Peterson, Pehr Samuel
Pehr Samuel Peterson (1830-1903), a pioneer nurseryman and early inhabitant of the Swedish community known as Peterson Woods, in what is now the North Park neighborhood. Arriving in Chicago in 1854 Peterson started a landscape nursery northwest of the city, eventually acquiring over 500 acres of land. Peterson developed an innovative technique for transplanting large trees from his nursery. Peterson's trees soon shaded many Chicago parks and boulevards, including Jackson Park, which was made lush and green for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Peterson also was active in Swedish American civic and religious groups. The King of Sweden knighted him for his accomplishments.
Several years after Peterson's death in 1903, his family donated 160 acres of land to the City of Chicago for a municipal tuberculosis sanitarium. When the sanitarium opened in 1915, TB was the Western World's leading killer, but by mid-century, improved public hygiene and the advent of vaccines and antimicrobial drugs had drastically reduced the incidence of the disease. In the 1970s, the city decided to redevelop the under-used sanitarium property as North Park Village, a campus for city programs and social services. The redevelopment plan called for transforming the original hospital and grounds into senior citizen housing, a school for the developmentally disabled, and a wooded, 46-acre nature preserve. In addition, nearly 24 acres were developed as parkland. The Chicago Park District began leasing the site in 1977, and soon improved it with playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, and athletic fields. An existing building provided space for indoor recreation. Improvements made in the 1990s included the addition of two soft surface playgrounds and the creation of a gymnastics center in another of the old sanitarium buildings.
Who was Peterson? page 5, 28th Annual House Tour Booklet, Peterson Woods Neighborhood, Sunday, September 14, 2014
Peterson Woods, Peterson Park, and Peterson Avenue were all named after one of Chicago's most remarkable citizens: Pehr Samuel Pehrson which he changed to Pehr Samuel Peterson. He was a Swedish immigrant (1830-1903) who made many contributions to Chicago's growth as a metropolis. Pehr was born in Scania, Sweden, the son of a farmer. As a young man he was apprenticed to noblemen's estates in Sweden and at some of Europe's leading nurseries. Like many Swedes of the time, he wanted to emigrate to America and in 1851 received a commission to lay out the gardens of an estate in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After the job was finished, he moved to the United States, arriving in Chicago in 1854.
Peterson established his first nursery in 1856 on a small plot of rented land 12 miles northwest of City Hall. There he founded Rosehill Nursery and acquired more land, eventually owning 480 acres. His hard work and superior products paid off. The nursery accounted for at least 60% of all trees planted along public streets for three decades following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Peterson also provided all the trees and shrubs for the 1893 World's Fair and much of the nursery stock for the new Lincoln Park. It has been said that at the time of his death, seven-eighths of all trees on Chicago's streets and public ways came from Rosehill Nursery.
In 1865 he built a house near the corner of what are now Kimball Avenue and Peterson Avenue, and married Mary Peterson, nee: Mary Gage, from Boston. She became active in the nursery and in civic affairs. Mary Gage Peterson School, at the corner of Kimball Avenue and Bryn Mawr Avenue is named after her.
Mr. Peterson was known for his probity as well as for his high-quality products. He hired only newly-arrived Swedes, thus helping them acclimate to their new country. He offered a wide variety of plant species, including many from Sweden and around the world. In order to transport his plants and trees to market, he built roads from his nursery (including Peterson Avenue) with drainage ditches along the side. He served as a consultant to the Chicago Park District, promoting the idea of tree-lined boulevards connecting the parks, and landscaped the North Park College Campus. In 1893, King Oscar II of Sweden conferred upon him a knightgood of the Order of Vasa. He was one of the founders of Rosehill Cemetery and he and his relatives are buried there.
His son later donated a large part of the nursery to the city for use as an open air hospital for tuberculosis suffers. This site is now the multi-purpose 145 acre public preserve known as North Park Village, part of the Chicago Park District.
This information was adapted from a paper written by Jeff Jones, a student at North Park College, as presented to the Peterson Woods Community Association in 1986.