James McCurrach


James McCurrach, First Vice President, Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Society*
Personal Memories Transcribed in 1940
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld land syne?”
So Robert Burns sang in 1773. Some clever folks think we should always be looking forward and hurrying on, but I wonder if it is not wise to pause once in awhile and let our thoughts go back to things of long ago.
Let us take a train to Summerdale in the year 1883. That is 57 years ago, if my arithmetic taught me by Josiah F. Kletzing is correct. The train caller at the old Wells Street depot says: “All aboard for Clybourn Place, Deering, Belle Plaine, Ravenswood, Summerdale, Rosehill, etc.” The seats are red plush and there is a coal stove at the end of the car. The train “Butcher Boy” (named Cody) comes thru the train calling “popcorn, peanuts, and honey-comb candy.” In due time we arrive at Summerdale which has a dozen well built homes on the west side of the tracks and two wooden houses built by the Knapp brothers and the home owned by Teed Schmitt, the official lamp-lighter. Teed has a small pony and a two wheeled card with standing room only on it. He keeps the lamps filled with oil, trims the wicks, lights them at night, and puts them out in the morning. There were five lamps, one at Summerdale station, another at Beck’s saloon in Bowmanville [specific location unknown], a third at the entrance to Rosehill Cemetery, a fourth on the Ridge Road at Evanston Avenue (now Broadway), and a fifth at the toll gate at Green Bay Road (Clark Street) and Winnemac Avenue.
The Andersonville School was on the southwest corner of Clark and Foster Streets. The Anderson farm was a source of income during the cherry season. From there east to the Lake Michigan were sand dunes similar to the Waukegan area of today. Mrs. Duddles and her daughter, Violet, had charge of the Summerdale Station, which at this time was on the west side of the tracks. The cotton mill alongside the tracks was built by Robert Greer and is still standing.
What is now Foster Avenue was then called the Bowmanville Road. Coal wagons used to get stuck in the mud on Bowmanville Road when hauling coal to the Budlong Pickle Factory. From Foster to Winona on Wolcott Street was the Greer Block. The house itself is still standing, very much of a ruin now, but it once was a fine house, barns, and orchard, cow pasture and lawns covered the entire block. On the other side of the street lived the Morton. The Ingles who had musical talents, were almost directly across the street. The Miller farm was on the north side of Foster Street. Old grandfather Nicholas Miller was one of the old settlers and it was said that he got the farm by working for it an acre a day.
The McCurrachs lived first on the southeast corner of Wolcott and Winona Streets in a big brick house with 100x150 feet of lawn to cut in the summer and corresponding sidewalk to clear of snow in the winter. The Bushes and the Bethkes lived on the same street. The Bethke house is still there on the corner of Wolcott and Winnemac (The Gravel Road), which in 1883 ran east to Clark Street (Green Bay Road) and west to Bowmanville. The Dunhams and Crowders lived in a double house on West Ravenswood Park near Foster Avenue. When the Crowders moved to Cuyler, the McCurrachs took over their half of this double house.
The eastern half of the block, bounded by West Ravenswood, Winona, Winnemac and Wolcott Streets, was our baseball diamond and the Todd boys (Mel, Charlie and Ernest) who lived on East Ravenswood between Summerdale and Lawrence Avenue were the leading spirits in the “all stars.” It was a good ball team, and we played “Nines” such as Sprague, Warner & Company on Saturday afternoons.
What is now Winchester Avenue was not much of a street – just about a block long (Winona to Winnemac), but the Slaters, Carpenters and a little school-house conducted by Miss Barr, were on the east side of the street. The Wendt house was on the west side. In the Spring and Fall the big prairie between Lawrence and Winnemac Avenues was covered with water. The skating and ice boating was perfect at times and shinny [sic], or ice hockey, as it is now called, was a favorite game.
The sidewalks in Summerdale were two long heavy planks laid lengthwise with perhaps two inches of space between. It was some trick to ride a velocipede o them. You had to keep the large front wheel pretty close to the crack to keep the rear wheels on the walk.
Robert Greer, who named Summerdale, was a public spirited citizen and an ardent Prohibitionist. He created the Ravenswood Prohibition Drum Corps, which was engaged mostly for Temperance meetings. He also founded the Ravenswood Dairies Restaurants.**
* James McCurrach was born in 1871 in Scotland between about 1883 and 1900, He was the son of David McCurrach, who was one of three brothers who emigrated to New York and Chicago in about 1879. Two of the brothers stayed in New York, where they ran a Brooklyn-based mens’ neckwear manufacturing and wholesale business. David (1835-1929), the father of James, came to Chicago where he established an apparently separate but financially connected branch of the business. David and his family moved from Summerdale to Evanston in the early 1900s, but he continued to commute on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad to the company’s headquarters and manufacturing plant in downtown Chicago. James and his brother David, Jr., both worked in the family business with their father. Despite his living in Evanston, James was active in the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Association from its founding in the late 1920s to his death in 1955. In addition to this memoir he contributed valuable photographs of early Summerdale to the Association.
** See a separate memoir of early Summerdale on this website contributed in 1928 to a University of Chicago interview program by Robert C. Greer, the son of Robert Greer, who was a contemporary of James McCurrach and, like him, later in life an Evanston resident.
Format: Photocopy of a typescript with page numbers in the North Side Neighborhood History Collection, Sulzer Regional Library, Chicago Public Library (text titles and subtitles are original).
Publication date: 1940, dictated and submitted to the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Association