George Reinberg

George Reinberg Interview

George Reinberg *
History of Ravenswood, Early Bowmanville and Rosehill, Document #24
Source: Informant George Reinberg, son of one of the first settlers in Rosehill and a prominent greenhouse operator; interviewed May, 1928.
The title for the land my father [Henry Reinberg] owned dates back to 1835 when it was bought by William B. McEwen from the government. The old record is signed by Martin Van Buren’s son, for his father, and is dated June 27, 1825 [1835?]. At that time the land brought a dollar and twenty-five centers an acre. McEwen had eighty acres and around 1852 he divided this land into four twenty acre sections selling the furthest west to Mr. Moore, the next piece to Peter Esey [Assa], the next to Carl Schaeffer, and the last piece to my father. He gave the title he had secured from the government to my father because he no longer had any of the land it described and father had been the last of the four to purchase. Father’s land went from Western to Robey Street [now Damen] and from Balmoral to Foster.
I am sixty-four years old now and Peter Esey [Assa] and I are the only ones up here who have stayed through all these years. This district from the river to Clark Street was made up of high and dry soil that was heavily wooded in 1852 and slough land that was marshy and undrained for some years. The sloughs were left idle by the first settlers except in the summer time when they could be used for pasture. There was no land ready for farming in 1852 on my father property. The woods had to be cut down and the land cleared before any of that could begin. But the wood cutting business was a good thing for them for that early there were no railroads into Chicago and so coal was not shipped in for fuel. Consequently wood was used and the roads were filled winter and summer with wagons carrying wood into the city of Chicago. And soon as the trees were cleared my father started a truck garden as everybody else up here did. The when the Big Ditch came through, the low lands were drained and became usable. This ditch ran from Pratt Avenue and Clark Street in Rogers Park following the lowest land until it came to a place north of Lawrence at about where Ainslie Street is now, where it entered the river. This was the only ditch built for drainage through our land but as streets were opened up the soil was turned back so that ditches were formed and these were always connected with the Big Ditch when streets crossed it.
As a boy I can remember the two toll gates on Clark Street at Addison and Winnemac Streets and the three on Lincoln Avenue and at Belmont and Ashland, and at Peterson and at Clark. They were all gone by 1880. The Indian Boundary Road was in Rogers park early but it was not noticeable where it crossed out land when my father bought it. The Bowmanville Road was more important in the early times than it is now. It was probably tracked out by the Indians as a short cut from Ridge Avenue to Lincoln Avenue. It was on high land and was a good trail when I was young. Clark Street and Lincoln Avenue were our through streets. Robey Street was once cut through what is now Rosehill Cemetery and was used by farmers in that district. My uncle had a farm facing on Robey Street at about the middle of the cemetery. The reason my father and mother came to America was because this uncle of mine had settled here. He had ten acres and another man named Hovely had ten acres at the southwest corner of Peterson and Robey.
One of the amazing things of my boyhood was seeing the river flow north. The rains were so heavy one year that the water came way over east to Lincoln Avenue and the current went north. The land west of Lincoln Avenue to the river was low land and only a few farmers had taken over the land west of Bowmanville. I went to school at the Lake View Township school which used to stand in the middle of Rosehill Cemetery and was later moved to the southwest corner of Peterson and West Ravenswood Park. The School was still in the center of the Cemetery grounds when I started in 1869, but soon after that the building was moved. The present Budlong School was an old Jefferson Township district school. The teacher was Mrs. Abe Jackson who taught there for years. Another important thing when I was young was the epidemic of oppisitie[?] among horses in this district just after the Chicago Fire. The theory was that the horses had worked so hard during that time and the water was so scarce that these conditions caused the disease. The horses became so swollen that they could not walk and so we had to bring in oxen for the field work. Men used to push the milk wagons around on the street car track and when the street car came there was some excitement getting the truck off and on again. There used to be some stores on Clark Street when I was little, but we went to Evansotn or North Avenue for most of our things. The stores in Bowmanville were just small ones. We were nearer to Rosehill Station on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and did not consider that we lived in Bowmanville. But even Rosehill had no real stores. Summerdale was not more than a station stop.
The first man to start growing pickles in the district was Squire Dingee. He had a farm on California and Foster and lived in a big house on the northwest corner of Leland and Ashland. Every one grew vegetables up here then because the greenhouse flower business had not yet started. I remember taking some pickles from my father’s garden down to Squire Dingee’s little factory. There were twenty acres in his farm land and he grew most of his stuff himself. The people that worked for him lived in Bowmanville and there was no need to go outside for help because he plant was so small.
We used to have a race track at the southwest corner of Lawrence and Western which ran to Spaulding and Montrose. There were one hundred and sixty acres to it. First it belonged to Mr. Wright. Everyone in Bowmanville had cows before the days of the milk wagon and they kept them in this pasture for the north side of it had a gate that opened right onto Bowmanville territory. Mr. Diamond bought the place from Wright and ran races every Saturday afternoon. It was a mile track and many rich people came down from Lake Forest to enter their horses. The people right around here were too busy to go. I know that the only time I got inside the gate was for a race was when I had to go for the veterinarian one Saturday afternoon because one of our horses was sick. Of course the veterinarian was there because he loved horses. Around 1888 the track was abandoned.
Bowmanville when I was a young boy was very small. There were just houses and saloons along Lincoln Avenue and no settlement whatsoever east or west of the main street. We boys went there Sunday afternoons to hold horses for the people that drove out for the beer. They would bring their whole families along and after an afternoon spent in the beer gardens would feel so generous that we made good money for our afternoon’s work.
The people in Bowmanville were English and German. There were no Polish until they began working in the greenhouses and pickle factory. We used to send them down to Noble Street south of Division on the north side for the Polish to come out to our greenhouses. Later we hired Hungarians form Chicago.
My brother [Peter Reinberg] and I were not the first to start greenhouses up here. Mr. Ristow lived on Berwyn Avenue, Sam Bills and the Jackson brothers, the latter living on Western, had put theirs up before my brother and I did. We started building our first green house in the fall of 1882. That winter we grew cucumbers waiting for spring to come when we could plant roses, then in the spring of 1883 we put in roses. I went out to Niles Center for the plants and got some of the soil down at Diamond’s pasture for the pots. From that time on we dealt in carnations and roses. The cut flower trade had been in existence in the east for many years before growers began it out around Chicago. After Chicago started, the trade went on further west and now of course cut flowers are grown all over the United States. When we started, the majority were shipped into Chicago from the east. My brother and I were the first ones in Chicago to grow flowers on a scale that would allow for shipping outside of Chicago. The district around Rosehill Cemetery used to be a good situation for the business because it was out in the open and yet not too far away from the market. But all that has been changed. As the city grew, more and more time was wasted in reaching the loop market. The flower market had their own location in the loop since the beginning; it was always around Wabash and Randolph Streets. We tried years ago to remove that center to a more outlying place but so many of the firms had long leases on their property in the loop that we could never get an unanimous vote on the question. It is only within the last few months that the market has been changed. A corporation bought property at Randolph and Elizabeth Streets and built a great big building and then took over al the outstanding old leases in the loop. So now the market has moved and everyone went out together.
The flower growers in and around Chicago have been organized for many years into the Chicago Flower Growers’ Association. Now the growing of flowers are areas outside of Chicago has been abandoned. As the industry spread throughout the country, it was needless to ship them to the outlying districts form Chicago. A bigger blow then came to the trade with the use of refrigerator cars. Southern states can hire cheaper labor, grow flowers in soil that is good for them without hauling it to their gardens and do away with the expense of greenhouses, ship their produce to Chicago, and still ask lower prices for their flowers than the local greenhouse growers can. In Texas, for instance, there are large plants that sip al of their flowers north to Chicago and they arrive here in fine condition. In the last fifteen years the cost of keeping up greenhouses has jumped so high that in competition with the southern states, the profits were small. The cost of hauling dirt alone, too, prevented the maintenance of the greenhouses. We used to be able to go directly west of the Channel and get soil we could use, but with the growth of the city, our supply of dirt always had to be hauled from greater distances.
But our most recent setback came with the rise inland values in the old greenhouse areas. Property used for houses should not cost more than $900 an acre at the most and our land has gone above that now and demands subdividing. The only greenhouses up here are in the retail business for themselves and sell right out of the greenhouses or from shops put up on the same piece of property. City people can drive out this far now in the own cars and buy flowers in the greenhouses or in these shops belonging to the growers. Many of the large owners up here sold out too soon and are not subdividing now with profits. Someone else is getting the benefit of the rise in their old flower growing property. Some of these old growers went out to found new centers. The most thriving one about Chicago is now on Higgins Road about eighteen miles northwest of the city limits. The growers out there can get their flowers into the markets with good roads and trucks within the same time it took us to drive down from Rosehill Cemetery to Randolph and Wabash with horse and wagon. But the new business out there did not interest me and my cousin is running some of my old greenhouses and my son moved some of the old material out to West Ridge and built a few there. Many of the greenhouses had already begun to go when I started tearing mine down in 1922. Then I subdivided my property and had it re-zoned for residential instead of commercial purposes. I put up a few apartments and a store building and the rest of the apartments have been built by the buyers. Eleven buildings went up on my property last year. The thing that interests me now is the annexation of Tessville [now Lincolnwood] to Chicago. I have some property up there that I am subdividing as it looks like the next addition to the Chicago to me.
* George Reinberg (1862-1939) was the younger son of Henry Reinberg (1821-1880) and Katrina Beck (1823-1894), both of whom came to Chicago in 1848 from the Pratz Valley of Luxembourg. In establishing his truck farming business, Henry laid the groundwork for his sons to become wealthy wholesale florists in the 1890s. Peter went on to became a well known Chicago alderman and later president of both the Cook County Board of Commissioners and of the Cook County Forest preserve District, the latter in which he was instrumental in founding. George raised his eight children by two wives near the original Reinberg homestead while Peter moved to a Sheridan Road mansion after his term of alderman was over in 1913. George Reinberg continued operating the family floral business after his brother’s death in 1921.
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.