Fred Nelson

Fred Nelson Interview*

History of Uptown, Summerdale District/Swedish Influx, Document #19

Source: Fred Nelson, 5145 North Clark Street, head of the Westerberg and Nelson Storage Company, a Swedish man who came to the district in 1892 and has been in business on North Clark Street since 1904. Interview date not indicated.

I came to the north side in the Summerdale district in 1892. There were just a few Swedish families here when I came and these had only been here since 1890. In influx was always gradual. It came slowly. I would say the reason the Swedish people came here was because lots were cheap. They came from the Swedish settlements farther south. At present most of the Swedish people up here are west of Clark Street between Winnemac and Devon; I guess beyond Devon. Two-thirds of the people are in this district, while one-third is east of Clark and south of Bryn Mawr. They don’t live east of Broadway, though. And the Chicago and Northwestern tracks are a pretty steady boundary on the west.

As for the other parts of Uptown, I would say there are not many Swedes south of Irving Park. The old settlement is around Belmont, Sheffield, and Seminary Streets. There used to be an old center west of Robey and north of Lawrence which was about four blocks square. I also remember that the territory from Lawrence to Ainslee, and Robey to some sort of a Court, used to belong to a Swedish Church. The name was either Swedish Mission or Covenant Church. This church was around there around 1885 and 1890.

Some of the things that I recall of the early times may be of interest. The district to which I came was called Andersonville. It was that section bounded by Winnemac, Foster, Clark, and the Northwestern tracks. The name was derived from a man named Anderson who gave the land at the southwest corner of Foster and Clark for a school. This school building stood in 1892 and was not torn down until 1908, when Trumbull School was completed. The Andersonville School was sort of a school district rather than a village. The more inclusive name for the district was Summerdale. But this school site is still owned by the Board of Education, although it had been leased for ninety-nine years and now has a drug store on it.

When I went into business on Clark Street in 1904 there were very few business houses there. Before this time, in 1892, there was nothing except a meat market on the northwest corner of Foster and Clark and a grocery on the southeast corner. These were the only places to purchase food unless one went out of the district. The nearest place south was August Blewer’s Hall which is now Rainbo Gardens. This hall and a stone cutter’s establishment were the only things opposite St. Boniface cemetery in 1892. Then there was a toll gate at Winnemac and Clark, but this was taken off in 1892. The horse car came up to Lawrence and the bobtail went to Rosehill. In 1892 this line was extended to Devon. The service on the Northwestern was not extensive, but there was more use for it than the St. Paul. Of course the Edgewater people to the east used the St. Paul more than we did, but I am not well acquainted with the eastern section.

You probably know that Clark Street was not paved in 1892 except the car tracks. The south part was the older, more settled part of this section. Rosehill was not much a settlement when I moved here. There was just the cemetery and truck garden. But then there were very few people in the whole upper part of Uptown. There were more open spaces and truck gardens than people.

We used to call Gustave Johnson the mayor of Summerdale, jokingly, of course. We weren’t concerned much with township politics up here. The center of Lake View politics was down near the old Lake View house. I can’t remember any excitement over annexation to Chicago. Nor do I recall any particular effect it had upon the community. When I came out here I did not expect to have city improvements. When they did come, after annexation, they came slowly and were considered as a matter of course. But I don’t believe there was any one organization agitating improvements.

Subdividing this immediate district was done by Zero Marks. He started at it in 1890 and opened up the land from Foster to Granville, Broadway to Clark. He called this Zero Park. Nothing much happened until 1908, when the big boom came to the whole Uptown section. Twenty-seven years ago G.A. Penner bought the southeast corner of Clark and Foster from Marx. This is now the Swedish Trust and Savings Bank building. You will find Catholics living around Catalpa and Gregory Streets and Jewish people east of Clark.

* Fred J. Nelson was born about 1867 in Sweden and immigrated to the United States in 1887. In 1892 he married Augusta E. Matson and they had five children. They lived at 1711 West Foster and were members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, which was across the street from their home. He died 4 June 1957 in Chicago.

Cover page: Documents: History of the Uptown Community, Chicago. Prepared for the Chicago Historical Society and the Local Community Research Committee, University of Chicago. Research under the direction of Vivien M. Palmer; staff investigators Marion Lindner and Beatrice Nesbit. These documents contain data just as it was secured form old residents and from existing documents. A final check of the data will appear in the volume of the Social History of Chicago.

Format: Photocopy of a typescript without page numbers in the Chicago History Museum library; volume 2 of a 6-volume set containing documentary information on 20 Chicago community districts/areas.

Publication date: 1925-1930.