at the EHS Museum, Motoring through Edgewater, explores the history of how the automobile transformed the Edgewater neighborhood. The exhibit runs until May 3, 2015, and features photographs, maps and other artifacts from the museum’s collection. Related programs will be offered during the exhibit.

In the 1920s, Edgewater became a center for automotive sales and service, with numerous dealerships, garages and parts sellers located along Broadway. The neighborhood was so densely populated with automobile-related businesses that it was dubbed the “North Side Motor Row” by industry experts. Many of the same dealerships in Chicago’s Motor Row, located along South Michigan Avenue, also operated showrooms in the Edgewater community. The famous Edgewater Beach Hotel, located in Edgewater along the lakefront at Balmoral Avenue, gained national fame in 1924 when it opened its underground parking garage.

“We all know that the automobile had a transformative effect on American life in the 20th century but, in this exhibit, you will see how that happened in one community, Edgewater, and how that looked to people living in the community,” explained curator Tiffany Middleton.

One Edgewater resident, Thomas Hay, was a leader in the automobile sales industry in Chicago from approximately 1908 until 1945. He worked as a distributor for a variety of auto companies, selling Fords, REOs and Hupmobiles. Hay was also a founding officer of both the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and the National Automobile Dealers’ Association, two of the first professional organizations available to automotive sales representatives.

“The automobile exploded between 1900 and 1950,” explains Middleton. “It permeated culture – advertising, music, radio and television.” Viewers of the exhibit will see examples of all of these media, in addition to photographs from Edgewater history. The exhibit includes a display of Illinois license plates, decade by decade, since their inception in 1911. One of the most interesting things in the exhibit is a map of the United States, which guides drivers on a “radio tour” of the country. “The idea of the road trip, whether a Sunday drive or a cross country tour, really began to take hold of America’s imagination, and Edgewater played a role in that development.”

Tiffany Middleton is co-author of The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company: An Illustrated History, 1917-1939.