History of Andersonville
Andersonville is the southwest part of Chicago’s Edgewater community area. The boundaries are as follows:
- Victoria to the North
- Magnolia to the East
- Lawrence South
- Ravenswood to the West
It initially started out as only a small suburb of Chicago. Rumored to have previously been a cherry orchard field, Andersonville eventually worked its way into Chicago’s charm. What makes this community unique is the diversity and strong community vibe that the residents helped to develop from the neighborhood’s humble beginnings.
In the mid-19th century, only 40 Swedes lived in Chicago. This would quickly change as more Swedish immigrants came to America in the coming years and by 1870, Chicago had the largest cluster of Swedish immigrants in the US – over 6,000 Swedes residing around Illinois and Michigan Ave. As more Swedish immigrants grew attracted to the city’s expanding economy late in the 19th century, they began to relocate to different parts of the city. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, many immigrants could not afford to build brick and stone houses so they started to move to the city’s north side where the cost of living was cheaper. Around the 1920s, Swedish immigrants moved outward and heavily populated Andersonville.
They began to dig their routes deep into Andersonville’s culture. The Swedes settled in near Clark street and they began to build many businesses within the community. These businesses ranged from resident service providers like bakeries and delis to cooperate business like realty companies. They also built many churches that further reinforced Swedish ties to the community. In the Swedish populations prime, there were more Swedes in Chicago than any other city outside of Stockholm.
During the depression, many Swedes moved out of the city into the suburbs and the neighborhood saw its first decline. The Uptown Clark Street Business Association responded to the decline and renamed themselves the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. Through this organization they dedicated their efforts to preserving the neighborhood’s legacy by bringing it back to life. Andersonville was rededicated in 1964 and shortly after in the Summer of 1965, Midsommarfest was born – an annual Swedish tradition of celebrating summer solstice. Midsommarfest would later become one of Chicago’s largest and most popular festivals for citizens all around the city and the surrounding suburban area. Every year around early June for two days and three nights, Chicagoans and local visitors gather along Clark Street between Foster and Catalpa to enjoy summer time festivities that include music, dancing, entertainment and food; the celebration has become a cherished gathering in Chicago.
In 1976 the Swedish American Museum was founded by Kurt Matthiason, a Swedish immigrant himself and community leader. It was built to preserve Swedish American historical influence in Chicago and started out as only a small storefront. The King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf officially opened the museum in its original location. The museum has since undergone expansion and renovations and in 1987 Carl XVI returned to celebrate and reopen the new location that remains today on Clark St and Foster Ave.
Andersonville was prime real estate for the Chicago’s growing population and the period of growth the neighborhood experienced in the 1980s reflects this. After a brief period of decline, Andersonville began to see a revival during this time. It was here the community started to see an influx of gay and lesbian population, blending with the original Swedish heritage making Andersonville a diverse and unique part of Chicago. Many more businesses opened along Clark Street including gift shops and ethnic restaurants which are today a big charm of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is reflective of its residents which are a group very proud to call this community their home; many of which are very involved in the community themselves, a quality very precious in a big a city as Chicago. Andersonville has a strong community vibe which attracts many different kinds of people and diversifying the neighborhood even more.
Andersonville’s diversity is also visible in the community. Not only does it contain of the largest lesbian and gay populations, there are also some Middle Eastern restaurants and bakeries, and a thriving Hispanic commercial area north of Catalpa Avenue, locally owed specialty shops and restaurants, and even nationally recognized businesses throughout.
Still to this day, even as the original Swedish population declined after the 1960s, Andersonville remains a Swedish American historical landmark and the culture’s influence resonates throughout the neighborhood. Andersonville is one of the most concentrated areas of Swedish heritage, which the community works to preserve and in March 2010, the commercial district that runs between 4900 and 5800 N Clark St. it was named a National Historic District. This means that this area is protected to remain a historical part of Chicago for many more years to come.