Early Human Settlement
The State of Illinois is an outgrowth of the history of many peoples. Many of their influences have vanished, sealed beneath the foundation of homes and the construction of roads. Here, in Ravenswood, Native Americans lived for thousands of years prior to the first European explorers.
Pause a moment here, on the train platform and have a look around. In your mind’s eye, can you remove the buildings and roads to imagine what this place was like 500 years ago?
This area lies about a mile from Lake Michigan and about a mile from the Chicago River. Prior to European settlement the area was a mix of marsh and low sandy ridges, one of which formed the Green Bay Trail.
Today we call the Green Bay Trail by a different name: Clark Street.
Mound people, called Mississippians, probably established a settlement about six miles from here in Chicago near Wolf Point. The collapse of the Mississippian culture coincided with the ravages due to the introduction of Euro-Asian diseases, the beginning of the Little Ice Age and the introduction of horses to North America.
We are not aware of any Mississippian culture locations in the Ravenswood area.1 2
Sometime around the collapse of the Mississipian culture in 1500 C.E. the Neshnabek tribe migrated from what is now Western Ontario to an area on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. In 1634 Jean Nicolet, a French explorer, met members of the tribe at Red Bank, Door County, Wisconsin. It is during this encounter that the Neshnabek tribe first became known as the Pouutouatami.3
The rage of the Iroquois forced Eastern tribes to flee into the the Midwest. Attacks by the Iroquois in the Ontario Peninsula against the Potawatomi, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo and the Miami temporarily ended European exploration of the Midwest. As a result of the Iroquois attacks, the Potawatomi relocated across Lake Michigan to Green Bay and Door County in Wisconsin.4 By 1667 the French and Iroquois had agreed on peace terms allowing French coureurs de boid to search further into the Midwest for fur.5
The native people around the tip of Lake Michigan called themselves the Illiniwek. Their tribe gave their name to the state through the French: Illinois.6
Their tribe spoke a language shared by many other tribes, Algonkian. Those tribes included the Cahokia, the Kaskaskia, the Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, Miami and Tamaroa.
Despite their shared language, the Miami were considered a separate tribe from the Algonquin confederacy.
French influence in the area increased with a key moment being the first European use of the Chicago portage by Rene’ Robert Cavelier de LaSalle in 1670.7 In 1671, in a ceremony held at Sault Saint Marie, the French laid claim to the lands of the Illinois.8
The population of the Illiniwek were estimated to be about 6,500 by Father Louis Hennepin, OFM, a French missionary about the year 1680. de La Salle, in 1684, states about 1,200 Illinois warriors gathered at Fort St. Louis in that year.
The Illiniwek and the other tribes encountered by the French, were not settled people. Some of the older members of the tribe, along with slaves, would plant fields of maize, gourds and pumpkins. These fields would be left for growing as the tribe engaged in hunting elsewhere.
Winter quarters may have consisted of long arbors covered with mats of reeds.
The Illinois Confederation of tribes could not resist the Iroquois invasion of the Midwest. Many of the tribes crossed the Mississippi River to settle in Kansas, Missouri and other western states.
In the years that followed the area around the mouth of the Chicago River changed hands several times. The Miami, the Potawatomi, a French garrison, the Potawatomi and the Chippewa, the French again and finally the British, who took control of the area in 1763.
The Potawatomi remained a force in the area, allying against the US and with the British, even after the Treaty of Paris gave the US sovereignty of the area. In 1812 a Potawatomi band ambushed the garrison of Fort Dearborn as it attempted to march to Fort Wayne.
The total defeat of the US forces temporarily ended US administration of the Chicago region. US forces militarily defeated the Potawatomi, being led by Tecumseh, at Moraviantown, Ontario in 1813.9
The US rebuilt the destroyed Fort Dearborn in 1816. You can see its outline today at the corner of East Wacker Drive and North Michigan Ave.
The US defeat at Fort Dearborn had unfortunate long-run consequences for Native tribes. Remembering the ‘massacre’, European settlers demanded the removal of all native tribes from the new state of Illinois.
In 1832 the last major Native American effort in Illinois ended in disaster as the local militia, regular US Army units and Sioux nearly exterminated Chief Black Hawks followers of Sac and Fox at Bad Axe in Wisconsin.10
A treaty signed in Chicago in 1835 (the Chicago Treaty of 1833) caused the evacuation of the Potawatomi from Illinois. According to Ron Grossman, writing for the Chicago Tribune, 500 warriors gathered in Chicago to conclude the treaty, dancing in full dress and brandishing tomahawks.
It was the last recorded war dance in the Chicago area.11
The Ravenswood Land Co.12
In 1868, when the Ravenswood Land Company was organized, the area now known as Ravenswood was open prairie, farms and plant nurseries. Although Ravenswood was only a few miles from Chicago, it was an all day trip from the fashionable south side of Chicago to Ravenswood for the Martin Van Allen family, the only family of the Ravenswood Land Company willing to leave the comforts of Chicago to live in Ravenswood.
The Van Allens had to take two horse-car lines and then a small steam engine just to reach Graceland Cemetery where they transferred to a horse-drawn carriage.
Their destination was the home of Mr. Wood, owner of the nursery that covered much of East Ravenswood. The house, then the only dwelling in this area, stood at 4250 North Hermitage Avenue, which we’ll pass later in this tour.
It was torn down in the 1920’s.
In the following year, 1869, the Ravenswood Land Company built streets, cut down trees from the nursery, laid out the sub division and began selling lots. To encourage Chicagoans to move to Ravenswood, the company built a schoolhouse and offered free land for a church.
Lots sold moderately well.
By the turn of the century Ravenswood had many fine homes of various sizes, a number of local businesses and factories, two elementary schools, a church on nearly every block, and a YMCA facility for local sports enthusiasts.
In a celebratory history of Ravenswood published by the owners of the local newspaper in 1898, the authors boasted:
Ravenswood is aristocratic, but is not a suburb where wealth is the open sesame to society’s doors, and to enter whose sacred portals your family must date back five generations and your cupboard contain, beside the silver tankard and cut-glass punchbowl, the ossified remains of at least three family scandals.
Then, as now, Ravenswood had a population that was economically varied as well as ethnically and religiously diverse.
This is the story of an economically diverse community: where people live, worship, go to school, work and shop, all within a few blocks.
While we will see a number of churches, an industrial plant, and apartment buildings, this is also the story of the single-family house, evolving very quickly from modest country cottages, built just after the 1871 Fire, to ornate and lavish city residences.
It is also the story of a neighborhood coming to respect its own history, and so we will see some buildings that have been restored with great care, and others not yet restored.
Finally, this is the story of a few blocks in which much history has happened: where Carl Sandburg wrote his famous poem, “Chicago,” where Dr. Wallace Abbott invented modern antacid medicine, where a mayoral campaign hung on the discovery of a hidden storage room and where an enormous church was moved across Ashland Ave.11
WALKING DIRECTIONS TO NEXT STOP ON TOUR
Continue the tour by walking about 200′ south along the east side of the embankment to 4753 N Ravenswood. Click the “Continue the Tour” button below after you’ve reached your destination.
MAP OF DIRECTIONS TO NEXT LOCATION
1Pauketat, Timothy R. (2003) “Resettled Farmers and the Making of a Mississippian Polity,” American Antiquity Vol. 68 No. 1.
2Pauketat, Timothy R. (1998) “Refiguring the Archaeology of Greater Cahokia,” Journal of Archaeological Research Vol. 6 No. 1
3Indians of North America, The Potawatomi, James A. Clifton, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1987, p. 20
4Clifton, op.cit., p 24-5
5Centennial History of Illinois, v. 1, The Illinois Country, 1673-1818, Clarence Walworth Alvord, (ed.), Illinois Centennial Commission, Springfield, IL., 1920, p. 58
7History of Cook County Illinois, Alfred Theodore Andreas, Chicago, 1884, p. 61 / The Discovery of the Great West, Francis Parkman, Boston, Little Brown & Co., 1869, p. 21
8Alvord, op.cit., p. 61 / Harry Hansen, The Chicago, Farra & Rinehart, New York, 1942, p. 28 / Illinois; A History of the Prairie State, Robert P. Howard, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972, pp. 25-6
9Clifton, op.cit., p. 58
10Clifton, op.cit., p. 66 / See Map, p. 67 / Andreas, op.cit., pp. 123-128 / Federal Writers’ Project, Illinois, Illinois, A Descriptive and Historical Guide, 1947, p. 21 / Life (Skokie), sec. 3, January 17, 1963, p. 73 / Morrison, op.cit., p. 145 / Pooley, op.cit., p. 391
11 Grossman, Ron (August 12, 2012) “15 Historic Minutes. Chicago Tribune p.22
12 Text on this page from the Ravenswood Lake View Historical tour of Ravenswood, Mothers Day 1995. Authors unknown. Text revised and updated in 2014 by Ravenswood Lake View Historical Association. Pat Butler, President, Patrick Boylan webmaster.