Wednesday, March 31, 2010

There Isn't A Word For It -OR- F-E-E-L-I-N-G it.

As a denizen of a place that I once compared to Brigadoon for its willingness to let the modern world hurtle past while it remained set in its ways, I have my own views on how this place came to be. The random patchwork, spanning the century and a half, from city fringe agrarian/industrial to block and grid suburb at the dawn of the 20th Century is filled with edifice, but short on context. Today's residents don't know the history and there is certainly no local effort actively providing the needed context.

We have a historical society, of sorts, that is obsessed with the artifacts, but woefully short on the facts. I actually find it interesting that the village that exists today was incorporated due to the Temperance Movement and the Great Chicago Fire. What first attracted me to settle here and raise a family remains, diminished, but intact. New developments and residents with their own ideas of place have shattered the Brigadoonishness and the area has yet to fully embrace its past.

This is understandable since our leaders seem reluctant and somewhat embarrassed by the checkered nature of things and events over the years. Our "claims to fame" have ranged from notorious to comical, unconventional to downright creepy. Still, they are our rich tapestry and worthy of celebration.

This place was "settled" in the early 1800s by trappers. They were followed by a variety of mills that harnessed the river to provide processed goods to Chicago. This led to a railroad spur then several rail lines, which provided a passenger link to the city and began attracting the region's first ethnic "suburbanites". Then came the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The area dealt with an overnight influx of displaced city dwellers and an immediate, unprecedented need for housing. Fortuitously, the saw mills and forests of oaks were already in position. There was also adequate "wealth" to finance the efforts.

Back then, the area was called Harlem, Oak Ridge, Ridgeland and several others, representative of the loose, unincorporated nature of early settlements. The catalyst provided by the Chicago Fire and subsequent rebuilding led various interests
to carve out their niches and formalize the nomenclature to preserve, protect and defend their patches of turf against the influences that come along with boom towns.
Few, if any, Chicagoans realize or appreciate that their city limit used to be what is now Western Avenue. Or that the area now known as "The Loop", between the river and the lake, WAS the actual city of Chicago then. Condensed. Concentrated. Industrious and Opportunistic.

After the fire the outward push of those boundaries swallowed hundreds of square miles that were formerly small settlements, towns and villages. Annexation battles were pitched and bitter. The "history" has been homogenized and largely sanitized. Settled?

Chicago's clean-up and regrouping after the fire required a large blue collar workforce to commute to and from the massive worksite as the city rebuilt.

Fascinating shit. Deserving of more than a glossed up rearview encapsulation.

Lacking anything better to do, I may don a scholarly approach.

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