The story of the Edgewater Historical Society

By Kathy Gemperle

The Edgewater Historical Society was founded in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois in 1988. This is how it came to be.

In 1986 a small group of the Image Building Committee of the Edgewater Community Council gathered to discuss ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Edgewater community. An oral history project funded by the Illinois Humanities Council was proposed and along with that a video project funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the city of Chicago and a culminating exhibit held at Berger Park in 1987.

The committee was able to embark on this project because of the efforts of other people in the community, chiefly LeRoy Blommaert, who had quietly worked on learning more about the community history, and published some of what he learned. In 1980 LeRoy stepped up to persuade the City of Chicago that Edgewater had a long community history and should be recognized. This led to the designation of Community area #77.

In 1987, at Kathy Gemperle’s insistence, we began working to form an organization to research, collect, preserve and share our community history and promote the preservation of landmarks and historic structures. Working together builds community and community identity. Many people participated in the forming of this organization including Betty Mayian, Sandee Remis, Claire Conley and Bud Wyman. We were joined along the way by many others and, on January 23, 1988, we met at the Edgewater Library to vote this organization into existence. 71 people attended that first founding meeting, and many volunteered to be on the founding board. Bob Remer made the first donation of $1.00. The founding board included Sandee Remis, Claire Conley, Bob Remer, Betty Mayian. Antigone Lambrinides, Phil LaPalio, Don Anderson, LeRoy Blommaert, Sister Mary Cramer, Larry D’urso, David Gemperle, Thom Greene, Joann Holmes, Fritz Huchting, Martha Kraeger, Gregg Mann, Evangeline Mistaris, Ardell Nichols, Lori Reynolds and Bud Wyman.

Without any financial assets, we embarked on the task of making Edgewater history known to its residents. We held informative meetings at the library, instituted a literary newsletter, The Edgewater Scrapbook, edited by Sandee Remis, planned walking tours led by Thom Greene, and held our first home tour, featuring the neighborhood just south of the library, Magnolia Glen. Many more people stepped up to help.

Forming an association to collect, preserve and share community history has a value for the entire community. For all of us it helps to give a sense of place and, with that, a sense of our times. Hundreds of thousands of people lived here before us and more will come after us. The preservation of our history and architecture is our gift to future generations.

Long before, I connected with people and learned about our community when I was a student at Mundelein College. I heard the name Edgewater, and got a vague idea that this was an organized community of the city of Chicago. I enjoyed learning more about it and, when an opportunity came to buy a home here, I thought I would learn even more. I worked with Martha Kraeger to create the first home tour in Lakewood Balmoral. Along the way, I met many people who were interested in community history and wanted to tell me stories about what they remembered. So when we arrived at the Edgewater Library to found the Edgewater Historical Society, I had high expectations, and was rewarded with a great response. Thanks to the Edgewater community, and all the people who have helped in any capacity, whether it be passing out flyers, or doing mailings, or serving as docents at the museum and on our home tours, or writing recollections, or walking the streets surveying buildings. Thanks also to all those who served on the Board of Directors, or who donated in any way to help us achieve our goals.

Along the way we determined that keeping our collections in our homes was not the best way to proceed. After looking at a few buildings, we had the opportunity to see the empty fire station at Balmoral and Ashland. Our first step was to create a petition to support the transfer of the empty firehouse to the Edgewater Historical Society. With petitions in hand, we met with Alderman Patrick O’Connor, who supported our purchase of the building. It took over six years, under the guidance of Thom Greene, architect of Greene and Proppe Design, to establish a community history museum. The story of this project appears on our website. It was with great joy that we opened the museum at 5358 N. Ashland on October 6, 2002. It has been wonderful to have a base of operations and a place where community residents can come to learn from our exhibits and ask questions.

We have embarked on many projects over the years, but perhaps our most wonderful community project is our Living Treasures project, because it is the people who make the history, and we must cherish their contributions that make Edgewater the most wonderful and exciting place to live in the city of Chicago.