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Aberdeen Street takes its moniker from the chief seaport and largest city in northeastern Scotland. It is the capital of the county of Aberdeenshire.
Famous now for its haddock and cod fishing industries, Aberdeen historically was one of the seats of revolutionary movements attempting to achieve independence for Scotland from England. Because of this, King Edward III of England burned the city in 1336. The parts of the city that survived the inferno are called Old Aberdeen; New Aberdeen comprises the rest.
The city is situated on a strip of land about 1.5 miles wide between the Don and Dee Rivers, two waterways that allow easy access into the scenic Scottish Highlands.
Known as the "Granite City" because almost all of its buildings are made of pale granite dug from nearby quarries, the city contains many churches dating from the 14th century. Points of interest include the "Auld Brig o' Balgownie," a bridge built in the early 1300s across the Don River, and the University of Aberdeen.
Ada Street is named for a woman who was so astute at managing her money that, at her death in 1938, she left a total of $2,250,000 depressionera dollars. She bequeathed the money to various deserving non-profit organizations in the Chicago area, as well as to some of her relatives.
Mrs. Ada Sawyer Garrett was the granddaughter of Justin Butterfield, an attorney who once defeated Abraham Lincoln for the post of land commissioner of Illinois. In 1834, Butterfield bought 80 acres of land around and including the area now known as Logan Square, located on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
Butterfield had three daughters, known in 19th century Chicago high society as "the beautiful Butterfield girls." Daughter Elizabeth married Dr. Sidney Sawyer, and the couple had their own daughter, Ada. Ada grew up to be a popular society debutante, and she married T. Mauro Garrett, a railroad official.
It was Mrs. Sawyer and Mrs. Garrett who were instrumental in subdividing the land Butterfield had purchased in the Logan Square area, creating what was then a genteel neighborhood of mansions, as well as adding to the family's fortune.
When her husband died in 1900, Mrs. Garrett went into seclusion, devoting her time to managing her estate. Finances occupied her time for the next 27 years, until she succumbed to illness.
She lived another 11 years, dying in 1938 at the age of 82. She left money to the Chicago Historical Society, the Art Institute, the University of Chicago, a number of hospitals, and several homes for the poor, for the disabled, and for orphans.
He liked to swim in the Potomac River in the nude. He became president of the United States in 1825 despite having come in second in the election. Scrupulously moral and honest, he was accused of being a pimp and a corrupt politician. Adams Street, located at 200 south and stretching from the South Loop west across the entire city, is named for him: John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.
Adams was the son of the second president, the revolutionary hero John Adams, and so a life in government service was just a continuation of the family business for him. He served superbly in a wide variety of diplomatic posts, and as President James Monroe's Secretary of State formulated the Monroe Doctrine, which ordered European powers to stay out of the affairs of the Western Hemisphere and was the cornerstone of American foreign policy.
Adams ran for president in 1824. This was the first presidential contest in which none of the heroes of the American Revolution was a candidate, so several individuals were vying for election. General Andrew Jackson got the most electoral votes, but not a majority. Adams came in second.
According to the U.S. Constitution, if no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses a president. When it met to do so early in 1825, one key New York Congressman, Stephen Van Rensselaer, just did not know what to do. So he closed his eyes, bowed his head in prayer, and asked for Divine guidance. When he opened his eyes, he saw a scrap of paper on the floor with Adams' name on it. Figuring a vote for Adams was therefore God's will, Van Rensselaer cast his ballot accordingly. This swung the New York delegation, and the election, to Adams.
Some votes from Congressman Henry Clay's friends also were vital in electing Adams, and when Adams made Clay secretary of state, charges of a "corrupt bargain" rang from sea to shining sea.
The Adams presidency, because of its manner of inception, faced much public hostility and therefore achieved little. The next election was the first negative presidential campaign in U.S. history. Jackson forces accused Adams of everything from the "corrupt bargain" to having procured the sexual services of a woman for the Czar of Russia during one of Adams' diplomatic missions there. Adams' forces, not to be outdone, accused Jackson of everything from being a descendant of slaves to having an illegal marriage. Adams lost.
As president, the normally stuffy Adams did engage in one surprising extravagance. He would get up at four a.m. to swim in the nude in the Potomac River. Once, an enterprising female reporter who had been rebuffed in several attempts to get an interview with the president sat on his clothes on the river bank and refused to give them up until he agreed to talk to her.
Adams' post-presidential career, like Jimmy Carter's, is proof that an unpopular presidency does not preclude a successful life. In 1830, some of Adams' neighbors asked him to run for Congress. He did, and served there for 17 years. The old patriot strongly defended the right of petition and opposed slavery and became one of Congress' most important and beloved members. His congressional speeches earned him the nickname "Old Man Eloquent."
Adams collapsed and died in the House of Representatives in 1847, prompting a colleague to comment, "Where could death have found him but at the post of duty?"
Until George W. Bush, John Quincy Adams had been the only son of a former president to become president himself. The elder George Bush in 2001 gave his presidential son the nickname "Quincy."
The naming of Ashland Avenue represents one of the more unusual stories in choosing a street's designation. For Ashland Avenue is not named for a person or a town; it is named for a house.
The house, located not in Chicago but in Kentucky, belonged to a man who ran for president three times and lost each time. The street was named for the house because of an insult.
Ashland had originally been named Reuben Street after a prominent real estate investor named Reuben Tayler. Since Chicago already had a similarly named thoroughfare with a slightly different spelling, the Taylor Street that had already been named for President Zachary Taylor, the Chicago City Council used Reuben Tayler's first name to honor him.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the street that is now Ashland was the main thoroughfare of what was then the equivalent of Chicago's "Gold Coast." The boulevard was lined with stately mansions, opulent churches, and parks. One had to be quite rich to live on Reuben Street.
Close to Reuben Street were the slums of the Near West Side. Poor people used to come over to Reuben Street to gape at and to insult the rich people living there. The insult heard most often was, "Hey, Rube!"
Being called a rube was quite offensive to people of that era, so the wealthy residents of Reuben Street petitioned the City Council to change the street's name.
Many of the well-to-do living on the street had come from Kentucky to Chicago to make their fortunes. They were admirers of Henry Clay, who was one of the most influential politicians of the first half of the 19th century and a native of Kentucky. Clay's Kentucky home and estate were called Ashland.
To the street's residents, the name Ashland represented the qualities they admired in their neighborhood: stateliness, charm, and sociability. So, this high-sounding name was given to what now is a very ordinary street.
Clay unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 1824, 1832, and 1844. He coined the phrase, "I'd rather be right than president." His opponents felt that he was incapable of being either; his supporters believed that his leadership helped hold the Union together through some of the country's most severe crises before the Civil War.
Not only was Ashland a street of stately mansions in the 19th century; it also was a street of beautiful churches, several of which remain.
At Polk Street, Ashland Avenue is home to St. Basil's Greek Orthodox Church, which was slated for demolition in the days of Near West Side urban renewal mania. Mayor Harold Washington's Department of Housing put an end to that plan and saved the church in 1985.
At 1124 S. Ashland, one finds First Immanuel Lutheran Church, built in 1888 to serve the area's huge population of German Lutherans. They moved away in the early 1900s and the area became predominantly Catholic, but through reaching out to public housing residents and college students living in the area, and by actively seeking parishioners from outside the area, including former neighborhood residents, the church continues operating.
In 1885, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany was constructed at 201 south. Episcopal canon law allows a church building to be consecrated only after all debt is retired, so the structure was consecrated ten years later, and celebrated its centennial by launching a three-year restoration drive in 1995.
Not so fortunate was Mary Thompson Hospital at 140 north. Opened in 1865, the hospital was forced to shut down in 1988, an early casualty of America's latter 20th century health care crisis.
On a late September day that same year, a gunman named Clem Henderson rampaged up Ashland killing four people, including a female police officer, before another cop gunned Henderson down. A Gazette photographer was on the scene, and captured the heart-rending aftermath on film.
In performing historical research, one finds that conflicting information shrouds relatively modern times as well as antiquity.
Although Bell received its name only about a century ago, city records conflict as to why.
The street may be named in honor of a soldier of the Civil War, George Bell (not to be confused with the former Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs outfielder). Soldier George Bell was a member of Company G of the 37th Illinois infantry, the "Fremont Rifle Regiment."
Organized by a member of the Chicago Board of Trade in the summer of 1861, the regiment trained on the city's North Side before being mustered into the army in September of that year.
During training, the regiment was given a fine silk banner by the Board of Trade. The standard featured a portrait of General John Fremont, a hero of the Mexican War, and was the reason the 37th was nicknamed for Fremont. Bell himself at the same time was presented with a sash and sword by members of the Chicago Bar Association, so he may have been an attorney.
Other sources claim that the street was named for Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
Bell was born in Scotland in 1847, and began his working life assisting his grandfather and father in teaching the deaf to speak. After moving to the United States in 1871, the continued to work with the deaf. One of his pupils was Mabel Hubbard, with whom he fell in love and married.
The knowledge of the principles of sound Bell gained through his work with the deaf inspired him to tinker with communications-related inventions.
In 1874 he invented a telegraph that could send two messages at once. But a year later, Bell came up with his greatest invention: the telephone.
A late entry in the Centennial Exposition (world's fair) of 1876, the telephone won the gold medal for new inventions and gained worldwide publicity. The resulting sales of the new invention made Bell financially independent for life.
Bell spent the rest of his days inventing, and he eventually worked on the phonograph, an early x-ray machine, air conditioning, and a crude helicopter, among other projects. He became a United States citizen in 1882, and died in 1922.
One of Chicago's leading citizens in the late 19th century, Henry W. Bishop was the first president of the Union Club of Chicago, a private association organized by 60 of the city's leading gentlemen in 1878. Bishop held the group's presidency through 1883. A judicial official, he also served as a master in chancery.
In his will, Bishop left $2.5 million to form the John Crerar Library of engineering, medical, and science texts, located at 5730 S. Ellis on the University of Chicago campus.
The 900 block of south Bishop Street has the honor of having led off the comeback of the Near West Side in the early 1970s. A block known for its chicken-wire fences, it was the first to be beautified by the city with a landscaped cul-de-sac in the middle. Neighbors tore down their chicken-wire fences, rehabbed their homes, and the rehabbing of the Near West Side was underway.
That same block also was the site of a major neighborhood controversy in late 1998 and early 1999. A neighborhood group circulated a petition to get new sewers and water lines for the street, which everyone wanted, but it contained an obscure proviso that the end of the block where the street met Taylor Street would become a plaza with a statue of baseball player Joe DiMaggio as its centerpiece.
Although everybody liked Joltin' Joe, nobody particularly wanted him blocking their street. Despite neighbors' opposition to the plaza, they couldn't fight City Hall and their street was blocked off. That made it necessary to remove the cul-de-sac in the middle of the block, and the symbolic point of origin to Near West Side rejuvenation was lost forever.
Blue Island is a street named for an optical illusion.
During the 19th century, a ridge running south from 87th Street near Western Avenue on foggy days reminded some people of a blue-colored island appearing among the mists. The ridge, created by a glacier, is nearly 100 feet higher than Lake Michigan. It runs past the city limits at 119th St., so the founders of the suburb that begins there, Blue Island, decided to take the town's name from this ghostly topographic feature. Being an industrial bastion (Chicago's gunpowder mills moved there late in the 19th century), Blue Island's air for most of the 20th century appeared smoky and foggy no matter what the weather conditions. The Chicago street was named for the town to the south.
Built in 1854 as a plank road to connect south Western Ave. to downtown, the street became world famous during the labor struggles of the late 19th century, as workers and police frequently clashed there outside the McCormick Reaper Works. It also was an important route for farmers taking their cattle to the stockyards. Blue Island's nickname was "Black Road" after it later was paved with ebony-colored cinders.
In the 1890s, the stretch of Blue Island from 18th to 22nd St. was one of the area's busiest shopping districts-the Woodfield Mall of its day. The street also housed the city's garment trade, and a number of saloons that was unusually high even for the high-imbibing 19th century.
Blue Island no longer leads to downtown, as its northern terminus now is at the St. Ignatius College Prep campus at Roosevelt Road. Two of the three Chicago Housing Authority ABLA highrises that stood there on the south of Roosevelt in recent decades have been razed for duplexes and rowhouses for current ABLA residents and other low-income families.
Many Near West Side area streets are named for political figures, but Bowler Street is named for a West Side political figure whose impact on the area still is apparent 35 years after his death.
James Bernard Bowler spent most of his political life in the City Council. Sworn into that body in 1906, he left finally in 1953, with hiatuses from 1923 to 1927 when he served as the city's commissioner of compensation, and in 1934 when he worked as commissioner of vehicle licenses. He was president pro tem of the council for eight years, and his 42 years in that body made him the longest-serving alderman ever.
Excerpted from Streets of the Near West Side by William S. Bike Copyright © 2001 by William S. Bike. Excerpted by permission.
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