Robert Dilger

Interview with Robert F. Dilger*

History of Uptown, Rosehill District/First Landowners, Document #1

Source: Robert F. Dilger, 6058 North Clark Street. A Luxemburger [sic] who runs a green house. Informant is a man of German extraction who was born in 1859 in a house which stood on land which is now part of Rosehill Cemetery. He has always lived in the community of Rosehill and is now running a greenhouse there. Interviewed in January, 1928. [See the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that shows his greenhouses at the southeast corner of Glenlake and Paulina.]

I was born in 1859 in a house that used to stand just south of the Wentworth monument in what is now Rosehill Cemetery. The place can be located now by a square of poplar trees which went all around our house. The trees are the tallest in the cemetery in that section. Father came from the south of Germany. He must have been here some time before 1860 for he was a poor boy when he came but by that date had earned enough money to buy the land I now live on. The Cemetery Company wanted the land where our first house stood and so father swapped that place for the one on Clark Street. Other people swapped land like that with the Company. Our old home was moved further north on Ridge Boulevard and is now part of Johnny Barstow’s home. It is in the section which faces east on Ridge. At first his house was all wood, then he added the west and north ells and veneered it with brick.

My earliest memory of this life is of the burying of Civil War soldiers in the Cemetery. My older brother and I used to wait for those funerals like Christmas. It was a real event. We would hear the train come in with the band playing and then we ran down to the end of our land which connected with the cemetery on the south and looked over the fence. We could see them burying the soldiers and hear the shots fired over the graves. This must have been when I was five years old for I couldn’t remember much before that. I know it was near the close of the war. Soon after that before I was ten years old we moved to this place on Clark Street. My father built the house we are still living in. When we left the cemetery land the north limit of the cemetery was about 400 feet south of the Wentworth monument.

The lot my father swapped on Clark Street was eight acres and was lot number two of the Rosehill Cemetery subdivision. Paulina was always a dividing line. Lawrence Baer owned west of Paulina to East Ravenswood Park. The Cemetery Company may have owned ten or more acres on Clark Street. I know they built the drive-in in the middle of their land and parked the space on either side of the drive and put a five foot board fence around it. That was quite a nice park for those times.

My mother died when I was ten years old and my father when I was fourteen. We were quite a large family and were left orphans after our parents died. My brothers and sisters grew up and were married and I kept the old homestead here. My mother had come to this country from the northern part of Germany as a girl. She worked awhile before she married. Father was a builder and contractor and did work all around this part of the country. He went to Niles Center, Gross Point and Bowmanville and sometimes was gone all week. He built the first St. Henry’s Church.

As far as I can recall there were no stores at the station when I was a boy of five or eight. The station was where that artificial ice company is now on the east side of East Ravenswood Park. Before I was born the station was called Chittenden but when I was a boy it was Rosehill. The station must have been about 400 feet north of its present location. The stone yards were near the station early.

Ridge Boulevard and Clark Street were always here. They were Indian trails. Clark was high land but from Paulina east to Clark was a gradual decline. Then at East Ravenswood Park the land began to rise again, but in between Paulina and Ravenswood there was a slough. It was impossible to navigate across the slough some of the time. There used to be Indian chipping stations north of Granville and up around Rogers Park. We used to see them walking through the country when we were boys. There were some pieces of flint piles up.

Lawrence Baer’s father was called Frank, Franz we used to call him. He owned form Ridge Boulevard to Clark and to East Ravenswood beyond Glenlake. He did not buy his land from the Cemetery Company but from a man who had. His land west of Paulina, however, was purchased later from the Company direct by him. He must have come here about the same time my father did. His land was where the Rosehill school is now. It connected with our land on the south, and on the west at Paulina and then went north of use to Glenlake.

Bugner sold his land from Robey to Clark to the orphan asylum. They sold to Standard Oil, Packard people and others who built apartments. This section that they sold was from East Ravenswood Park to Clark Street. This land was north of Thome. Schreober’s Island was north of Bugner’s. Then came Sinner and Ludas and Mann up to Pratt. Mann owned from Pratt to four hundred feet of the car barn on Clark Street. Sinner’s came south of him. Henry Sinner and Ludas were the heirs of the Sinner property. The daughter of Henry Sinner is Marie and lived around here. The Schreiber twins are heirs to the land owned by early settler. We owned north of Glenlake to the John Smith property. Kransz owned from Clark to Glenwood and from the north alley of Rosemont to Granville. He sold his northern part of about twenty acres some time before 1893 because by the time of the world’s fair it was already subdivided. This land was around Granville. It was the first piece of property to be improved in the district in such a large section. It was sold to a syndicate. They built houses on Hood first and then opened up a block at a time until they went south of Ridge. Kransz originally owned more than 95 acres.

Henry Kemper opened up a subdivision. My brother-in-law gave twenty feet and I gave thirty feet and Kemper bought the other ten feet from my brother-in-law and opened up Glenlake because he wanted an outlet to Clark Street. I helped dedicate the street. It was thirty-five years ago. Before he opened the land for sale it was a farm. He owned Heritage to Paulina.

Weber owned north of Granville to the alley north of Thome. This was west of Clark. Bugner was west of Clark too up to Devon.

Broadway at Devon to about Argyle was low land on the east side of the street. South of that Broadway was dry and high. The muck in the slough was a foot deep and then there was what we called marrow. You could stick your arm in it as far as you wanted to and there was no bottom. It was turf soil and when the summer was very dry so that it was like a bone, this soil would be set on fire and burned for days at a time. From Bryn Mawr to the Argyle station on the St. Paul there was thirty acres of fine celery land. This lay between the tracks and Broadway.

East of Glenwood was like God made it. When I was a small boy there was a mud hole at Devon and Glenwood that was the ugliest swamp hole I ever saw. The cows used to get stuck in it and they never got out. There used to be the bones of these dead cows there. Devon and Broadway was another bad one. This land east of Glenwood was never farmed. It was owned by easterns and that may have been the reason why it never got cultivated. It went right into subdividing when it was improved.

Many people sold the sand from the beach. Ed Chant was at Foster and the lake. He was a street builder and washed the gravel out and banked it further back on the beach. Then he could haul it out when he wanted to sell it. The people who worked the beaches like this claimed they had leases to it. There were lots of fishing places all the way form Argyle to Rogers Park. They used to catch sturgeon and knife their throats, then throw them on the beach to die. The good fish they took to town to sell. The huts on the beach were small and not regular fishing establishments. They used to catch good fish, though.

There were a few farmers in the eastern section. A man named Payne [Payhe?]owned ten acres. He was a printer downtown and came out here nights. The Chase owned land east of Glenwood from Peterson to Ridge. He was wealthy and had a large barn. His land was in timothy for a long time and he just made hay, then when the land was work out, he rented it out but no one else could make a living out of it. South of Ridge and east of Glenwood a man named Purvis lived. He was an up-to-date man about farming. He understood agriculture. Purvis was English. He had one son who much be living. East of Purvis was Johnson who was Scotch. His daughter married a Bristle and lives on Bryn Mawr. Another daughter, Mrs. Stanford, lives on Ridge. The Bristles were an awfully old family around here. The father was a fisher.

Well, you’d better come back some Sunday afternoon when I don’t have to work. I like to talk about the old days. It’s pretty hard to bring it all back and it takes time. My father died when I was so young, too, but even so I remember this country pretty well.

* Robert F. Dilger was born 13 January 1859 in the Rosehill section of Edgewater and died 10 March 1938 at his home near Dempster and Harlem in Morton Grove, Illinois. He married Margaret Riedel in 1884 and had three sons, Alois, Elmer and Robert.

Cover page citation: 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 from old residents and from existing documents. A final check of the data will appear in the volume of the Social History of Chicago.

Publication date: 1925-1930

Format: Photocopy of a typed manuscript without page numbers in the library of the Chicago History Museum.