Posts Tagged 'East Side'

Chicago’s Oldest Public Monument

Chicago has hundreds of statues, monuments, and historical markers. But unless you do a little exploring, you’re likely to miss the oldest one.

In 1833, as Chicago and the Midwest were starting to grow, Congress ordered a new survey of the boundary between Illinois and Indiana. When the survey was completed, a 15-foot high limestone obelisk was put in place on the shore of Lake Michigan, straddling the state line.

Illinois-Indiana Boundary Marker

Illinois-Indiana Boundary Marker

Civilization gradually engulfed the boundary marker. The shoreline was extended north by landfill. Multiple railroad lines came through. Commonwealth Edison built a huge generating plant. The South Park Commissioners laid out Calumet Park.

By the 1980s the marker was isolated and neglected among the rail yards. Allen J. Benson, a ComEd executive, convinced the company to sponsor its restoration, in conjunction with the East Side Historical Society and other interested groups. In 1988 the marker was moved 190 feet north to its present location, just outside the plant gate. A new base was added at that time.

Before the work was finished, Benson died. A plaque next to the boundary marker was dedicated to his memory.

Chicago’s oldest monument—and Whiting’s too, for that matter—is difficult to find. It’s located at what would be the intersection of State Line Road and 103rd Street.

In Memory of Allen J. Benson (1928-1987)

In Memory of Allen J. Benson (1928-1987)

The best way to get there is to approach from the north, via 95th Street. Go east on 95th past Ewing, then turn right onto Crilly Drive. Continue south on Crilly, along the western edge of Calumet Park, to the junction with Avenue G. Turn right on Avenue G, keep going south past the park’s Field House, until you arrive at 100th Street.

Now you will see some grade-level railroad tracks on your right. Ahead of you, parallel to the tracks, a small access road continues south-southeast. Follow this road to its end, at the old ComEd plant and the boundary marker.

The access road you just took doesn’t have an official name. This has led to some confusion. Since the road continues the route of Avenue G, most reference sources will tell you that the boundary marker is located on Avenue G, at 103rd Street-extended.

Trouble is, a few blocks away, there is a real intersection of Avenue G and 103rd Street.

So let’s end the confusion. Name the access road along tracks “Allen J. Benson Drive.” How expensive are a couple of street signs?

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Then and Now, Ewing-100th

1907--Ewing Avenue @ 100th Street, view north

1907–Ewing Avenue @ 100th Street, view north

2016--the same location

2016–the same location

The first railroad lines from the east reached Chicago during the 1850s.  A station was established at what’s now Ewing Avenue and 100th Street, and settlement grew up around it.  By 1907 the neighborhood was known as East Side.  Part of the grade-level railroad crossing is visible in the lower-left corner of the older photograph.

Today the railroad tracks cross Ewing on a viaduct—which accounts for the dip in the street in the newer photo.  Though commuter trains no longer stop here, businesses still line the street.  For many years wrestling champion (and local man) Edward “Moose” Cholak owned a tavern on this block.

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Then and Now, 106th-Avenue L

1937--106th Street @ Avenue L, view east

1937–106th Street @ Avenue L, view east

2015--the same location

2016–the same location

In 1937 this stretch of 106th Street was zoned for commercial development—but with the Great Depression lingering, most of the lots were still vacant.  The cross street was then part of the Chicago Park District system, and was technically known as “Avenue L Boulevard.”  Notice the scarcity of street lights in the photo.

Today those vacant lots are filled with stores.  Meanwhile, the Park District has been folded into city government, so the cross street has lost its boulevard status.  Now it’s plain old “Avenue L.”  A small price to pay for better street lights along 106th Street!

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Chicago’s Smallest Cemetery

The smallest cemetery in the City of Chicago measures little more than 100 square feet and is located in the middle of a scrapyard off Ewing Avenue.  It has one permanent resident, Andreas von Zirngibl.

Zirngibl was born in Bavaria in 1797.  At 18 he was a soldier in the Prussian army that helped beat Napoleon at Waterloo, though he came out of the battle with only one arm.  He then returned to Bavaria to work as a fisherman and start a family.

In 1854 Zirngibl arrived in Chicago with his wife and five children.  He bought a 40-acre parcel of land south of the city, near the mouth of the Calumet River, for $160 in gold, and resumed his fishing.  But after less than a year in his new home, Andreas caught a fever.  He died on August 21, 1855.

Andreas von Zirngibl's grave

Andreas von Zirngibl’s grave

According to his family, the old soldier’s last wish was to be buried on his homestead.  He was laid to rest beneath a wooden cross, the gravesite enclosed by a white picket fence.  Even though the Zirngibls soon moved out of the neighborhood, they made regular visits to tend the grave.

Meanwhile, urban growth spread to the mouth of the Calumet.  By the early 1880s the property was in the hands of the Calumet & Chicago Canal and Dock Company.  The Zirngibl family brought suit to reclaim the land where Andreas was buried.

The case had one major complication—the Great Fire of 1871 had destroyed many of the city’s property records.  The Zirngibl family said that their deed must have been lost in the fire.  The canal company said that Andreas had been a squatter, with no legal title to the land.

In 1895 the Illinois Supreme Court decided that the canal company owned the land.  In explaining his decision, the judge noted that the Zirngibls had never made a claim on the property, until it became valuable.  Still, he ruled that Andreas should remain where he was, and that his family be given free access to visit him.

The gravesite today

The gravesite today

The years have passed.  Various industrial operations have come and gone in the property off Ewing Avenue.  Every so often the story of the cemetery in the scrapyard attracts the attention of the media.  Even Mike Royko wrote about it.

In 1987 the Southeast Historical Society and the Zirngibl family raised money to restore the gravesite.  The white picket fence had not been sturdy enough to resist careless workers going about their everyday labor. Today Andreas rests under a concrete slab surrounded by seven large concrete blocks.  A granite headstone identifies him, though it has the wrong year for the Battle of Waterloo.

Chicago’s one-man cemetery is located off East 93rd Court, at approximately 9331 South Ewing Avenue.  Since this is private property and an active scrapyard, access is limited—unless you are a descendant of Andreas von Zirngibl.

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Then and Now, Indianapolis-State Line

1941--Indianapolis Avenue @ State Line Road, view southeast

1941–Indianapolis Avenue @ State Line Road, view southeast

2014--the same location

2014–the same location

From 1896 through 1940, Chicago streetcars ran across the Indiana border into Whiting and Hammond. The top photo was taken shortly after the route was cut back to the state line.  The smoke on the left of the picture might be coming from the nearby ComEd plant, or from one of the factories along the lake shore.

In 2014 the scene is dominated by the Chicago Skyway, here crossing the border to become the Indiana Toll Road. The area is still largely industrial. However, the local economy has now been diversified by a couple of casinos.

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