v27-1 Edgewater Sub-dividers Part 1: Brockhausen and Fischer Profile

Vol. XXVII No. 1 - SPRING 2016

By Marsha Holland

Most of us know who John Lewis Cochran was and maybe also William H. Cairnduff. But have you heard these names before: Henry Greenebaum, Louis E. Henry, Samuel H. Kerfoot, Michael Weber, Gustavus Anderson, Zero Marx, Charles Rascher, William D. Fisher? Some of these men lived in, as well as invested in Edgewater, but the large majority lived elsewhere and all looked upon their development activities as wealth-producing investments. What they all have in common is that they made major contributions to the creation of the residential neighborhoods in what we now call Edgewater. This is the first in a series of profiles of these lesser known subdividers.

A subdivider is someone who submits a conceptual development plan for a given piece of property to county officials for approval. The plan typically divides the property into streets and individual house lots. The street pattern is for creating access and community character (the streets are deeded to the local government) and the lots are the real source of value. Once the subdivision has legal standing, the property can be sold by individual lot, by blocks of lots, or as a whole to another owner who undertakes the overall marketing and sales. In Edgewater, land changed hands many times after it was put on the market by the Federal government in 1835. Some was farmed, but most was owned speculatively, awaiting the time when suburban development would reach northern Lakeview Township. That arrived in 1889 when annexation to the City of Chicago made provision of reliable water and sewer service a certainty.

East of Clark Street, the first steps toward suburbanization were taken by John Lewis Cochran, who from 1885 to 1888 purchased and subdivided approximately 300 acres of lakefront land east of Broadway between Foster on the south and Devon on the north, giving his new community the name Edgewater. Building on Cochran’s successful marketing efforts, in 1890 Theodore C. Brockhausen and William D. Fischer subdivided a twenty acre parcel bounded by Broadway and Glenwood on the east and west and between Devon on the north and a line extending east from Thome Avenue on the south. Their subdivision, which they called “Brockhausen and Fischer’s First Addition to Edgewater,” was recorded in December 2, 1890. A Chicago Tribune article described the new subdivision as being “just west of and adjoining J.L. Cochran’s Edgewater addition.” A subdivision logo used on the recording map even closely resembles Cochran’s distinctively stylized lettering for the word Edgewater.

In 1890, Brockhausen and Fischer had much in common. Both were twenty-one years old, both were the sons of German immigrants who had become successful small town merchants, and both decided to seek their fortunes in Chicago rather than becoming part of their father’s businesses. Brockhausen, an only child, came from the small rural town of Lansing in Allamakee County in the northwestern corner of Iowa. Fischer, the fifth of eleven children, followed his druggist older brother Oscar to Chicago from the somewhat larger and less remote town of Mendota in La Salle County, Illinois.

Bockhausen and Fischer first showed up in a Chicago directory in 1887, when they were listed as working as bookkeepers for downtown employers located within a block of each on Dearborn Street. Brockhausen lived on Ontario near State Street, while Fischer lived on West Lake Street. By 1889 Fischer had relocated to Ontario Street across the way from Brockhausen. In 1890 the Chicago directory listed a new real estate and mortgage company – Brockhausen, O’Connell, & Fischer, with offices in Rooms 50 and 51 in the Inter Ocean Building at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Madison. The partnership with Thomas F. O’Connell was very brief, because by 1892 O’Connell had a job at City Hall, and thereafter the firm was known as Brockhausen, Fischer & Company. An 1891 display ad for the company published in Chicago’s Real Estate and Building Journal indicates that firm gave “special attention to the needs of non-residents,” meaning the young partners hoped to capture a share of the massive flow of eastern investment money into the Chicago real estate market.

The documents related to the recording of the new subdivision show that Fischer was the owner of the land and Brockhausen was the notary. Most Tribune articles about the project reference Brockhausen, Fischer and Company as the active buyer and seller. But one Chicago Tribune article dated November 5, 1891, indicates that William D. Fischer was an agent acting for a “syndicate” of unnamed investors. It was this group that provided the $120,000 purchase price for the thirty acres – the twenty acre future subdivision and a ten acre tract immediately to the south which was sold separately to another group.

The syndicate made a handsome profit on their investment. Land purchased in 1890 for $4,000 an acre was sold one year later for just under $10,000 per acre, a profit of 150%. The buyers were a syndicate made up of prominent Kewanee, Illinois, businessmen, and headed by James K. Blish and William E. Haxton. James K. Blish was a lawyer, banker and member of one of Kewanee’s most prominent pioneer families, and William E. Haxtun, originally from Dutchess County, New York, owned the Haxtun Steam Company, and was one of Kewanee’s newest wealthy residents. A third unnamed group of investors purchased the ten acres adjoining the Brockhausen and Fischer subdivision on the south.

In deals of this type, agents like Brockhausen and Fischer received fees for the work of buying the land and subdividing it, and then for marketing and handling the sale of lots to builders, individual home buyers and speculators. There is evidence that in this case the compensation also included Brockhausen and Fischer receiving ownership of blocks of house lots within the subdivision.

This major accomplishment yielded significant revenue for the new company and kept Brockhausen and Fischer afloat as real estate and mortgage brokers for the next decade. They ended their partnership sometime between 1900 and 1905, with each continuing on their own in the real estate business for several more years. No other real estate deal in their careers would be as large.

There is more published detail about the transactions involved with assembling the land for Brockhausen and Fischer’s subdivision than is often the case. Two Rascher real estate maps from the late 1880s indicate that within the thirty acres they purchased were four narrow east-west strips of land: two with four acres, one of six acres, and one of 16 acres. The six-acre strip, aligned along the south side of Devon and containing the potentially commercially strategic southwest Broadway/Devon corner, was owned by young real estate broker William E. Hatterman, in business with his father, who had in 1889 recorded a small subdivision of just this piece and who went on to develop a larger residential parcel in Jefferson Township. Land records and a Chicago Tribune article dated November 5, 1891, indicate that the owners of the other parcels were the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, Ernst Stock, and Dr. Thomas J. Lilly. Ernst Stock was a well-established German-born real estate broker and Dr. Lilly was a Kentucky-born physician living on Chicago’s West Side. The Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, a German-language breakaway from the better-known Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul, had purchased the land in 1869, two years before they established their St. Joseph’s Hospital on Dickens just east of Halsted. Perhaps the land was a donation to the Sisters, since there is no evidence of dwelling units on these properties.

It appears that Fischer did not purchase the Hatterman property outright, since land records show that Hatterman’s warranty deed to Fischer was immediately followed by a mortgage obligation of Fischer to Hatterman.

The Map accompanying the recording documents shows subdivision layout providing one east-west street corresponding to modern Rosemont, and three north-south streets named Charleton (modern Magnolia), Fischer (modern Lakewood) and Euclid (modern Wayne). The entire twenty acres was divided into 144 lots, a mixture of 50’ and 44’ front feet in size. This lot division was not necessarily followed in actual practice, particularly on Broadway and Devon. The Tribune article stated it was the developers’ intention to provide “sidewalks, macadamized streets, and a sewer and water system similar to that of Edgewater proper,” which indicates the influence J.L. Cochran had on other developers, as well as the perceived marketing value of the Edgewater concept he created.

Despite the brisk turnover in speculative lot ownership, actual building within Brockhausen and Fischer’s Subdivision proceeded at a very slow pace. The 1905 Sanborn fire insurance map shows that only sixteen houses had been constructed on the residential lots (See the postcard on Page 2), and only three commercial buildings had been built along Broadway and Devon.

The largest of the commercial buildings was the Bicycle Club House restaurant/saloon, located at the key Broadway/Devon intersection, and a second commercial building housing another restaurant/saloon and tailor on Broadway just north of Rosedale.

Throughout the rest of 1890-1900 decade, Brockhausen, Fischer and Company represented the Kewanee investor group in the selling of lots. At the same time they were also involved in a range of real estate transactions in other parts of the North and West Sides.

Theodore Brockhausen married Mathilda Irene West in 1892. They had two sons and two daughters. They made their home in the 4300 block of West Washington Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Brockhausen acquired a large tract of land in the vicinity of his Washington Boulevard home and, based on published real estate sales reports, seems to have sold and resold the same lots repeatedly. He also redeveloped a building where he had lived on Ontario Street into a small hotel, and was active with political and real estate industry groups. Brockhausen’s independent real estate office was not listed in the Chicago directory after 1905. He apparently died in about 1906 because a 1907 Chicago Tribune death notice for his wife does not indicate a surviving spouse and, in the 1910 census, his young children, scattered and living with relatives in Iowa and upstate New York, were listed as orphans. Mysteriously, the deaths of neither Brockhausen nor his wife are recorded in Cook County records, although his wife’s Tribune notice indicated that she was a former resident of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery and, perhaps, he is as well.

The fate of William G. Fischer is better documented and just as sad. Fischer married Anna Scheehan in 1893 and they had two daughters. The family first lived in the 2800 block of West Warren in East Garfield Park and then moved to a brownstone townhouse on Roslyn Place just off Lincoln Park. In 1909 Fischer’s financial difficulties drove him to commit suicide by shooting himself in the basement of his brother Oscar’s drug store at 16th and South Wabash. At first the family claimed it was ill health that led to his suicide, but the Chicago Tribune soon reported that he had been misappropriating the funds of clients for several years. The precipitating incident was his conversion for his own use of $15,000 received from one client to pay off a mortgage held by a second client. The deceived client, a personal friend of Fischer’s, commented that it was “the old story of trying to keep up a champagne career on a beer salary.” Although the income of Fischer’s wife and two daughters was greatly reduced by Fisher’s death and disgrace, they were able to continue to live in their Roslyn Place home, perhaps with the assistance of Fischer’s father, who remembered his granddaughters in his will when he died in 1920, or with help from the childless Oscar Fischer.