By Hannah Lutz
Lying between the booming downtown Chicago and charming suburb of Evanston, Rogers Park’s historical richness seeps from each crevice of the North Chicago neighborhood.
Rogers Park originated in 1816 when the Treaty of Saint Louis said the Native Americans must give the federal government the land beginning at the mouth of the Chicago River. In the late 1830s, Irish immigrant Philip Rogers bought 1,600 acres of land on either side of the area’s then one road. Rogers died in 1856, and his son-in-law Patrick Touhy continued with the Rogers’ real estate business in 1872. Touhy divided the land near the intersection of what is now Lunt and Ridge and sold it to mostly Germans and Luxembourgers. By 1878, there were several hundred in the area. The village’s population at this time consisted of farmers and city workers who commuted south downtown. By 1890, Rogers Park’s population reached about 3,500 residents. But, progress soon turned to turmoil. In 1896, Rogers Park and its neighbor, West Ridge, fought the Cabbage War over competing proposals for the creation of tax levying park districts. Rogers Park wanted the park districts along the lake, while West Ridge wanted them inland. West Ridge won the battle, so presently Indian Boundary Park and Pottawatomie Park are inland, leaving the Rogers Park lakefront with few parks.
Eastern Rogers Park was a marshy birch forest, which is now commemorated with Birchwood Avenue. The construction of Sheridan Road led to some development, but the area’s population was relatively sparse until 1906 when the Jesuits founded Saint Ignatius Parish and Loyola University. Developments in 1908 inspired the real transformative year for Rogers Park. The city of Chicago extended the Red Line from Wilson to Evanston, adding four stops in Rogers Park. The thriving neighborhood established its edge just north of Howard Street and south of Evanston’s Calvary Cemetery. Just after the EL extended, between 1910 and 1930, the demand for townhouses and apartment buildings skyrocketed. Rogers Park was able to stand as a neighborhood of its own as the EL made nightlife activities easily accessible and the construction of theaters gave Rogers Park dwellers constant entertainment. Industry throughout the area meant workers could work close to home, and Catholic and Protestant churches and the Jewish synagogues accentuated the neighborhood with religious diversity.
After World War II though, housing began to diminish. Larger homes and apartments were subdivided as wealthy families moved to the suburbs. Cheap housing and business opportunities drew African, East Asian, Eastern European, Korean, Mexican, Indian and Pakistani immigrants to settle in Rogers Park.
The neighborhood still speaks for the diversity of Chicago as a whole. It has no predominant racial group, but rather a mix of multiple cultures. The Chicago Tribune has said of Rogers Park: “In a city made famous for an accepted and often enforced cultural and socioeconomic homogeneity within neighborhoods, Rogers Park stand almost alone as an exception.”