Forgotten Chicago

I do several local Chicagoland coach tours each year for the Art Institute of Chicago (as well as an international tour every year or two) and this fall we came up with Forgotten Chicago, which explored northern and southern edges of the city and I tried – mostly successfully – to find sites that most people didn’t know about – or forgot.

First, we went up to the northwest corner of the city near O’Hare airport and drove past one of two old farmhouses in the area, the 1850s Wingert House on Canfield before stopping for a tour of Chicago’s oldest house. Now, most people think Chicago’s oldest house is the Clarke House, a heavy-timber structure built in 1836 and moved twice, most recently in the late 1970s when it was restored near the Glessner House Museum in Prairie Avenue, close to its original location.

Clarke House, 1836

But in 1833 Mark Noble, an English farmer, built a frame house (NOT a log cabin) in what would become Norwood Park, then several miles outside of the city. The home then had an Italianate addition in the 1860s and the neighborhood became part of the city in 1893.

The house was restored a decade ago by the Norwood Park Historical Society and we were greeted on our visit by my dear friend Susan Kroll, who was a key player in saving the house back in the 1980s when I was Chicago Programs Director at Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and someone wanted to tear it down and replace it with 12-18 houses on a cul-de-sac.

Today those houses would be over 20 years old, and thus once again obsolete

We then traveled east through Gompers Park and past Bohemian National Cemetery to the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium on Pulaski Road. The TB sanitarium closed in the 1960s, and the site almost became a strip mall and a couple thousand housing units.

Because a strip mall and a bargeload of houses is the most clever response humans can devise when confronted with a sight like this

Again, the community rose up and defeated the plan – actually they did built some new housing on a corner of the site, but saved all of the old TB buildings, converted them into an absolutely lovely senior housing complex, and created North Park Village Nature Center, 40 acres of lagoons, wetlands, prairie, oak savannah and animal habitat.

What, no Quizno’s?

We then had lunch at JAM, which is on Damen in our old Wicker Park/East Village stomping grounds and is a super hip place – I have to give credit to Aleksandra Matic and Michelle Hodalj at Member Travel because they picked it. From there we headed south, to see a place I discovered long ago when I was on Chicago Eddie Schwartz’ radio show in the 90s. We had a history panel of about six local experts (including me) and callers would try to stump the panel. The incomparable Ken Little knew every street in the city and talked about Winneconna Parkway, which winds along the Auburn Lakes, 8 acres of picturesque beauty just north of 79th Street.

Winneconna Parkway – Auburn Lakes

On yesterday’s tour we had a handful of people who had grown up in Auburn-Gresham, which changed dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s and still suffers from disinvestment and crime. This condition has added to its “Forgotten” quality but the landscape was appreciated by all. We drove down 79th Street, past the Nation of Islam sites and then St. Sabina’s off of Racine, and then visited Hamilton Park, a 1905 gem sandwiched between railroad embankments, one of the most lovely of the pioneering “Progressive Parks” developed by Chicago’s South Park Commission in the first decade of the 20th century.

The parks were designed by the Olmsted Brothers and the fieldhouses – a NEW building type at the time – were designed by Daniel Burnham & Co.

The fieldhouses hosted club rooms, auditoria, libraries, and all sorts of amenities designed to alleviate the conditions of crowded immigrant districts. They also tried to actively acculturate the immigrants with mural cycles that depicted and instructed in American history. The murals at Hamilton Park are by the great Chicago artist John Warner Norton and they have been marvelously restored.

The tour wrapped up with a drive through of Oak Woods Cemetery, every bit as lovingly designed as the more famous Graceland Cemetery on the north side, and with nearly as many famous burials, including a trove of Civil War history and the largest burial of Confederate soldiers in the north, the Confederate Mound Monument (1895) marks the grave of over 4,000 POWs who died in Chicago, mostly of cholera and typhus in Camp Douglas. I didn’t take a picture on this trip, but here is the mound in winter:

You can also find the graves of notables ranging from Mayors (Big Bill Thompson, Harold Washington) to mobsters (Big Jim Colosimo) to scientists (Enrico Fermi) engineers (George A. Fuller), and athletes (Jesse Owens, Cap Anson). They even have a lovely Arts and Crafts chapel by the architect who designed my house.

Lake Shore Drive up from 67th and home. What are your favorite Forgotten Chicago sites?


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4 Responses to “Forgotten Chicago”

  1. Frances Says:

    Lovely photos of the North Village Nature Center. A couple minor corrections from one who grew up across the street. The TB Sanitarium closed in 1974 and Peterson Park was opened 1977. More buildings were demolished than were saved. I’ve got a photograph on my blog that shows the auditorium with some of the cottages that were demolished. MTS was built to accommodate more than 1000 residential patients, plus live-in quarters for nursing staff, with separate men’s, women’s and children’s housing, so there were a lot of buildings, and they were all interconnected by 1550 feet of underground tunnels.

  2. PreservationNation » Blog Archive » Preservation Round-Up: Greener Bricks Edition Says:

    […] Good has fun with maps–specifically, a map based not on state lines but rather, watersheds (by John Wesley Powell, circa the 1880s). Historian for Hire goes really, really long in a fantastic piece–part one in a series–about DC, gas lighting, and magic lamps. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Blog gives some love to Riverside Plaza, oft-mocked for its modern edifices. Time Tells visits “forgotten Chicago.” […]


    […] is home to many amazing architectural finds.  One location included in this list is the oldest house in the city of Chicago.  Most people think the oldest home is the Clarke House built in 1836.  The fact is that […]

  4. appleuzer Says:


    This is a cool tour, but could you rename it? Forgotten Chicago conducts their own tours and this can confuse users.



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