The World In One Neighborhood

Ask almost anyone who makes their home in Rogers Park or West Ridge what they like about living here, and inevitably, the idea of the neighborhood’s rich cultural diversity will come up. Throughout history, our communities have welcomed newcomers. With each new group, new ideas, cultures and traditions were introduced to those already here, creating a mix of cultures not often found in Chicago or anyplace else. 

Three hundred years ago, the sparsely-populated northeast corner of Chicago was a land of birch trees and majestic dunes crossed by Indian trails running along glacial ridges. Small communities of Pottawatomie, Ottawa, Chippewa and others traded with each other and with European explorers, trappers and traders who arrived by water to learn about the new land. Local Indians welcomed the newcomers, but eventually were pushed north when the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis designated the trail that became Rogers Avenue as a boundary line between the Native Americans and white settlers.

Europeans settled south and east of the Indian Boundary Line, and soon dotted the landscape with farms carved out of the wilderness, populated by German and Swedish immigrants and homesteaders from eastern states seeking new opportunities. One of the earliest arrivals was Philip McGregor Rogers from Watertown, New York who settled along “The Ridge” in the 1830’s. Rogers rapidly amassed property, and at his death in 1856, the 44-year-old pioneer left an estate of 1,600 acres covering land from today’s Howard Street south to Devon Avenue, from west of The Ridge to the lakeshore. This property eventually passed to Rogers’ daughter Catherine and her husband, Patrick Touhy.

In the post-Civil War boom years, the area’s development was spurred by increased use of the north-south roads along present-day Ridge Boulevard and Clark Street, as well as a rail line connecting “Ridgeville” north to Evanston and ten miles south to the growing city of Chicago.

In 1878, Patrick Touhy joined with other area landowners to incorporate the Village of Rogers Park. Twelve years later, residents officially established the Village of West Ridge. Both were annexed to Chicago in 1893 as the city prepared for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

By the turn of the 20th Century, Rogers Park was an attractive residential community for wealthy business owners and professionals, while West Ridge remained the site of farms and greenhouses shipping vegetables and fresh flowers by rail to markets in downtown Chicago.

A post-World War I building boom led to rapid growth, and both communities became home to a diverse population of immigrants and their children, including an increasing concentration of Jewish families as well as newcomers from Italy, Ireland, and Eastern Europe.

After the Crash of 1929, population growth was slowed by years of Depression and mobilization for World War II, and by the 1950’s the area began losing long-time residents to the pull of Chicago’s new suburbs.

In mid-century, newcomers once again increased the community’s diversity. Older residents who left were replaced by African-Americans from the South and other Chicago neighborhoods, as well as immigrants from Mexico, other parts of Latin America and the Indian subcontinent, all bringing their own foods, religions and traditions. Refugees from Southeast Asia arrived at the end of the Viet Nam War, and changing conditions in the Soviet Union brought a wave of Russian Jewish immigrants in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Recent years brought new arrivals from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, creating a culturally-rich community that lives in harmony and truly represents The World in One Neighborhood.