Ceperly, Cornelius Henry
- 1 Chicago Blue Book
- 2 Rogers Park Directory, 1919, page 15.
- 3 The following was originally published in Winter 1987 RPHS Newsletter, p. 4
- 4 History of Cook County, Illinois; The Earliest Period to the Present Time; Complete in One Volume, 1884, pages 461-2.
- 5 Biographical Sketches of Rogers Park
- 6 Chicago Blue Book
- 7 Photos
Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Henry Ceperly lived at 823 Morse Avenue, (now 1629 W. Morse Avenue), in the 1895 Chicago Blue Book, page 280. This was the first issue to provide addresses of Rogers Park residents.
Rogers Park Directory, 1919, page 15.
The following was originally published in Winter 1987 RPHS Newsletter, p. 4
The next time you stroll by 1629 W. Morse Avenue, take a good look at that house. You just might catch the presence of Cornelius Henry Ceperly (1839-1936) - Rogers Park pioneer, soldier, carpenter, builder, neighborhood activist.
Ceperly built that house on Morse Avenue - and many of the other Victorian frame houses in Rogers Park. He raised his family at 1629, took part in the formation of the Village of Rogers Park, saw it become part of the Chicago, and watched as the apartment buildings rose.
Cornelius Henry Ceperly was born in Troy, New York, on Thursday, October 31, 1839, the youngest of at least 12 children. Widowed when Cornelius was a youngster, Mrs. Frances Janet Ceperly, nee: Frances Janet Kerr, decided to join an older son who had migrated to Illinois. She packed up her brood and made the tedious and dangerous voyage by Barge down the Erie Canal, then by sailboat through the Great Lakes to Chicago.
The Ceperlys settled on farmland in Northfield, Illinois. Ceperly had this boyhood memory: "The Indians used to be all about, but they didn't bother us, except they wanted to trade now and then."
When the American Civil War broke out, Cornelius, like most Northern farm boys of the day, joined the Infantry and served three years in the bitter Western campaigns between the Union Army and Confederate States Army armies.
Sergeant Ceperly returned safely to Northfield in 1865. He and Frances Janet Kerr of Roscoe, Illinois were married on Friday, April 19, 1867 and moved to Chicago. They were living on the West Side during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The following year they moved to Rogers Park where Cornelius was supposed to work as a carpenter for the Rogers Park Building and Land Company. In his words, "I was to build the houses they were planning on, but after I came here, the panic that followed the Great Chicago Fire came on and the company failed."
So, Cornelius Ceperly went into business for himself. He later said, "I guess I built most of the first houses in The Park."
Among the first was his own home. Cornelius recalled that when he put up his house in 1874, there was nothing but wasteland east to Lake Michigan and truck farms to the south and west.
That changed rapidly. The Village of Rogers Park was incorporated in 1878, and Cornelius Ceperly was active in the affairs of the developing community that lasted as a political entity until its 1893 incorporation into the City of Chicago. On Monday, April 29, 1878, the first election for village officers was held, resulting in the choice of the following Trustee: Cornelius Henry Ceperly. Ceperly served as a Village Trustee (1878), Park Commissioner, and School Board President.
"Our first schoolhouse was built on the Indian Boundary Line (now Rogers Avenue ) at about Robey Street (now Damen Avenue )," he recalled. "We never had much difficulty in getting teachers for the schools. There were always people in The Park who were qualified to teach."
Cornelius and Frances raised five daughters and a son at the 1629 W. Morse Avenue address. Cornelius became a familiar figure in "The Park," as he referred to his neighborhood. At five foot eight, he was a man of about average height for his time, but he was remembered for his dignified bearing. He kept his full beard and mustache even as such male adornments went out of style.
The beard, mustache, and his full mane of hair turned snowy white over the years - as clearly shown in a photo that accompanied a feature story in the Chicago Daily News, Wednesday, November 4, 1931, when Ceperly announced that at 92 he was "going on vacation." The reporter quoted the "First Citizen of Rogers Park" as saying, "I've worked in and around these parts for 87 years and I figure I ought to rest a little."
He also stated, "All summer long I've kept my garden going, raising tomatoes, beans, peas, beets, cabbages, squash, pumpkins, and what not."
He also related to the reporter that he was an ardent Chicago Cubs fan and listened to the game every day.
Ceperly wanted the reporter to mention that for the past four years he had taken care of his wife, bedridden after a fall down the basement stairs. That personal care continued until her death in 1933.
In 1983, the U.S. Government - at the prompting of his descendants - erected the gravestone that Cornelius was entitled to as a American Civil War veteran. The stone bears his name and this notation: Sgt. Co. G 113th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
A cryptic message perhaps for those who are unaware of Ceperly's pride in his American Civil War service and his subsequent membership in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) - the politically powerful organization of Union Army veterans.
Ceperly was 22 when he answered Abraham Lincoln's call to arms, enlisting in Company "G" of the 113th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Northfield on Saturday, August 9, 1862. He served in seven major engagements, fought by the Union Armies of the West under the command of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, including the siege and surrender of Vicksburg - the battle that opened the Mississippi for Union shipping, turning Grant into Lincoln's favorite general and eventually commander of all Union Armies.
A comrade was blown to bits at Ceperly's elbow during the siege, but he escaped untouched. He was mustered out as a Sergeant on Thursday, June 29, 1865, two months after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Ceperly joined the local G.A.R., Cumberland Post 737, ending up Post Commander as the ranks of the Grand Army dwindled through the years. Ultimately, he was the only surviving member of the Post. He told a 1927 interviewer in a bittersweet way, "I have been the Commander of the GAR here for a long time. Now, all the others are dead, so I guess I'm still the Commander."
All the blood, sweat, and tears of battle together with the loyalties of a lifetime are encapsulated in those brief and abbreviated words on the stone at Ceperly's grave site. It would require a large marker, indeed, to record the other achievements of this "First Citizen of Rogers Park."
History of Cook County, Illinois; The Earliest Period to the Present Time; Complete in One Volume, 1884, pages 461-2.
Biographical Sketches of Rogers Park
Cornelius Henry Ceperly, builder and contractor was born near Albany, New York, Saturday, October 31, 1840. His father having died in New York, he went to Northfield, Illinois with his mother when four years or age, where he resided until the breaking out of the American Civil War in 1861, when he enlisted in Company G, ll3th Regiment, Volunteer Infantry, and served as Sergeant for three years.
After the close of the war, he returned to Northfield, Illinois and in 1866 came to Chicago, where he learned the trade of carpentering, and worked there for nine years, part of the time at contracting and job work. In 1872. he moved to Rogers Park, where he has since engaged in building and contracting, and has constructed the most of the buildings of that village. He was Trustee of the village of Rogers Park on its organization, and also Street Commissioner for four years.
He is, at present, school director, and has been for four years.
They have five children:
Cornelius' mother died in 1878.