Magnolia Glen - In the Beginning

Vol. XV No. 1 - SUMMER 2004

By: LeRoy Blommaert

John Lewis Cochran is credited with being Edgewater’s founder. In 1886 he subdivided the land along the lakeshore, beginning at Foster. He gave the area the name EDGEWATER. (Our tour begins in Cochran’s Rosedale Addition to Edgewater at the corner of Magnolia and Thorndale.) It is a title well deserved, for it was he who gave Edgewater its name, named several important east-west streets, and platted and subdivided more land, sold more lots, and built more homes, and did it much longer than any other person.

But Cochran was not alone. There was another prominent developer in Edgewater. His name was William Henry Cairnduff.

In the Spring of 1888, he bought and subdivided approximately 38 acres of land bounded by what is today Broadway, Ridge, Glenwood and the alley north of Ardmore. He called his new subdivision “Cairnduff’s Addition to Edgewater”; today we call it Magnolia Glen. That first summer was spent in creating the infrastructure: grading the streets, installing water and sewer mains, putting in sidewalks and planting trees.

Cairnduff began promoting his subdivision in July, 1888. The real estate advertisements in each Sunday’s Chicago Tribune give a good picture of the enticements Mr. Cairnduff offered and of the progress at various points in time. By naming his subdivisions as an addition to Edgewater and promoting it as part of Edgewater, he cleverly piggy-backed on Cochran’s previous and concurrent promotional efforts.

Like Cochran, he spent heavily on advertising. He stressed the quality of the improvements, the lakeside location, the convenient transportation, and he boasted of the highest ground in Edgewater. He offered free transportation on the steam trains to and from Edgewater and had an agent near the depot at Bryn Mawr who would show prospects the lots and homes.

Mr. Cairnduff envisioned that Evanston Avenue (now Broadway) would be a boulevard and extension of Sheridan Road (The present Sheridan Road had not yet been built). And he advertised it as such, charging more for these residential lots, which faced the lake, than for the other lots. Ridge Avenue he envisioned as a business street and priced lots bordering on it accordingly.

Cairnduff offered lots on easy terms and loans to build homes on them. He offered ready-built homes and homes built to suit. With all lots came perfect title, warranty deed and certified abstract.

Progress came quickly for Cairnduff and, if we can believe a later ad, was beyond his initial expectations. By the end of 1888, about six months after he offered lots for sale, he had sold 100 of his approximately 225 lots. A March 30, 1889 ad indicated that 11 houses were under construction, to be available by May 1. An April 28, 1889 ad proclaimed that over 200 lots had been sold and that 30 homes had been built, of which 25 were already owner occupied.

On May 18, 1890 he announced that a $10,000 business block on Ridge Avenue was nearing completion on a lot that he had sold. A week later he added that the building would house a family grocery market that would be “one of the most attractive stores of its kind in Chicago.” The building stood on the corner of Ridge and Broadway (where the Walgreen’s is now). In that same ad, he also claimed that “one half the population of Edgewater own homes and reside on lots sold by us.”

Why did Cairnduff do so well so soon? One reason might by that he offered homes (and lots) at a lower cost than Cochran initially did. In fact, in a issue of the Chicago Tribune, he made the claim: “The only low cost houses in Edgewater are in Cairnduff’s addition.” He offered 6-, 8- and 10-room houses from $2,750 to $5,500. Cochran offered more moderately priced houses in what is now Lakewood-Balmoral, but he didn’t do it during this early period.

One of the things Cairnduff did for which we are grateful as researchers of Edgewater’s history is that he published the display ad, shown here. It includes a map of his development that shows the houses built as of May 11, 1890, the date of publication. A number of the houses have been identified by current address (and a few of them are being featured on this year’s Edgewater Historical Society Home Tour).