Special Collections and Preservation Division
Neighborhood Research History Collection
Lower West Side Community Collection
.25 linear ft., 8 photographs
Call number: Archives_LOW
The Lower West Side Community is composed of the neighborhoods of Heart of Chicago and Pilsen. It is bounded by 16th Street on the north, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on the west (about 2600 W), and the Stevenson Expressway and Chicago River South Branch on a southern/eastern diagonal. Originally a reign of swamps and truck farms called the "Southwest Side," part of this area was incorporated into the original Chicago of 1837; the remainder was added in 1853. The era of truck farms gradually gave way to industrialization after the completion of the Illinois-Michigan Canal in 1848 and the Chicago and Alton Railroad in the early 1850s. Still, the area was largely unpopulated until the late 1850s, and the western half of the area (now Heart of Chicago) was still empty at the time of the 1871 fire.
The 1870s was a period of rapid growth, as the neighborhood lay outside Chicago’s fire code limits and thus frame construction in houses was permissible. Irish and Germans composed the majority of this early production. The McCormick Reaper Company opened a new plant at 27th Street and Western in 1873, and followed it up with a second facility at 22nd and Western in 1903. The company constructed homes for its employees and, in keeping with the McCormicks’ Presbyterian sympathies, donated land for churches of various faiths. Public improvements began in 1875 with the raising of many streets and sidewalks a full eight to ten feet to improve drainage and sanitation, leaving the ground stories of many existing homes below street level.
The Lower West Side reached "maturity" by the mid-1890s, at which point many of the earlier residences were beginning to be razed and replaced. The original ethnic mix had expanded to include Poles and Czechoslovaks; the Irish and Germans began to retreat further west, and many Slovaks and Lithuanians occupied the empty houses and apartments. The Slovakian influence in the neighborhood brought about the christening of the eastern half of the area as Pilsen, a city in Bohemia. The name of 22nd street—the area’s principal east-west road—was changed to Cermak in 1933 after the death of the popular mayor Anton Cermak.
From a high point of 85,000 in 1920, the Lower West Side lost nearly a quarter of its population in the next decade. By 1970 the population stood at under 45,000. Since 1960 the population has again shifted and today the area is three-quarters Hispanic. The 1980 Census revealed the Lower West Side to be 72% Mexican—the second highest concentration of Mexicans in any Chicago neighborhood. Yet, Czechoslovakian and Polish businesses continue to operate on Eighteenth Street and an Italian colony survives intact, closed off by railroad tracks and factory buildings.
One of the oldest industrialized area in Chicago, the Lower West Side has sacrificed much of its territory to sprawling factories and huge storage lots for raw material, resulting in a residential/industrial mix in almost all parts of the neighborhood. Several industries, including the enormous International Harvester Company, relocated elsewhere after the disastrous riots of 1968, leaving behind much wasteland and unemployment.
The materials in this collection document the era when the Czechoslovakians and Germans held sway in the Lower West Side. The bulk of the collection concerns the Gads Hill Center which was a settlement house, and Trinity Evangelical Church, whose newsletters continued to be published in English and German into the 1940s. More information re Trinity Church can be found in the Kircher Family Papers; Julius Kircher pastored the church for half a century.
Supplement 1 consists of a photocopy of an unpublished autobiography of Emma Rouse King, who was born on in the Lower West Side neighborhood in 1879. The manuscript was written in the 1950s, and covers not only Mrs. King’s girlhood, but her life subsequent to leaving Chicago. In addition to the manuscript are photos and biographical information about the author.
These materials were donated to The Chicago Public Library by Mrs. King’s
daughter, Faith Evans, in 1989.
The materials in this collection were separated out from the collections of the West Side Historical Society (q.v.). Related materials in the NHRC files are the Belmont-Cragin, Portage Park, Humboldt Park, and West Side Community Collections.
Processed by G. Wilson, November 18, 1988
The Lower West Side Community Collection is available to the public for research in the Special Collections and Preservation Division Reading Room on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60605. The collection does not circulate although photocopy and photoreproduction services are available depending upon the condition of the original materials. First time patrons to Special Collections must present a photo i.d. and complete a Reader Registration Form. Telephone inquiries on this collection and other Special Collections holdings can be directed to (312) 747-4875.
BOX 1 Churches
1. Mennonite—Newsclip; 1939
2. St. Procopius—Postcard; n.d.
3. Swedish Free Mission—Dedication program; 1906
4. Trinity Evangelical—Anniversary booklets; 1909, 1934
5. Trinity Evangelical—Bulletins; 1904-1917
6. Trinity Evangelical—Bulletins; 1939-1944
7. Trinity Evangelical—"Der Dreieinigkeits-Bote"/Trinity Herald" (Newsletter); 1924, 1932-35, 1939-41
Clubs & Organizations
8. Gads Hill Center—Annual reports, brochures, newsletters,
9. Gads Hill—Historical pageant script; 1938
10. Gads Hill—Pamphlets & programs; 1924-1943
11. Bartolozzi, Lorraine, "Community Study of the Lower West
12. Jirka, Komensky, Whittier; 1938-1940
SUPPLEMENT 1 Biography
13. King, Emma Rouse (1879-1956)—Biographical information,
14. King, Emma Rouse, My Span of Life—Autobiography; [1950s]
15. Hoyt, Homer, "Rebuilding Old Chicago—The Lower West Side," 1941
1.1 Business Establishments--Heydenreich Drug Store, 1892-93
1.2 Churches--St. Paul’s Church, 1902
1.3 Clubs & Organizations--Gad’s Hill Center, 1930s
1.4 Schools--Pickard School, 2nd grade, 1891
1.5 Schools--Pickard School, 4th grade, 1891
1.6 Transportation--Bridge: Halsted & 22nd St., 1911
1.7 Business Establishmetns--T. W. Harvey Lumber Co., c. 1900
1.8 Portraits--Ruth Austin, 1919 W. Cullerton; 1940?
Related Material Not Housed With Collection
Austin, Ruth. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1939 Oct 15; and folders
Gorski, Albina. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1944 Apr 27
Hunt, Susan Hadley. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1941 Sep 10
Husek, Joseph. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1940 Sep 8
Kircher, Julius and family. See Kircher Family Papers
Novak, John. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1952 Aug 3
Novak’s Apothecary Shop. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1952 Aug 3
German Evangeli. Trinity. See Trinity Evangelical (1:4-7)
Halsted Street Institutional. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1941 May 23, May 17;
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1938 May 29
Sacred Heart. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1938 May 15.
St. Procopius. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1942 Jun 6
Trinity Evangelical. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1940 Oct 20
Clubs & Organizations
Howell Neighborhood House. See CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1939 Jan 29
Martha Verein. See Trinity Evangelical Church (folders 1:4-7)
Bohemian Community. See CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, 1941 Feb 8