History of Andersonville
Andersonville’s roots as a community extend well back into the 19th century, when immigrant Swedish farmers started moving north into what was then a distant suburb of Chicago. In the 1850′s the area north of Foster and east of Clark was a large cherry orchard, and families had only begun to move into the fringes of what is now Andersonville. The neighborhood’s first school, the Andersonville School, was built in 1854 at the corner of those two thoroughfares, and served as the area’s primary school until 1908.
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, wooden homes were outlawed in Chicago. Swedish immigrants, who could not afford to build homes of stone or brick, began to move outside of the city’s northern limits. Swedish immigrants continued to arrive in Andersonville through the beginning of the 20th century, settling in the newly built homes surrounding Clark Street. Before long, the entire commercial strip was dominated by Swedish businesses, from delis to hardware stores, shoe stores to blacksmiths, and bakeries to realty companies. The local churches, such as Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Bethany Methodist Episcopal Church, and St. Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church, were also built by Swedes, and reflected the religious diversity of the new arrivals.
Like most other European-American ethnic groups, Swedes began to move to the suburbs during the Depression and post-war periods, and the neighborhood began to decline. Concerned about the deteriorating commercial situation, the Uptown Clark Street Business Association renewed its commitment to its Swedish heritage by renaming itself the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. On October 17, 1964 Andersonville was rededicated in a ceremony attended by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. At about the same time, the annual Swedish tradition of celebrating the summer solstice blossomed into Midsommarfest, which has since grown into one of Chicago’s largest and most popular street festivals.
While some of the Swedish-owned businesses gave way to stores and restaurants owned by Koreans, Lebanese, and Mexicans, many remained in Andersonville, serving the remaining second- and third-generation Swedes as well as the new arrivals to the neighborhood. In 1976, a Swedish American Museum that had been on the drawing boards for fifty years was opened to the public in a ceremony attended by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. It later moved into larger quarters at 5211 N. Clark, where it remains today.
In the late 1980′s, Andersonville began a period of revival as professionals rediscovered its lovely housing stock and proximity to downtown Chicago and the lakefront. A large lesbian and gay population developed, spurred by the opening of such businesses as Women & Children First, a bookstore focusing on feminist authors and topics. New gift shops and ethnic eateries opened up and gave Clark Street a new commercial vitality and diversity.
Today, in addition to being one of the most concentrated areas of Swedish culture in the United States, Andersonville is home to a diverse assortment of devoted residents and businesses, including one of Chicago’s largest gay and lesbian communities, a large collection of Middle Eastern restaurants and bakeries, and a thriving Hispanic commercial area north of Catalpa Avenue.
Andersonville is now considered one of Chicago’s “hot” neighborhoods. It also enjoys nationwide renown for its unique commercial district, comprised almost entirely of locally owned, independent businesses. In 2004, an economic study of Andersonville was reported in newspapers across the globe. It demonstrated what Andersonville locals have known for a long time: that the locally owned businesses are a crucial part of Andersonville’s vitality and quality of life, returning far more to the community in economic benefits and neighborhood involvement than would non-local businesses. Communities everywhere now look to emulate Andersonville as a model of a thriving urban neighborhood.
Andersonville Historic Commercial District
The Historic Andersonville commercial district, along Clark Street and Ashland Avenue, is comprised mostly of early twentieth century commercial architecture. Included in the historically significant buildings are a number of two- and three-story commercial brick buildings with limestone ornamentation. One of the best examples is the Temple Theater building, located at 5233 North Clark Street – now home to Women & Children First Books. A two story brick building with limestone ornamentation with string courses and geometric patterns, this building is a typical example of an Andersonville commercial structure.
You can take a self-guided tour of “Historic Andersonville!” This historic_andersonville_tour_map_2 and historicavilletourhandout will take you on a 20-minute walking tour of historically significant buildings throughout the commercial area. Remember to stop, shop, and eat too!
The Swedish American Museum also schedules occasional guided walking tours of Andersonville. Visit their website for details.
Because of Andersonville’s national historic commercial district status, property owners could be eligible for tax credits for rehab work. Click here for more information.