About 45 map-lovers attended the Living History Program on May 4, 2024 at the Northtown branch library.

Living History Program Summary by Dave Kalensky

On Saturday, May 4, 2024, the Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society hosted its third Living History Talk of 2024 at the Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Living History Talks are free events hosted at the local libraries designed to cover topics of history both past and present, as well as history being made today.

Donald and Tanya Smith are the owners of the land surveying & map making company Greeley-Howard-Norlin & Smith, celebrating 170 years of operation. Together they presented a brief history of the company, the art of surveying, and the critical role surveyors have in measuring, mapping, and documenting the physical features of land, properties, and construction sites. 

The presentation contained detailed photos of early maps including Fort Dearborn, pre- and post- channel construction, a first map of the Village of Rogers Park, a first map of Peterson Avenue between Little Fort Road and Ridge and many more from our local area and throughout Chicagoland. 

The founder of the family-owned business,  Donald’s great-great-great uncle, Samuel Greeley first came to Chicago to work under his mentor, Ellis S. Chesbrough, developing and building Chicago’s first sewer system. 

The Smiths are keepers of a comprehensive historical archive that contains 190 map atlases and hundreds of thousands of hand drawn maps and plats along with supporting data from 1820 to 1990. Included in the collection are drawings and documents related to the legal career of President Abraham Lincoln, who called upon Samuel Greeley as an expert witness in at least two court cases he handled before becoming President. 

The Smiths are currently exploring options to preserve and maintain this amazing collection to preserve not only their business and family records, but an important piece of American history, for future generations.

After the presentation, the audience was invited to view an array of historic surveying equipment and original map atlases, several documenting the earliest subdivision of familiar neighborhoods such as Birchwood Beach in Rogers Park and the neighborhood immediately surrounding the library around the intersection of Pratt and Western. They also offered a collection of reproduction maps from their collection for browsing and closer examination.

In case you missed it, the Smith family historical archive  was featured in an article in the Chicago Tribune on October 15, 2023, and in the “Backstory” program on WGN TV on April 14, 2024.

Tanya, who came to the United States from Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union, opened the presentation with her story of growing under Soviet rule and closed with a plea for support of the nation of her birth. She asked that in lieu of compensation for her talk, those who wish to help can make donations to the United Nations Refugee Agency to assist Ukrainian refugees.