v25-4 Summerdale: Evolution of a Name and a Place

Vol. XXV No. 4 - WINTER 2014

By: Marsha Holland

For many of us the name Summerdale evokes a small village in the country. In Chicago, Summerdale is the name given first for a railroad station rather than to a street or an actual geographically defined place. In 1875, James A. Clybourn and Robert Greer secured the permission of the owners of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway to build a station north of what we now call Foster Avenue, in the western part of what we now know as the Edgewater community.

Construction of the railroad line running between Chicago and Milwaukee had been completed in 1855. Until the opening of the Ravenswood station to the south in 1869, the Rosehill station at Ravenswood and Cemetery Drive was the only one between downtown Evanston and downtown Chicago Although the Rosehill station was less than a half mile north of Foster, Clybourn and Greer were somehow able to convince the railroad to open a station near a subdivision south of Foster they were attempting to market as suburban house lots.

Clybourn and Greer apparently were able to get the station approved, not only because they donated the land and building, but also because they committed personally to guarantee to make up any financial loss involved with operating the Summerdale station. A handwritten version of the contract still exists in the collection of the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Association. The document was donated to the RLVHA by the son of Robert Greer, who grew up in what came to be called Summerdale.

Greer’s son, Robert C. Greer, in an oral history he provided to the RLVHA in 1942, said that he did not believe that Clybourn and his father ever had to make up the difference between the desired revenue goal and actual fares. Greer’s son also said that he had no memory of how the Summerdale name was selected, which is understandable since he was four years old at the time. He speculated that the claim, made in a history of the Northwestern Railroad’s station names published in 1908, that his father had selected the name for “its pleasant sound and suggestions” was probably correct. That name also had the potential marketing virtue of resonating well with the romantic Scottish literary associations of Ravenswood and the bucolic rural quality of Rosehill.

With the name chosen for the transportation amenity that was intended to promote lot sales, Clybourn and Greer began to use it in advertising associated with a subdivision that Clybourn had recorded in 1872 called “Clybourn’s Addition to Ravenswood,” even though the 40-acre property did not immediately abut the Ravenswood development. This subdivision was bounded by Foster (then North 59th Street) and Argyle (Clay Street) on the north and south and railroad tracks and Damen (Robey Street) on the east and west.

Greer’s son remembered that his family moved to a house on Wolcott north of Foster, one block west of the tracks and across the street from the about to be re-christened Summerdale. After construction of the station in 1875, Greer advertised lots in Clybourn’s subdivision under the new Summerdale name, linking the name with a neighborhood for the first time. In 1876, a Chicago Tribune news story reported that Greer had built in Summerdale four brick houses and that a man named Richard O’Brien had built another. A mid-1876 news story reported that a total of 13 houses had been constructed in Summerdale, most of them connected to water mains.

Clybourn’s was not the first subdivision activity in this part of Lake View Township. It was preceded by three others, Andersonville (1853), that of Louis E. Henry(1858), and Mount Pleasant (1859), which over time became incorporated into popular identification with the Summerdale name.

The Andersonville subdivision, recorded in September 1853, was located immediately east of Clybourn’s Addition to Ravenswood. It extended from Foster to Argyle on the north and south and from Clark Street (Green Bay Road) to the railroad tracks in the east-direction. Given that it predates the construction of the railroad by two years, it is likely that the developer of this subdivision knew in advance of the location of the railroad’s track alignment.

The second subdivision along Foster before Clybourn’s was a very large tract recorded in August 1858 by Louis E. Henry, about whom nothing is known beyond his name. This subdivision was north of Foster and bounded by what is now Balmoral on the north, Glenwood on the east and the future Ashland Avenue (a section line) on the west.

A year later, in December 1859, the Mount Pleasant subdivision was recorded, the owner of which is unknown. This subdivision, also north of Foster, was bounded by Berwyn on the north, Ashland on the east, and the tracks on the west. Frontage on the major arterial Clark Street is what made these three early subdivisions potentially attractive investments, plus relatively good proximity to the Rosehill train station. However, very little residential building resulted from these subdivisions for more than 20 years.

The owners of this land represented very “patient money” indeed, whether they intended it or not. Neither was Clybourn’s and Greer’s subdivision at first very successful. In March 1880, Greer posted a small classified advertisement indicating he had eight lots for sale “near Ravenswood” for steeply discounted prices. He had apparently given up on the attraction power of the Summerdale name.

Then things began to change. In the early 1880s real estate in the whole Clark/Foster area became more active, in part promoted by the relocation in 1884 of Robert Greer’s Calumet Cotton Factory from downtown Chicago to a site in the northeastern corner of Foster and West Ravenswood Park, which employed 150 female workers in the weaving and dyeing of gingham fabric.

Also in 1884, Nicholas Miller, a local farmer of German descent, recorded the subdivision of the four square blocks northwest of the corner of Foster and the railroad tracks, taking in the location of Greer’s factory. His son, Peter L. Miller, in the mid-1880s opened the first grocery store intended to serve the growing middle class suburban population (it was called “Fancy Groceries and Meat Market”). The store was located in a building the family constructed at the northeast corner of Wolcott and Foster.

At this point the Summerdale name expanded in popular usage to include a larger area both north and south of Foster Avenue going from about Damen (then Robey) on the west, extending east to Clark. In May 1886, the Summerdale name was first used as a legal description by Gustavus Anderson and Wilber Wait. Their Summerdale subdivision was located north of Mount Pleasant, between Balmoral and Berwyn on the north and south, and extending as far as Clark into the Louis E. Henry subdivision. In 1891, Charles M. Rascher became the master developer of Summerdale Park, which occupied the next two block tier of land immediately north of Anderson’s and Wait’s Summerdale subdivision. In between these events, in 1887, the Summerdale Post Office opened near the train station.

In 1889, all of Lake View (Devon was the northern border) was annexed to the City of Chicago. This brought about a reduction in the number of local full service post offices due to the initiation of home delivery, but a significantly increased number of police stations. Before 1893, all of Lake View was served by a single police facility at Halsted and Addison (known as the Town Hall station). In 1893, three new stations were opened, including one on the north side of Foster at Winchester. It was popularly called the Summerdale station (its formal name was the 43rd Precinct of the 13th District). It functioned under the Summerdale name until a police scandal in the early 1960s brought about a re-designation of the station as the Foster Avenue precinct.

A special “neighborhood” street directory, published in 1895 for what was the northern part of the old Lake View Township, provides a sense of how residents referred to their neighborhoods at that time. The directory was divided into two main sections: Edgewater, which was east of Clark, and Summerdale, Rose Hill and High Ridge, west of Clark to Damen. Based on the distribution of addresses, the southern boundary east of Clark was Foster Avenue, the current formal southern boundary of the Edgewater community area. West of Clark, the addresses go as far south as Argyle. The High Ridge area related to a train station of that name, opened in 1887 just north of Granville, which was the focus of a subdivision of the same name.

An 1894 Sanborn map shows a curved superimposed Summerdale name covering a large swath of area taking in everything from Clark to Damen as far south as Argyle. This was almost the last time that the Summerdale name would have this expansive reach. In 1896, Charles Rascher, now a resident of his own Summerdale Park, significantly gave the name Edgewater Heights to the new subdivision he developed north of Summerdale Park. This subdivision had Bryn Mawr as its northerly boundary. As the east-west street names assigned by John Lewis Cochran to his 1885 Edgewater development on the lake shore were continued westward, replacing the old patchwork of names given by the individual earlier subdividers, the concept of the Edgewater name applying to everything east of the railroad tracks began to take hold.

By 1910, Cochran’s sophisticated advertising of the Edgewater name, and his high-amenity approach to providing improvements beyond the reach of most developers, had made the Edgewater identity something to be sought in the western as well as the eastern part of the community. Except for the street named Summerdale and the Summerdale Community Church at Paulina and Farragut, there is little to remind residents of the Summerdale neighborhood name. The railroad station was closed in 1958, the police station was renamed in the early ’60s, and no business used the Summerdale name until 2014, when a restaurant opened at 5413 Clark Street and called itself “The Summerdale.”

Sources in addition to those cited above are Cook County Recorder of Deeds documents, notes on subdivision recording contained in a digitized version of the Charles M. Rascher Cook County Real Estate Atlas for 1887 (1886 data), and two items in the collection of the Chicago History Museum: an 1895 Norton directory of Chicago’s North Side and typed transcripts of interviews with area residents conducted by University of Chicago graduate students in the late 1920s, known as the Palmer archive. Many of these materials are available under “Local History” on the EHS website. The two photos are available from the Sulzer Regional Library website as part of the Ravenswood-Lake View Community Collection.