The History of Forest Glen

Forest Glen is a small community of about 550 families on  the Northwest side of Chicago. Its southern boundary is Foster Avenue. Forest Glen Avenue forms the northern boundary and then  turns to become its western length. Cicero Avenue borders the neighborhood on the east. Forest Glen’s history has played a unique part in Chicago’s heritage.

The Pottawatomie Indians inhabited the area in the 17th century. These Indians migrated to this area because of its plentiful virgin forests  and natural resources. They settled along the northern branch of the Chicago River, which flows due east through the northern  section of the Glen. The Indians lived in round or oval wigwams, a framework of  saplings covered with slabs of elm bark. Birch bark canoes would be used on the  lake and river. Besides raising corn, they were hunters and fishers. They  buried their dead along the banks of the river. As late as the 1920s, Indians  were returning to Forest Glen to venerate their ancestors.

As a result of the Fort  Dearborn massacre in 1812, all Indian  groups in and around Chicago  had to leave the area. The Pottawatomie Indians had to leave their lands, even  though they didn’t participate in the uprising. Now Forest Glen was ready for  white habitation. The first man given claim to Forest Glen was Billy Caldwell,  a man of mixed heritage born in Canada  around 1780, whose Indian name was Sauganash. His mother was a Pottawatomie Indian and his father was an Irish officer in the British Army stationed in Detroit. The early days of  his life were spent in the frontier country around Detroit. He acquired his knowledge of French  and English from the wandering Jesuit missionaries, and those language skills  later proved quite an advantage to him as leader of his people in negotiating  with the white man.

Sauganash served as chief advisor to Tecumseh during the  troublesome years from 1807 to 1813 when Tecumseh was killed. All his power and  influence were directed toward stopping the horrors of savage warfare and restraining  the ferocity of the Indians. When the Black hawk Wars swept the frontier  district, he and Shabone, another Indian chief, made a record trip to Chief Big Foot at Big Foot Lake (now Lake Geneva) and were instrumental in preventing his entrance into a conflict that threatened complete annihilation of the white settlers in this  territory. For a time, Big Foot’s decision was in doubt. The two weary Indian  chiefs then hastened back to Fort Dearborn and gave warning  so that messengers could be dispatched for aid. Later, at the time of the Fort  Dearborn massacre in 1812, Sauganash was instrumental in saving the lives of the John Kinzie family as well as those of other settlers. Caldwell (Chief Sauganash received the land that includes modern-day Edgebrook, Sauganash and  Forest Glen from the U.S. government in recognition of his services as a mediator between the government and the Indians.

Caldwell and his wife moved into his forest land to live  with the Indians. The 1829 treaty, signed at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, awarded Caldwell 1,600 acres north  of the Indian Boundary Line, which marked the outer edge of the land grant allowing the Illinois and Michigan Canal to be built. The Indian Boundary line is marked today by the line of Rogers Avenue, Forest Glen Avenue  and Forest Preserve Drive across the north end of Chicago, and modern old-timers in Forest Glen can remember a bent tree trunk, used as a boundary marker, at Rogers and Forest Glen Avenues. A meeting of the tribes was held in Caldwell’s Reserve under the Old Treaty Elm, which stood at the corner of Rogers, Kilbourn and  Caldwell Avenues until it died and was cut down in 1933. It was a great loss to the people of Chicago as well as the residents of Forest Glen. Marking the exact spot today is a bronze  marker reading:

“Old Treaty Elm. The  tree which stood here until 1933, marked the Northern Boundary of the Fort Dearborn Reservation, the trail to Lake Geneva, the center of Billy Caldwell’s (Chief Sauganash) Reservation, and the site of the Indian Treaty of 1835. Erected by Chicago’s Charter Jubilee. Authenticated by Chicago  Historic Society, 1937.”

Under this old tree the U.S. government gave the Indians their “payment,” and arranged for their departure to their new homes, located in the land “towards the setting sun.”

Caldwell and his wife built their home on the brow of the  hill on the north side of the river, near what is now Devon Avenue and the river. The name given to this spot by the early settlers was “Up at the clearing,” and it was thought of with great respect. According to Laura Adams, whose father came to the area in 1858, Caldwell managed to lose claim to the property and it reverted back to the government.

Caldwell Avenue  was a “half road,” extending as far as Grosse Point Road from Cicero Avenue. A favorite Sunday afternoon treat was a buggy ride out Caldwell Road, gathering hazelnuts from the bushes as the riders sat in the buggy.

The second owner of Forest Glen was Captain William Hazelton. He acquired the land as his Civil War settlement in 1866. As soon as the war was over, Captain Hazelton began cultivating his newly acquired land. He had a humble house and barn located north of Elston Avenue. It stood on a lane located roughly where Lawler Avenue now lies in the Forest Glen section of Chicago. He built the Glen’s first farm and orchard, becoming the chief supplier of cherries for the Chicago market. Hazelton built the first grocery store on the west end of Elston Avenue in 1865, near the crossing of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. He established the community of Forest Glen, near Elston and Forest Glen Avenue in the early 1880s.

Hazelton, William Gray of the Schurz High School area and Lyman Budlong of the Budlong Woods area were members of the Jefferson Township committee that opposed creation of Norwood Park Township in the 1870s. The annexation  of Jefferson Township brought the old Caldwell Reserve into the city of Chicago. But, it took the vision of Arthur Dixon, a retired Chicago alderman, to trigger the first residential subdivision in the forest in 1894.

A Swedish family, the Andersons, lived in the area with Captain Hazelton’s family. The Captain and Mr. Anderson were good friends, before and during the war, and decided to live as neighbors in the Glen. Captain Hazelton decided to start a “Christian community,” and with his  neighbor’s help began the task of establishing a small commonwealth. First, they went to the banks of the river and gathered as many elm and oak seeds as they could carry. By planting these seeds in an orderly fashion, they laid out the streets of the community. Captain Hazelton had become a subdivider.

Next, the Captain began to set up Christian religious life  in the community. Following his own beliefs, he excluded Catholics. He built a Congregational Church for his own faith and gave property to Mr. Anderson so that he might build a Swedish Methodist Church for his faith. This Methodist church, organized in the 1870s, was the oldest in  Illinois until it was torn down and replaced by the Forest Glen Funeral Home in 1976. The original Congregational Church, at the same spot the present Congregational Church stands today at the corner of Lawler and Catalpa, was destroyed by fire  in 1955.

The Congregationalists, being primarily of Puritan extract,  were a severe and austere group of people. Captain Hazelton conformed to these beliefs in accepting families into his community and in establishing his civil laws. No smoking, drinking or carousing was allowed in his community. Before accepting any family as part of the group, the Captain would carefully interview them and either accept or reject them as he saw fit. This practice helped account for the slow development of the community in its relation to the city itself. Forest Glen was one of the last neighborhoods to be annexed as part of Chicago, in 1889. Captain  Hazelton was still screening possible occupants of Forest Glen at the time of his death in 1918.

President Teddy Roosevelt organized the U.S. Forest Service in 1906, and as a part of this conservation program, some of Captain Hazelton’s land was taken back by the government. Today those lands make up the Forest Glen, Indian Boundary, Billy Caldwell, LaBagh Woods and Gompers Park forest preserves.

Captain Hazelton was a shrewd businessman, and in an attempt to increase his market for cherries, finally persuaded the railroad to run a line through his property. This helped the population to increase and resulted in more home building. A story believed to be true is that Captain Hazelton’s deal with the railroad specified that if the train stop in Forest Glen were ever to be removed that ownership of the land would revert to Hazelton’s heirs.

By 1920, the Forest Glen Forest Preserve had become the center of social events. All parties and celebrations took place there. It was  like the town square. Although part of the city, Forest Glen was (and in many  ways still resembles) a small rural town. Everybody knew everyone else and many of its people were born, lived, married and died in the glen. It was just too difficult to travel into the city. In fact, in the mid-1920s, there were still direct roads in the community.

After the Depression of 1932, a new man was put in charge of social activities in the forest preserves. He promoted carousing and drinking for his own personal gain. The people of the Glen no longer went to the Preserves for their social life. Worried about the problem, a son of Mr. Anderson tore down his livery stable and general store and built a park in its place. He hoped that people of the Glen would use this area as their new center of social activity. However, his plan failed because the park was too small to satisfy all the needs of the district This park stands today near the corner of Elston and Forest Glen avenues and is a playground for children.

A court order finally outlawed public drinking, but the preserves never again became the center of activity. A men’s pinochle club, leery of other unscrupulous men causing trouble in the Glen, decided to form a community club, which continues today as the Forest Glen Community Club.

In an effort to reestablish the forest preserves as a community social center, men of the neighborhood (with the help of the 45th Ward Office) built an ice skating rink in the forest preserves in December 1963 for the children and adults of the Glen. In 1970s, the Community Club started a campaign to save its numerous Dutch Elm trees from the threat of disease, but to no avail. By 1974, almost 600 trees were replaced, with several varieties represented so that no disease could again destroy all the trees.

At the end of the 20th century, Indians are still buried along the banks of the Chicago River. Captain Hazelton’s and Mr. Anderson’s houses still stand. Ancient elms survive in small numbers. Part of Chicago’s colorful heritage still lives in Forest Glen and creates a sense of belonging to a fine community. Even its streets bear the market of history. Street names like Cicero Avenue, named after the Roman orator who opposed the crowning of emperors and favored a republic; Edens Expressway, named for William G. Edens, a banker and pioneer road developer; Elston Avenue was once an Indian trial but now memorializes  Daniel Elston, a soap manufacturer and alderman of the 1840s. Other names like Foster, an important doctor of the early 1830s, and Milwaukee Avenue which  means “good earth” or “good country” also show the spirit of the people from times long past.

Our homes are Midwestern eclectic with cottages, bungalows, ranch houses, English Tudors and Georgians as well as an occasional nod to row housing. Much of the neighborhood housing was developed in the 1940s, and it was not uncommon in the 1990s for the original owners to still occupy their homes. Forest Glen has not won a National Heritage designation, but there are indeed such dear landmarks as the “windmill  house” and Captain Hazelton’s (still so dubbed despite the name of the current owners) once imposing residence. Our turn-of-the-century train station fell to the wrecker’s ball as did Mrs. Beaver’s house and the Little Red Schoolhouse on Bryn Mawr Ave., but they remain monuments in our minds.

Summer brings us to the field for picnics, softball, volleyball and camaraderie. As a community, we’ve gathered on the Fourth of July for a parade since the mid-1950s and have often held a picnic afterward in the Forest Glen Woods.

It is no longer a far piece and difficult journey to  downtown Chicago. You will meet us at work downtown, or at the beach, a museum or concert, and when you ask: “Where are you from?” you will note that jaunty lift of the chin  when we reply, “I AM FROM FOREST GLEN.”

Created from papers received from: The Chicago Historical Society; Rev. Winfield Hall, former pastor of the Forest Glen Congregational Church; William Schueler of LaPorte Avenue; and Mary Wiedlin and Bob Buhl of Balmoral Avenue.

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