Ft Sheridan and Highwood: A tale of two cities

Yesterday’s “A tale of two leaders” blog and a conversation about the north suburban city of Highwood inspired today’s submission. While on the surface it seems pretty bland, some may find the subtext disturbing.

Our story begins in 1886 with an event alternately referred to as the Haymarket Affair, the Haymarket Riot or the Haymarket Massacre.  The scene of the event was Haymarket Square, located on Chicago’s Desplaines Street, between Lake and Randolph Streets.

To make a long story short-if it’s not already too late:  During the period following the Depression of 1873-1879 (as reference, the Civil War ended in 1865) the average factory worker made about $1.50 a day for a 6-day, 60-hour work week, no vacations.   As labor groups formed and rallies were held to improve working conditions, one such rally in May of 1886 got out of hand in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, leaving 7 policemen and 4 civilians dead, scores of others hurt.

By the time of the Haymarket Riots, some of the America’s wealthiest families were living in Chicago, often referred to as the “Prairie Avenue Elite” because of their exclusive residences on Chicago’s Prairie Avenue between 17th and 22nd Streets.

Some of the names on that street, still recognizable today were Buckingham, Armour, Kellogg, Stone, Sears, Pullman and their spokesman, Marshall Field.  Still more wealthy Chicagoans had moved to newly founded suburbs like Lake Forest and Winnetka. These people had serious clout-many had ties to pro-business, Bourbon Democrat President Grover Cleveland-and they were seriously scared.  Who was going to protect them from the rioting masses?

Secretary of War, William Endicott selected 630 acres on Lake Michigan to establish Ft. Sheridan, named after the Civil War general who came to Chicago’s aid after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  At Ft. Sheridan federal troops would stand ready to defend Chicago’s industrialists against labor unrest.

Highwood was founded in conjunction with Ft. Sheridan as a support community.  It quickly became a typical army-base town and took its place in the Guiness Book of World Records as having the most bars per square mile. Once referred to by President Teddy Roosevelt as “the toughest town in America”,  Chicagoans often referred to Highwood as “Whisky Junction”.   Highwood and Ft. Sheridan jointly celebrated their 75th anniversaries last year.

Highwood doubled its size by annexing part of Ft. Sheridan after its closing in 2009.   Now better known for fine dining, Highwood is a North Shore attraction for festivals and its new Highwood Bike Rally.

New homes were built on the Ft. Sheridan development and old officer housing was renovated into luxury residences.  The boundaries of Lake Forest, Ft. Sheridan, Highwood and Highland Park are intertwined in places and some areas of Highwood along the southern edge of Ft. Sheridan have a Highland Park zip code.

The well-heeled no longer need the military to defend them from their workers.  For that, they have lobbyists.   As long as the military has tax dollars to purchase over-priced arms and services, though they will always have a place in the hearts of wealthy Americans.

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