Norwood Park Historic District
The Norwood Park Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
Norwood Park is situated on Chicago's Northwest Side. It borders the suburbs of Park Ridge to the west and Norridge and Harwood Heights to the south. Its configuration appears similar to a triangle as Avondale Avenue is a street that runs diagonally from northwest to southeast.
A subtle elevation can be seen and felt walking from the eastern portion of Norwood Park to the west along Ardmore or Hurlbut Avenues. The rise is only 15 or 20 feet, but that elevation made the land appealing to people long before the suburbanites came. In the 1850s, Andrew Jackson Downing promoted the picturesque aesthetic in architecture through popular design books. He was the first landscape designer to offer an alternative to the ubiquitous rectilinear grid plan used by cities and towns. His plans employed curved streets, odd shaped lots, and central community parks. While these features did not maximize profit from land, the desired effect was to create a romantic image of a country village. Homes with garages have them typically located in the rear with access from alleys. In 1854, Downing's colleague Andrew Jackson Davis designed the exclusive suburb of Llewellyn Park in New Jersey with winding streets centered on a park. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux further popularized these picturesque features in landscaped parks accessible to a broad public. Their landscape designs used winding paths not only to create an aesthetic experience, but also to respond to the unique topography of a locale. The Picturesque ideal held that houses and neighborhoods should be designed to imitate patterns found in nature. The curved streets of Norwood Park stand in sharp contrast to the gridiron plan of Chicago, yet they were the height of urban planning in the 1860s. The streetscape provides focal points in the neighborhood, and helps define the community as distinct from its surroundings. Norwood Park was designed to create an image of nature and the parks and vistas are a visual link to the picturesque movement that affected the whole nation.
The Norwood Park Historic District is largely residential. There are many architectural styles in the area, which reflects the eclectic character of Norwood Park and the influences that gave way to its formation and subsequent historic merit. The National Register nomination form of the Chicago & North Western Railroad Depot in Norwood Park offers the following description of the area's architecture:
Prior to the turn of the century, construction in Norwood Park consisted mostly of revival architectural homes, concordant with the Victorian period, namely Queen Anne and Italianate styles. Nearly a dozen of these still remain today. These are also large homes because in the 19th century it was the wealthier families that could afford to commute to and from jobs in the city. As train commuting became more common the middle class began migrating to the outskirts of the city. For these people, the Arts and Crafts style offered a more progressive and affordable design without disturbing the ambience in the neighborhood ... Norwood Park grew steadily during the first two decades of the twentieth century, although not as quickly as other neighborhoods that had access to the electric trains of Chicago's public rapid transportation system. Norwood Park did experience a massive building boom during the 1920s, as did most city neighborhoods, and its population leapt from 2,857 in 1920 to 14,408 in 1930.
The construction dates for most of the properties in the Norwood Park Historic District range from the 1880s to 1940. There are 589 buildings and 252 secondary structures in the district. The stories of the houses range evenly between 1, 1-1/2 and 2. Approximately 10% of the area had been built by 1900; these earlier houses were mostly Italianate and Queen Annes. The vast majority of houses in the Norwood Park Historic District were built between 1900 and 1940. As result there are a number of Colonial Revival, Tudor, Craftsman, Prairie, and Arts and Crafts influenced styles in the neighborhood. The building types range from earlier "workman" cottages of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the four-squares and bungalows that were built in the Chicago area from around 1910 to 1930. A very low percentage of properties were constructed after 1952, the cutoff of significance for the National Register of Historic Places. The materials of the properties in the district are pretty evenly divided between brick and wood frame (slightly more are brick). There are a few number of properties clad with stucco or other materials. There are other materials, such as stone and tile, which had been applied as decorative elements on a few properties. Foundation materials were brick, concrete, or stone.
The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House is included within the boundaries of the Norwood Park Historic District. The original one story house dates from 1833-34 and is the oldest house located with Chicago's current boundaries. In 1868, Thomas Hartley Seymour, a prominent local community leader purchased the house and added a two-story Italianate addition to the original structure. Stuart and Jan Crippen owned the house from 1916 until 1987 when its was sold to the Norwood Park Historical Society. The Noble-Seymour-Crippen House was listed in the National Register on August 10, 2000.
Immediately outside the boundaries of the district across the railroad tracks is the Chicago and North Western Railroad Depot. The Chicago architectural firm of Frost and Granger designed this depot in 1907. It is a one story Arts and Crafts wood and brick building and was listed in the National Register on February 9, 2001.
Aside from the mostly residential character of the neighborhood, there are two schools (Taft High School at Bryn Mawr and Natoma and the Norwood Park Public School at 5945 North Nickerson Avenue), a number of churches (including Norwood Park United Methodist Church at 6072 North Nickerson and the Presbyterian Church of Norwood Park at Nicolet and Nina), and two historic ethnic retirement homes one which is the Norwegian Old Peoples Home (6016 North Nickerson).
Norwood Park was developed by a group of investors specifically for professionals that would commute to Chicago by train. The buildings in this early suburb are representative of many architectural styles and building types that were popular during the mid to late 19th century and early to mid 20th century.
To live in a detached house with a yard on a quiet street and travel to work in the city each day is a way of life that many Americans accept as a norm. Yet this way of life was not possible until the development of a planned community designed for that purpose: the suburb. The earliest suburbs like Norwood Park bloomed on the outskirts of American cities beginning in the 1850's. The motivation, design, and success of suburbs as a planning type illustrates many themes from American history, and as our aspirations and technology evolved, so did the suburbs. The prevalence of suburbs today makes it difficult to study them as historically significant developments. Many of the earliest suburbs have been engulfed by the central city, and their suburban character is lost. The few early suburbs that remain intact bear the stamp of patterns and movements of American history.
A subtle elevation can be seen and felt walking from the eastern portion of Norwood Park to the west along Ardmore or Hurlbut Avenues. The rise is only 15 or 20 feet, but that elevation made the land appealing to people long before the suburbanites came. The historian Kenneth T. Jackson notes that the first suburbs grew up not on virgin country, but on land that had already been identified as suitable for habitation and agriculture. While much of the land around Chicago was swamp, glacial ridges radiated out from the city. Trails and settlements followed this faint topography, and the land beneath Norwood Park sits on one of these glacial ridges.
The high ground was used first by Native Americans as a trail; their path evolved into the Milwaukee Plank Road, then into Milwaukee Avenue. White settlers established farms on the well-drained soil in the area after the Black Hawk War; Mark Noble was the first in 1833. Twenty years later the Chicago and Northwestern Railway established their rail line along the ridge, leading to the transformation of the land from farms, to a suburb with an idealized natural landscape.
The Picturesque as a Reaction Against Industrialization
In some ways, the idea and motivation to live in a suburb was a reaction against the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution. Prior to this transformation, people's home and work were within walking distance, or one in the same building, either as farmers or city dwellers. The massive scale of factory production required a separate building or district that was devoted solely to heavy production. The new workplaces required that people work in a building or neighborhood that was separate from their home. Factories also made cities noisier, dirtier, and more crowded.
The Industrial Revolution tended to divide and separate cities into districts. Industrial areas tended to grow separately from residential areas. Working class neighborhoods became distinct from middle class and upper crust enclaves. The geographic separation of suburbs from the city was then a logical continuation of the changes introduced by the Industrial Revolution. The suburb offered an escape, for those who could afford it, from increasingly unpleasant urban life.
By the middle of the 19th century many Americans became convinced that industrialism, urbanism, and capitalism were becoming a threat to the morals and culture of the country. A popular movement developed which called for a return to nature to counter the effects of the industrial world and restore the soul. The movement was called the Picturesque.
The Picturesque movement was a set of popular ideas that affected art, architecture, literature, and religion in America. As an aesthetic it placed high value on natural patterns that did not appear to be man made. As a moral movement, the picturesque understood nature to be a manifestation of God that could uplift the soul and nurture a family. Norwood Park's winding streets and ample green space clearly identifies it as a picturesque community. In her Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841), the nationally read author Catherine Beecher introduced the idea that moving to the country would be better for the moral and physical health of the American family. She reasoned that if nature was a manifestation of God, then the family home should be far from the city, in a natural setting. Beecher expanded on the Treatise in publications throughout the 19th century. (Catherine Beecher was the sister of Henry Ward Beecher, a leading clergyman of the 19th century who wrote the book that Norwood Park was named after.)
In the picturesque view, moral health was tied to one's physical surroundings, especially the family home and the landscape. The early advertisements for Norwood Park understood this. One advertisement notes that the higher elevation of the land provides for good drainage and "healthfulness," as well as good views of the surrounding countryside.
There is evidence to suggest that the picturesque ideas about nature and moral health were well understood in Norwood Park. In 1874 the Advent Christian Times, a weekly newspaper began publication in Norwood Park. An 1876 article by Frank Burr, a pastor in Norwood Park, clearly shows the widespread influence of the picturesque aesthetic. The built environment possessed spiritual and moral import. His article praised sunny rooms in a home, and advocates readers to build homes with large windows. Sunlight and fresh air are linked to health, nourishment, and power. The pastor advocated that curtains should not cover up windows as dark rooms on the other hand bring depression. He concluded that the best picture for a home is not a painting or print, but the view of nature provided by God.
While some established the moral value of life in nature, other figures envisioned what homes and communities outside of the city might look like. In the 1850's, Andrew Jackson Downing promoted the picturesque aesthetic in architecture through popular design books. He was the first landscape designer to offer an alternative to the ubiquitous rectilinear grid plan used by cities and towns. His plans employed curved streets, odd shaped lots, and central community parks. While these features did not maximize profit from land, the desired effect was to create a romantic image of a country village. In 1854, Downing's colleague Andrew Jackson Davis designed the exclusive suburb of Llewellyn Park in New Jersey with winding streets centered on a park. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux further popularized these picturesque features in landscaped parks accessible to a broad public. Their landscape designs used winding paths not only to create an aesthetic experience, but also to respond to the unique topography of a locale. The Picturesque ideal held that houses and neighborhoods should be designed to imitate patterns found in nature. The curved streets of Norwood Park stand in sharp contrast to the gridiron plan of Chicago, yet they were the height of urban planning in the 1860's. The streetscape provides focal points in the neighborhood, and helps define the community as distinct from its surroundings. Norwood Park was designed to create an image of nature and it's the parks and vistas that are a visual link to the picturesque movement that affected the whole nation.
Norwood Park and the Railroad
While the picturesque provided the desire and design for suburban life, suburbs would never have been possible without the railroad, which opened up outlying areas of cities to the middle class who depended on jobs in the city. The earliest suburbs like Norwood Park are often referred to as "railroad suburbs," all were developed on established rail lines. The station, tracks, and train remain a presence in Norwood Park today that link the place to its roots.
In 1864 the Chicago and Northwestern railroad established a depot in the farmland that would become Norwood Park. Four years later the land around the stop attracted the attention of investors who formed the Norwood Park Land and Building Association. They bought and developed the surrounding farmland for professionals who would commute to work in the city and early on established a commutation rate with the railroad. Thus began the transformation of the rural township into a residential suburb. The earliest advertisements for Norwood Park boasted the frequent and fast access to the city.
Railroad suburbs were laid out compactly so that the commuter's daily walk to and from the train depot was not too long and the most valuable properties were those closest to the station. The railroad station formed the heart of these early suburbs. Norwood Park illustrates these characteristics. There is a real difference between the early railroad suburbs like Norwood Park and the sprawling suburbs developed after the automobile. Urban planners have begun to take a second look at the early railroad suburbs like Norwood Park as a model for future developments.
The Speculative Development of Norwood Park
Like many early suburbs. Norwood Park was a speculative development designed to make quick profits for a group of investors. In 1868 the Norwood Land and Building Association, a group of Chicago businessmen, bought six parcels of farmland totaling 860 acres to create a planned residential development. Businessmen formed partnerships like the Norwood Park Land and Building Association (NPLBA) to gather capital and spread the risk. Thomas Seymour and John Eberhart were the chief promoters in Norwood Park Land and Building Association. Seymour was a broker at the Chicago Board of Trade. Eberhart started out as a schoolteacher and advanced to a prominent position in the State Board of Education.
In 1869 the NPLBA divided the 860 acres of farmland into 94 residential lots, from the beginning the most valuable being those lots in or near the circle. There was a period of five years between the initial plotting of Norwood Park and its incorporation as a village in 1874. During this period the autonomous NPLBA managed the development and made improvements to it with their own money to attract buyers.
These improvements were touted in a prospectus published in 1874 by Everett Chamberlin entitled Chicago and Its Suburbs. The book described sixty-four new suburban developments around Chicago, and includes full-paged advertisements paid for by real estate agents selling property. The description of Norwood Park on pages 448 to 450 provides information about the improvements made by the NPLBA to attract investors. As discussed above, the picturesque curvilinear plan had great appeal. The Association also set aside land for parks: a five acre park at West Circle and Colfax, another of the same size at Myrtle and Grant, one around the depot, and one around the hotel. In 1872 the Association constructed a three-story frame structure on the site of an Artesian well to serve as the Norwood Park Hotel to attract summer vacationers. Chamberlin also touts the churches and school in Norwood Park as being of higher architectural quality than in other suburbs. In 1870 a post office was established and the first store followed a year later. Chamberlin's description of Norwood Park in 1874 indicates that the NPLBA built speculative homes and custom homes in addition to selling lots. Chamberlin notes that the lots in Norwood Park were designed for "mansions" and that the residents of the suburb were prominent businessmen who worked in Chicago. The cost of a new house in Norwood Park in 1874 ranged from $2,500 to $6,000 and lots ranged from $10 to $35 per front foot, depending on proximity to the circle.
After the Chicago Fire, a weekly newspaper entitled The Land Owner was established to cater to the booming real estate trade. In 1874 it printed an engraved illustration of the Norwood Park Land Office that was located on Dearborn between Washington and Randolph streets. The paper printed a small statement about the Land Office: "The principle office of this rapidly growing and beautiful suburb is here established by Messrs. C. J. Corse & Co. who are disposing of lots to parties desiring homes or investments there. Among all the suburbs Norwood Park has had the most remarkable growth. It has good schools, churches and easy accessibility to the city, and the land is offered at a very reasonable figure. The visitor there will find that many substantial improvements have been made during the present season."
This advertisement clearly identifies Norwood Park as an early suburb because it offers services, amenities and access to the city; a pitch still used by suburban developments today.
Incorporation as a Village and Early Ordinances
In 1872, the State of Illinois passed a law making it easier for communities to incorporate as local governments. In 1874 the thirty-seven voters in Norwood Park petitioned the state legislature to incorporate as a local government. Jefferson and Leyden Townships unsuccessfully resisted Norwood Park's petition as they stood to lose land and tax base. When the Village was incorporated in 1874, the original investors of the NPLBA remained active in the village government as elected officials, but now improvements could be made by levying taxes rather than from their profits.
One month after its incorporation, the thirty-seven eligible voters in Norwood Park elected a board of six trustees. The board included a president, a clerk, a treasurer, a street commissioner, a constable, and a village lawyer. After their first meeting on September 14, 1874, the Board of Trustees met every month.
The trustees headed up commissions that encouraged other residents to carry out projects such as drafting the ordinances of the village. The first ordinances passed by Norwood Park in September 1874 dealt with a range of issues from the prohibition of liquor to animal control. More significant to the character of the place today were the ordinances written to protect the open feeling and suburban character of Norwood Park by regulating land use as the suburb grew. While many early suburbs started out like picturesque Norwood Park, few have survived to this day without drastic changes. The first laws of the village set out to protect the picturesque character of the community with strict laws governing land use that bear some semblance to the zoning controls currently in place in the community. These ordinances balanced the rights of individual property against the good of the village as whole.
The original manuscript ordinances of the Norwood Park local government from incorporation in 1874 to annexation to Chicago in 1893 are available on microfilm at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University Library. Most of the original documents are kept there as well in addition to receipts and maps that do not appear on the microfilm reels.
An important public amenity in early suburbs was the sidewalk. Ordinance Number Fifteen specified the exact size and construction of the plank sidewalks permissible in the Village down to the size of the nails used. It also required that "noxious weeds" be kept clear from the parkways and corners around the walks .. Ordinance Number Five required anyone wishing to divide a lot in the village to apply to the Board of Trustees for a review of their plans. No subdivision could take place without a certificate of approval from the board. Today one of the distinct characteristics of Norwood Park is its streetscape. The founders of Norwood Park recognized the value of the curved and wide streets, and protected this feature in an Ordinance Number Three "Concerning Streets, Their Use, and Obstruction." With fifteen subsections it is one of the most exacting ordinances, and it includes provisions for stiff fines and confiscation of property in some cases. Despite the title, the law covered not just streets, but also alleys, and most significantly the "public grounds," or parks in the village.
This law addressed the issues brought on by construction and growth of the suburb. Streets could not be used to store building materials, carriages or wagons could not be parked on the street for more than one hour plus, no building could be constructed that extended onto public grounds or alleys. The law required owners of fences, porches, or steps that extended onto the parkway or alley to remove them. The street commissioner was authorized to remove these nuisances if the owners failed to comply. Anyone wishing to move a building or remove a building had to apply to the Board of Trustees for permission. The Board reserved the right to impose terms, conditions, and restrictions on the plans "for the interest of the village."
The Village continued to add to its ordinances after 1874, but these earliest laws established the priority of regulating the visual character of Norwood Park as it grew. Despite their short sway, these early laws played an important role in ensuring the survival of Norwood Park's character to this day by establishing a priority for protecting the picturesque streetscape. In 1893 these ordinances were replaced when the City of Chicago annexed Norwood Park.
Norwood Park Investors
Many of the earliest histories written about Chicago, like A. T. Andreas' History of Cook County (1884) tend to be biographical in nature. Many of these texts include biographical sketches of the investors behind Norwood Park. John F. Eberhart, one of the leaders of the Norwood Park Land and Building Association, appears in many of these.
The description of Eberhart's life provides a picture of the type of people involved in the creation of Norwood Park. At age 26 he came to Chicago in 1855 from Pennsylvania. Eberhart began working as a teacher, and soon became the Cook County school commissioner. He pursued a prominent career in establishing the free public school system in Illinois. In addition to this profession, Eberhart became wealthy in the booming real estate in Chicago and its suburbs. At one time he owned 3,000 acres of land.
One biography lists some of the members of the NPLBA: He was the prime mover in establishing Norwood Park, recognizing the fact that there was the highest land on the Northwestern Railroad between the Lake and the Mississippi river and believing therefore it would make a desirable place for a suburb. He obtained the refusal of about eight hundred acres associated in this undertaking with other prominent men, including T. H. Seymore, James E. Tyler, John H. Wrenn, George Fields, Leonard Hodges, Rev. Dr. W.W. Everett and others. They organized the corporation and established the town and after considerable difficulty were instrumental in securing commutation rates on the railroad.
The biographical sketch also describes Eberhart's religious, social and cultural affiliations. He was an early member of the abolition movement, and served as president of the Board of Trustee's at the People's Church. He enjoyed outdoor sports and was a promoter of the YMCA. All of Eberhart's personal interests place him squarely in the popular social movements of nineteenth century America. Norwood Park also reflects some of the same values.
In another early quasi-history, entitled The Leading Men of Chicago, another investor in Norwood Park is highlighted: James E. Tyler. Tyler was a banker in Chicago who invested in both commercial and residential real estate. Besides investing in the NPLBA, Tyler was a founding trustee of the University of Chicago, and a prominent member of the First Baptist Church on Wabash.
Although primarily residential, Norwood Park has long been home to several institutions like the Norwegian Old People's Home (1896), the Danish Old People's Home (1906) and the Passionist Monastery (1904). As mentioned above, a Christian publishing company had a short existence in Norwood Park in the 1870's. The Norwood Press issued a newspaper called The Advent Christian Times for two years before moving down into the city.
The Design of Norwood Park
In 1907 the Norwood Park Improvement Club published a promotional brochure entitled Norwood Park: The Ideal Suburb. The brochure boasts that Norwood Park "was originally laid out by the noted landscape designer of the World's Columbian Exposition," yet the name of the designer is not given. This quote has given rise to much speculation that perhaps Frederick Law Olmsted designed Norwood Park. The date of Norwood Park's plotting and its curvilinear streets clearly show similarities to Olmsted's suburban plans, and the influence of the picturesque landscape. While Norwood Park's streetscape and parks bear resemblance to places like Olmsted's design for Riverside, Illinois, research of Norwood Park history and Frederick Law Olmsted has not turned up any link between the two so far.
In 1986, the president of the Norwood Park Historical Society visited the Olmsted Archives in Brookline, Massachusetts to find a link to Norwood Park. At that time, the Olmsted papers had not been cataloged, and no reference was found. Since 1986 the papers have been cataloged. In February 2000, archivist Michele Clark at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site asked if there was any reference to Norwood Park in the catalog. The archivist did not find any mention of Norwood Park.
The archivist suggested that the reference to a designer of the World's Columbian Expo could be any of a number of people. At the time of Olmsted's design of the Wooded Island at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, there were 40 people working at his firm. In addition, Olmsted's landscape design for the World's Columbian Expo was for a limited part of the fair grounds: other landscape designers worked there as well. The archivist provided a list of three names of people who worked with Frederick Law Olmsted's firm during the Exposition; Heinze, Calkins, and P.R. J. The archivist searched for these names in the earliest records of Norwood Park government, but these names do not appear in the village Trustee's Minutes or the Abstract of Title to Norwood Park.
The archivist did uncover the names of individuals who were paid to survey portions of Norwood Park, but it is not clear if any of these designed the overall plan of the circle. The Abstract of Title contains an entry from 1869 that states the NPLBA paid a J.T. Foster (a prominent landscape designer for the Chicago Park District) and George H. Frost to survey and subdivide a portion of the land. A T. Andreas' History of Cook County states that Lemuel P. Swift from the firm of Forbes and Swift, surveyed and plotted the village of Norwood Park. The archivist conducted some research on these names to determine if they worked for Olmsted, but no connection was found. The scope of this project did not permit in depth examination of these names; further research may reveal more information.
While Olmsted does not appear to have had a role in Norwood Park, another prominent landscape architect did. Jens Jensen was a pioneer landscape designer associated with Prairie school of architecture who used native plants to create designs that unified architecture and landscape. The Jens Jensen archives, kept at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, contain three drawings dated 1906 for one of the parks in Norwood Park. Copies of these drawings are available from the library, and may reveal valuable information about at least one of the parks spaces.
Annexation to Chicago
In 1893 Norwood Park voted to be annexed to the City of Chicago to take advantages of the city's water and sewer infrastructure. Annexation brought a contradictory mix of benefits and burdens to Norwood Park residents who moved to the suburbs from cities where they had become dependent on service networks like water, sewer, gas, electricity, and telephone. It was difficult for early suburbs to provide all these services for the increasing number of people moving to them. Annexation of Norwood Park and other suburbs like Austin and Rogers Park put the city of Chicago in debt and it took decades for the city to finally provide all the services to Norwood Park.
Annexation transformed the cities and suburbs alike. Most annexed suburbs develop a neighborhood identity. Norwood Park demonstrates the annexation theme, as well as illustrates some difference. Rather than completely merging into the city, it has maintained some measure of its suburban feel and identity. While most annexed suburbs meld into cities as neighborhoods, Norwood Park is an exception. Rather than completely merging into the city, it has maintained some measure of its suburban feel and identity. One explanation for this may be that the plan of Norwood Park with its open spaces, views, and trees has created a sense of place and community here that other community's lack.
After annexation to the city of Chicago, the population of Norwood Park grew steadily up to the 1960's. To accommodate population growth many of the larger lots in the neighborhood were subdivided an infilled with smaller houses from the 1930's through 1960's. The automobile changed suburbs, many of the older railroad suburbs changed to respond to the automobile. Fortunately, the distinct streetscape and open spaces have survived in Norwood Park. These features provide a visual link to the earliest vision for Norwood Park as an escape from the city to a place that symbolized a village in an idealized natural setting. The planners of Norwood Park set out to create a tranquil community with easy access to nature and the city. These qualities survive to this day, and should be looked at again as a model for a community that works.
† Richard Caragol, Norwood Park Historic District, Cook County, IL, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.