History of Edgewater
Prior to the the late nineteenth century few people lived in the area now known as Edgewater, scattered settlers around the area farmed celery. The residents were mostly German and Irish. Some Swedish people gathered along Clark Street in an area they called Andersonville. John Lewis Cochran was the first person to do more than casually settle in the area and farm, he purchased land near Lake Michigan in the town of Lake View in 1886. He developed a subdivision he advertised as “Edgewater.” Because of the proximity of the neighborhood to Lake Michigan he built large mansions near the water, and later smaller houses west of these. Cochran looked to separate himself from the normal development of neighborhoods by building sewers, sidewalks and streetlights before residents ever moved in. He also founded the Edgewater Light Company to make sure Edgewater residents could use the most modern conveniences. However, his last trick would be his greatest. A neighborhood that is hard to get to isn’t going to be high on the list of places that people want to move to…especially people with money. Cochran knew that his lakefront property was prime real estate, so he found a way to connect it to transportation. He persuaded the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad to open a stop on Bryn Mawr Avenue and was instrumental in the creation of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company, which in 1908 opened up a connection through to Howard Street. The availability of transportation encouraged the erection of apartment buildings, a development Cochran had not intended. This strip of “common corridor” buildings and residential hotels, concentrated between Winthrop and Kenmore, increased Edgewater’s population density.
Between World War I and World War II, Edgewater was synonymous with elegance, and the Edgewater Beach Hotel was the North Shore spot for fine dining and dancing. But as times changed this once-elite community fell into decline. The Edgewater Hotel was torn down in 1969, along with many of the other fine, lake shore mansions that surrounded it. One-survivor is the 19-story flamingo-pink cooperative that houses the Edgewater Beach Apartments.
Edgewater’s more recent history is a wonderful example of community spirit. The are has experienced a remarkable turnaround over the past two decades. At one time, sixteen boarded-up buildings marred the Winthrop-Kenmore corridor, and the commercial strip along the Bryn Mawr contained grimy storefronts, rundown residential hotels, and abandoned buildings. Gang infestation was driving the neighborhood rapid decline. But the community was given a second chance in 1995, when a section of Bryn Mawr Avenue, from Broadway to Lake Michigan, was declared a historic district. This led to tax breaks and a renewed interest in the area by commercial developers. The Edgewater Community Council led the way to get the buildings belonging to absentee landlords transferred to different ownership and another 72-story building to be renovated. The community’s efforts have paid off with the crime rate in Edgewater consistently decreasing over the past several years.
Loyola university lies at Edgewater’s northern edge, attracting many students to live in the area. Also here: home-based business owners, retirees, and a large number of families of Hispanic, Asian and Russian descent. And, according to the 2000 census data, Edgewater has the largest community of gay couples in Chicago, many of whom live in Andersonville. With its convenient location, easy access to Lake Shore Drive, major bus routes run through it, and an active community council, Edgewater has long been posed to become the next great neighborhood in north Chicago. While prices for houses, brick flats, and condos are rising slowly and steadily, one can still get a condo for about $50,000 to $100,000 less than its equivalent in Lakeview.
The vast park and accompanying bike path that follows the beach side of Lake Shore Drive come to an end at Edgewater’s southeast corner. The family friendly beaches here at Hollywood, Ardmore, and Foster avenues are beautiful and offer excellent views of the shoreline to the north. On clear days you can make out the lakeshore campus of Northwestern university in Evanston. Looking eastward, out across the lake, you will spot a squat, cylindrical shape that hover about two miles off the coast. Don’t be misled by locals who may try to convince you that it is 1) a giant floating storage tank for industrial waste, 2) a casino, or 3) the new Bears stadium. It’s actually a water intake crib, one of three (if you looks south you can see the others) that provides the city with its fresh water.
Chicago has great food, it’s known for having extravagant steakhouses and seafood restaurants, but also awesome spots that are a little easier on the wallet, although they are a little harder to find. A century ago Andersonville, which is a part of Edgewater, had a thriving Swedish population and the restaurants to match. These days there aren’t quite as many Swedish people or restaurants, and the food selection has expanded as well. Now we can find great Swedish places like Svea, we can also get some southern American comfort food at Nookie’s. A locally-owned placed serving breakfast all day…you don’t want to pass it up. You also have the option of expanding your tastes a little and indulging at a place like Masa Alla Del Sol. A hacienda-style dinner-only venue serving modern Mexican cuisine, margaritas & other cocktails.
At the end of the day, what you find is that in a neighborhood as diverse as Edgewater you can’t go wrong! Every block you turn down has new and exciting options when it comes to food and drinks. The biggest problem you’re going to have is deciding where to go. You could spend multiple days in the area and still leave without having been able to try everything you want. So relax, enjoy what the neighborhood has to offer and loosen your belt!