The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently came out with a spiffy new product that publishes PDF format topographical maps of various locations in the United States through much of the 20th century. The maps show streets, depict the topography, and show human-made features individually or represent them in densely developed areas by a color shading scheme.
There are ten different Morton Grove maps in the series, mostly post WW II. I downloaded maps from 1900, 1929, 1953 and 1963, and cropped down to the respective areas that encompass Morton Grove. These will appear in images below. But first, we need to look at a couple of baselines to get some perspective. Here is a high level schematic showing Morton Grove's borders today.
|Morton Grove modern borders.|
When I was a kid, we referred to everything west of the river as the west side. The part of town east of the river and north of Dempster we called the north side. The area south of Dempster and east of the river, which was where Morton Grove was originally settled, we called the south side. East side was not in our lexicon. I will maintain that terminology in the following discussion.
|Morton Grove, Illinois, 2013 land use map.|
To give a current reference point, I looked at the above 2013 land use map published by a village planning consultant. Single family residential is white, multi-family residential is orange, commercial is scarlet, industrial is mauve, institutional (schools, churches and municipal) is blue, open space (parks and forest preserve) is green and vacant is light blue.
Note there are very few light blue blots. For most practical purposes, Morton Grove is fully developed.
In contrast, in 1900 there were only about 100 buildings (black dots below) in all of what encompasses Morton Grove today.
|USGS 1900 Morton Grove topographic map.|
The 1900 map shows many of today's main traffic arteries already in place. Oakton Street extends west from Niles Center (Skokie today) to Harlem. Lincoln Avenue winds its way through Skokie, before skirting the Morton Grove train station and terminating at Dempster. Dempster is a completed through street. Theobold Road connects Lincoln with Dempster and Harms Road. Harms Road intersects Church St./Beckwith Road, which terminates at Waukegan Avenue. By the number of buildings, Waukegan appears to have been a major artery -- Shermer less so. Golf Road was not yet built between Harms Road and Shermer Road. Members approaching Glen View Club by motorized or horse drawn vehicle, had to turn north on Narranganset Road from Beckwith. The only roads which we would call residential streets today were on the south side of town, just north of Lincoln. By the looks of it, the three side streets approximate School, Fernald and Callie today.
The 1910s though the 1920s were boom years. It shows in the 1929 Morton Grove map. Poehlman Bros. nursery structures, primarily greenhouses, blanket the area now occupied by Harrer Park, and large swaths of land on the south side of Lincoln. There are more than one hundred new homes in the area bounded by School Street, Lincoln Avenue and Dempster. Notably, the current day street grid is mostly built out on the north side and the south side, though there are very few homes on the north side, or east of Austin Avenue on the south side.
|USGS 1929 Morton Grove topographic map.|
The new streets on the north and south sides, with few or no dwellings, indicate that real estate speculators got ahead of the game, hoping to cash in on the real estate bubble that expanded throughout the roaring twenties. They would be sorely disappointed. The stock market crash in October 1929 set off a series of events, which burst that real estate bubble, and caused the decade long Great Depression.
Living on the north side as a youth, I recall that medallions imprinted in the concrete on sidewalk street corners had dates like 1928 and 1929. For the most part, these sidewalks, and the attendant streets, served vacant properties for the next 15 plus years, as first the Depression, and then World War II, pushed off the next wave of development. I remember my parents saying that when they moved into our home on the corner of Austin Avenue and Davis Street around 1949 or 1950 that they could see clear out the back window, all the way to where Edens Expressway was under construction (it opened in 1951).
In keeping with the Chicago tradition of naming things after people, the Edens Expressway was named for Col. William G. Edens, a banker and early advocate of paved roads, who was described as being the man who took,``Illinois out of the mud`` because of his sponsorship of the state`s first highway bond issue in 1918. Edens, retired and 88, was one of the five men who cut the ribbon to open the expressway in 1951.
It was hailed then as a wondrous new way to travel, and it ran from the Lake-Cook County line south to Foster and Cicero Avenues. After that, it was every man for himself on the remainder of the trip in and out of downtown Chicago.In some parts of the grid, the 1929 sidewalks were completed but not the streets. One area where this happened was the half block sections of McVicker, Meade and Moody north of Davis. Today, that half block of McVicker is developed (see below) with homes on both sides of the street. The Meade half block (see below) has homes on the east side; the west side is given over to the forest preserve.
The last half block of Moody never developed and is now entirely in the forest preserve (see below). Yet the sidewalks remain -- covered by 85 years of detritus and sprouting all manner of growth from cracks and crevices. If you look carefully, you can actually see in this 2013 Google earth satellite view, the Moody sidewalks north of Davis Street are still there, by the way the tree growth is aligned.
|Half blocks of North Moody, North Mead and North McVicker, Google earth 2013 satellite view.|
And in this Google street view photo of the end of Moody Avenue, across Davis, the Moody sidewalk crosses the Davis sidewalk and disappears into the woods.
If you walk into that little corner of the forest preserve today, and dig a few inches down with a trowel or a loose branch, you will find the sidewalks are still there -- I guarantee it.
In 1953, the area north of Church Street on the north side remained undeveloped, as did much of the land along Moody and Mead north of Dempster. The greenhouses were gone. Park View School did not exist. A two block area northwest of the corner of Austin and Dempster was green space.
|USGS 1953 Morton Grove topographical map.|
The south side is fully developed in a area bounded by Lincoln, Dempster and Theobald. The slice of land inside of Theobold, Lincoln and the Edens Expressway is largely undeveloped -- I would guess it was still farmed to some degree. Large manufacturing buildings are beginning to appear in the southern industrial near the railroad tracks.
By 1963 Morton Grove had expanded west and filled in to appear much as it does today. On the north side, the area north of Church Street is developed and Mansfield Park is carved out for public use. Moody, Mead and McVicker north of Dempster are built out. Harrer Park (mislabeled Harper Park in the 1963 map) is laid out and Park View School is built.
|USGS 1963 Morton Grove, topographic map.|
On the south side, the Theobold, Lincoln, Edens triangle is developed. Infill development has completed in the area south of Lincoln and north of Oakton. The same holds for the area east of Edens. The south industrial park has grown dramatically. Although not within Morton Grove's boundaries, we can see that Niles West is built.
|The Daily Herald, August 24, 1996|
Please consider going to the USGS website to conduct your own look at the past. There are 10 historical Morton Grove maps in total. I've selected but 4 here for review. You are welcome to leave your comments below on how Morton Grove has changed and developed over time.
January 24, 2015: Here is a 1938 aerial photo we subsequently discovered, clearly showing the Moody street extension into forest preserve property.