History of Beverly Hills - Morgan Park

The Land

The land upon which Beverly Hills - Morgan Park stands is geologically some of the most significant in the city, being the spot of highest elevation and the only area of Chicago that can, to some degree, be termed hilly.  These hills were the result of a continental glacier's erosion and deposition.  Early settlers named these hills, which actually form a ridge, Blue Island Ridge.  For when they saw the ridge from a distance it looked like an island floating above the flat surrounding terrain and appeared to be covered by a blue mist.  In fact, some historians say that at the end of the last glacial period, the ridge actually was an island in the large body of water that covered Chicago and the remnant of that body of water is Lake Michigan.

History of Beverly Hills - Morgan Park as presented to the National Register of Historic Places

The earliest history of the Ridge Historic District is inter-twined with that of the Pottawotamie Indians, who used the elevated land for hunting and encampent and as a section of the north-south trail uniting their nation. This trail, later called the Vincennes Road, was in early use to connect the white outposts at Forts Vincennes and Dearborn and after the Pottawotamies ceded their land rights to the government in 1833 and were subsequently removed, it continued to play an early important role in the city's settlement.

The first permanent white inhabitants of the disrict were DeWitt Lane, who located near the present intersection of 103rd and Seeley in 1832, and Norman Rexford, who in 1834 opened a tavern where the Vincennes Road descended the ridge near 91st and Pleasant. Rexford left the following year, and it was not until 1839, when John Blackstone purchased 3,000 acres at the north end of the ridge, that settlement may be said to have begun in earnest. The extent of this earliest settlement is difficult to determine, but was sufficient to support a school before 1844/

In 1844, Thomas Morgan assembled the entire ridge from 91st to 115th streets, including Blackstone's holdings, and settled at the latter's homestead. From this time, when the ridge and vicinity became subject to ever increasing agricultural use, until the late 1860's and the beginnings of purely residential exploitation, the progress of settlement was quite even throughout the area. Later development, more dependent on railroad and land company policies, followed a tract by tract pattern reflected in the variety of subdivision names: Morgan Park, Washington Heights, Tracy, Walden, Longwood, Upwood, and Beverly Hills.

As was the case in most of Chicago's outlying neighborhoods and older suburbs, serious residential growth in the Ridge District was a direct result of improved transportation, usually in the form of railroads, as here. In 1852, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad located its main track through the swampy lowland east of the ridge. Since the Rock Island orginally provided no service to the ridge, the limited increase in activity that followed was more likely the result of the 1854 relocation and improvement of the Vincennes Road parallel to the railroad. In 1859, however, the Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, and St. Louis Railway (later the Panhandle and now part of the Penn Central) ran tracks that crossed the Rock Island at Tracy (103rd St.) and a settlement arose at the junction. Both railroads soon developed service for the residents, the P., C., & St. L. in 1864-65 and the Rock Island in 1869-70 with the laying of its accomodation or "dummy" line. The latter was pivotal in the growth of the district, particualry after 1889 was the spur extended further north along its present route.

On August 1, 1868, Thomas Morgan's lands were purchased from his heirs by F. H. Winston, who subsequentlyy conveyed them to the newly formed Blue Island Land and Building Company on April 26, 1869. Winston and the company's other principals, notably George C. Walker, immediately embarked on a systematic program of subdivision and settlement. Although the company's holdings embraced virtually the entire ridge and eastern lowlands from 91st to 119th streets and were first platted entirety as the Washington Heights subdivision July 10, 1869, the section from 107th to Lyons (119th) was quickly separated and subdivided as Morgan Park.

While settlement along the ridge north of 107th was mostly sporadic and sparse, Morgan Park embarked on an immediate period of growth, partly sustained by persons displaced in the Great Fire of 1871. Streets were designed and laid out in 1869-70 by a British designer, Thomas F. Nichols; lots were autioned at frequent sales during 1870-73; grading, draining of low land, and sewer construction were begun in 1873. Many settlers during this first wave located on Prospect and around the Rock Island depot at 111th Street.

Morgan Park was incorporated as a village in 1882. Annexation to Chicago was debated beginning in the mid-1890's and culminated in the occupation of the village by Chicago police after the disputed and subsequently invalidated election of 1911. In 1914, however, the question was finally settled at the polls and Morgan Park was annexed to the city.

Early growth of the village was stimulated by policy pursued by George Walker and the land company to attract educational institutions to locate there. Most significant was the Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary, which was pursuaded to move from Hyde Park in 1877 with a donation of five acres of land. The Seminary was the focal point in the community until its absorption in 1892, into the University of Chicago, the new institution it had helped create. Mount Vernon Military Academy (later Morgan Park Military Academy and now simply Morgan Park Academy) was founded in 1873 and served as the preparatory department of the University of Chicago from 1892 until 1907. A third institution, the Chicago Female College was established by Gilber Thayer in 1875. It was absorbed into the University's preparatory department and remained a part of the Academy after 1907. The Society of the American Institute of Hebrew, founded in 1881 by William Rainey Harper, was early a force in the study of Hebrew and the Old Testament.

Another attraction for Morgan Park settlement was the accessibility of employment. The Rock Island railroad, itself a source of employment in the village, also provided easy transit for the professional classes to Chicago's commercial center. A major employer was established in Morgan Park in 1887, when the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works located east of the District on Vincennes Avenue.

During the 1890's and early 1900's, surface lines from Chicago served the community on Vincennes, Western between 111th and 119th, and on 111th further improving the transportation system and provoking ever-increasing growth. This reached its peak in 1920's, with the general residential pattern of the community being well established and residential maturity achieved by 1929. Newer construction, though significant, has been most noticeable in the areas directly to the east and west of the district and has had little effect on the character of the area as one of substantial single-family houses set in an attractive environment.

That part of the District north of 107th street, now know variously as Beverly and Beverly Hills, was orginally incorporated in 1874 as part of the Village of Washington Heights. At that time, though settlement was mainly east of the Panhandle railroad in the present community of Washington Heights, Prospect Avenue, as laid out and subdivided by the Blue Island Land and Building Company, was already a major residential street. Tracy Avenue (103rd) also shared in this early growth, particularly near the older settlement at the Rock Island-Panhandle crossing.

Subsequent development, exclusively residential, was at first determined by two factors: the passenger stations along the Rock Island dummy line and the high north-south ridge just west of Longwood. The peak of the ridge attracted affluent settlers of the professional classes and developed as an exclusive residential section north from 107th to about 97th. To the east, small, more modest settlements arose around the stations, especially those at Walden (99th) and Tracy (103rd).

In 1889, the northern part of the community from 87th to 95th was annexed to Chicago as part of the Town of Lake; the following year, the remainder south to 107th was added as part of Washington Heights. Development continued steadily, if uneventfully, and by 1914, when Morgan Park was annexed, settlement in Beverly was relatively dense from the ridge east to the Rock Island tracks and between 93rd and 96th and 102nd and 106th as far west as the line of Damen. During the first World War and the following decade, Beverly experienced a building boom that led it to maturity by 1930. Little vacant land remained within the boundaries of the District, the major exception being the northernmost section of the ridge, now a county forest preserve. Most recent construction has been limited to previously undeveloped areas immediately east and west of Western Avenue. Like Morgan Park in the southern part of the district, Beverly has retained a strong quality of residential gentility enhanced by pleasant natural surroundings.