A Brief History of Englewood

By Chanel Polk and Mick Dumke Chicago Reporter Dec 1999

1840: A settler named Wilcox claims land in a swampy prairie area seven miles south of what is now the Loop. Part of the area lies on a ridge that would become Vincennes Avenue.

1852: Railroad companies begin laying tracks and building stations in the area. The intersection of 63rd and LaSalle streets takes on the name "Chicago Junction" or "Junction Grove." An early resident reports looking south from what is today 66th Street—and seeing nothing but wetlands.

1868: Henry B. Lewis, a settler and merchant, suggests changing the area’s name from Junction Grove to Englewood. Residents hope the change will improve the lower-class image of the railroad community.

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Cook County Normal

School faculty, circa 1889.

 (Photo courtesy of the

Chicago Historical Society)

1868: The Cook County Normal School—now Chicago State University—opens on 10 acres of land between 67th and 69th streets, from Stewart Avenue to Halsted Street. The land was donated to Cook County by real estate developer L.W. Beck. The school draws middle-class professionals and business owners.

1871: The Great Chicago Fire forces city residents to look for housing in outlying regions. With railroad connections to downtown, Englewood becomes a prime location. By 1872, developers lay out streets between Wentworth Avenue and Halsted Street and from 55th to 71st streets.

1873: Englewood High School opens at 68th Street and Stewart Avenue.

1880s: Englewood’s black population climbs from 26 to about 600 but still remains less than 1 percent of the total. Most black residents are railroad and domestic workers who settle south of Garfield Boulevard near Stewart Avenue, near Loomis Boulevard and 63rd Street, or near Ogden Park at 67th Street and Racine Avenue. The latter site was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.

1889: The City of Chicago annexes the south suburban areas of Hyde Park and the Town of Lake, which includes Englewood. City leaders hope to push Chicago’s population over 1 million and pressure the federal government to name it host of the 1893 World’s Fair, according to Dominic A. Pacyga, a history professor at Columbia College.

1890s: Increasing numbers of Swedish, German and Irish workers, including many stockyard laborers, move in from the Bridgeport and Back of the Yards neighborhoods. Englewood benefits from a construction surge tied to the World’s Fair in Jackson Park.

1895: Henry H. Holmes, owner of an 80-room mansion on Wallace and 63rd streets, is arrested and charged with murder. He eventually confesses to torturing and killing 28 people in his home, making him Chicago’s first serial killer.

1901: The Becker-Ryan Building opens at 63rd and Halsted streets. The multi-level shopping center houses stores, a saloon and a Chinese restaurant.

1905: Seven Canadian nuns found St. Bernard’s Hotel Dieu, now St. Bernard Hospital

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In 1915, shoppers prepare to board the rapid transit train. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society)

1907: Construction ends on the Englewood branch of the Jackson Park Rapid Transit Line, drawing shoppers to the community.

1920: The population of Englewood hits 86,619. One-fifth are immigrants, mostly from Sweden, Ireland and Germany.

1930: Nearly 99 percent of the residents in Englewood and 97 percent in West Englewood are white. In both areas, more than one in five residents was born abroad.

1934: The Becker-Ryan Building, now owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co., is closed to make way for a new, $1.5 million, block-long Sears store.

1935: The 63rd Street shopping district brings in $30 million in annual business, according to newspaper accounts, making it the city’s largest retail district outside the Loop. Nevertheless, many Englewood banks and small businesses close during the Depression, and housing values fall.

1940: Englewood’s population grows to nearly 93,000 and West Englewood’s to 64,000. Irish, Germans and Swedes remain the largest ethnic groups, but the immigrant population falls below 20 percent. African Americans make up about 2 percent of Englewood and 4 percent of West Englewood.

1949: When blacks attend a union gathering at the home of a Jewish resident at 5643 S. Peoria St., a rumor circulates that the home is being sold to a black family. For three days, mobs of up to 10,000 people attack blacks and "Jews, Communists, and … University of Chicago meddlers," according to historian Arnold R. Hirsch in the book, "Making the Second Ghetto."

1950: The Great Migration brought African Americans from the South to Chicago; the city’s population is now nearly 14 percent black. African Americans make up 10 percent of Englewood and 6 percent of West Englewood. Meanwhile, the foreign-born population falls to about 12 percent in Englewood and 14 percent in West Englewood.

White Flight

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Notes: Data for Englewood and West Englewood. In 1960, U.S. Census workers began asking respondents to identify their race and ethnicity. Previously, race and ethnicity were based on observation. The 1970 white population is estimated. Source: U.S. Census

1950s: Many Irish residents who once lived in the northern section of Englewood move southwest near 71st Street, while Swedes and Germans move to the Morgan Park and Beverly Hills neighborhoods.

1957: The Triden League of Englewood, an interracial crime prevention group, forms an armed, private police force to patrol the area, according to press reports. Led by former Municipal Judge John H. Lyle, the group accuses Chicago police of ignoring vice in the neighborhood. After a showdown with Police Commissioner Timothy J. O’Connor, the private force agrees to disarm.

Late 1950s: Thousands of South Side residents are displaced by construction of the South Expressway, later renamed the Dan Ryan. Many displaced blacks move into Englewood, according to Pacyga.

1960: Englewood’s black population hits 67,216—about 69 percent of the neighborhood’s total. In West Englewood, blacks are 12 percent of the population. Most live near 63rd Street, between Racine Avenue and Loomis Boulevard. Family median income in West Englewood hovers near the city’s median of $6,738, but Englewood’s is 17 percent lower, at $5,579.

1964: The Chicago Department of Urban Renewal designates the shopping center at 63rd and Halsted streets an urban renewal area. Developers make plans to convert the area into a pedestrian mall.

1969: Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicates a revitalized Englewood shopping concourse at 63rd and Halsted streets. But critics say the development exacerbates the area’s commercial decline. "If they’d maintained it like they have the 31st or 35th and Halsted areas in Bridgeport, [Englewood] would be a thriving community today," recalls historian and longtime community leader James O. Stampley. "Daley wanted to turn it into a shopping mall rather than leave it as ma and pa stores. It’s never been the same."

1970: Blacks account for 96 percent of Englewood’s population, which falls by 8,000 to 89,595. In West Englewood, 48 percent are African American. More than one in five Englewood residents lives below the poverty line, as does one in 10 in West Englewood.

1971: Wilson Junior College, opened in 1935 and renamed Kennedy-King College in 1969, moves from 71st Street and Stewart Avenue to an 18-acre campus at 67th Street and Wentworth Avenue.

1971: United Block Clubs of Englewood, a multiracial organization dedicated to improving the area, is established.

1971: Civil rights activist Anna R. Langford is elected to represent the 16th Ward. She was one of the first women to be elected to the Chicago City Council. Ousted in 1975, Langford runs several losing campaigns for local offices before winning re-election in 1983.

1972: A survey of more than 200 Englewood residents conducted by the Volunteers for Housing Committee finds that 83 percent are opposed to high rises in the area. While 90 percent say they live on blocks with abandoned buildings or vacant land, 80 percent say they intend to remain in Englewood.

1974: Declining sales and competition from centers such as Ford City and Evergreen Plaza force Wieboldt’s to close its store in the 63rd Street mall. Sears also shuts its Englewood doors. Only smaller stores, many operated by Asian immigrants, remain. Relations between merchants and residents are often tense.

1974-1976: Nazi leader Frank Collin gathers young whites in Marquette Park and leads violent marches into black residential areas of West Englewood, according to press reports. In response, blacks and their supporters march into white areas, where they are struck with bottles and rocks.

1975: Because of high rates of foreclosure in Englewood, the Metropolitan Housing Alliance demands an investigation of 10 savings and loans and mortgage companies, and asks bankers to give Englewood homeowners more time to settle debts.

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Community historian James O. Stampley with his daughter, Cheryl, after vandals broke 62 windows in the Englewood bungalow she planned to occupy in 1976. (Photo courtesy of James O. Stampley)

1979: The Citizens Council of Southwest Englewood files a Missing Person Report for 15th Ward Alderman Frank Brady. The community group accuses Brady of ignoring black concerns in West Englewood. Police locate the alderman at City Hall.

1980: Ninety-eight percent of West Englewood’s 62,069 residents are black. In 20 years, the area’s white population has plummeted from 51,583 to 818. Englewood, now 99 percent black, has lost more than 30,000 residents.

1985: A wave of rapes hits the community. Police respond with foot patrols and announce a plan to knock on residents’ doors to ensure safety. When the efforts are abandoned, police cite limited staff, according to newspaper reports. But historian Stampley says the police were too intrusive and "the community didn’t cooperate" with the door-to-door effort.

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Englewood Neighborhood Festival, 1980. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society)

1985: Langford asks the city to reopen the 63rd Street mall to automobile traffic to increase business and wins the backing of Mayor Harold Washington. After Washington’s death in 1987, Mayor Eugene Sawyer completed the reconversion plan. Some area stores report a 20 percent jump in business.


1988: Englewood Hospital, 6001 S. Green St., closes, citing cash flow problems.

1990: In 10 years, Englewood and West Englewood have lost more than 20,000 people combined. Forty-three percent of Englewood residents and 30 percent in West Englewood live below the poverty line. In Englewood, the mean household income is $18,853, compared to a citywide figure of $34,682. The unemployment rate hovers around 26 percent in Englewood and 24 percent in West Englewood.

1991: Shirley A. Coleman is elected alderman of the 16th Ward. In 1995 and 1999, she defeats challenger Hal Baskin, director of People Educated Against Crime in Englewood.

1993: The city launches the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program in five pilot districts, including the Englewood Police District.

1998: The body of 11-year-old Ryan Harris is found behind 6636 S. Parnell Ave. Two boys, 7 and 8 years old, are initially charged with her murder, but charges are dropped after DNA testing links convicted sex offender Floyd Durr to the crime.

1999: Six African American women, ages 32 to 45, are found slain in alleys and abandoned buildings in the Englewood area. The FBI offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to the identity of the killers.

1999: Mayor Richard M. Daley announces a $256 million revitalization plan for Englewood. It includes relocating Kennedy-King College to 63rd and Halsted streets, constructing commercial facilities and residential housing, building a new police station, creating more parks and infrastructure improvements.

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President Bill Clinton at the Englewood Technical Preparatory Academy high school. (Photo by Walter S. Mitchell III)

1999: In a speech in Englewood, President Bill Clinton declares "there are people and places untouched by [the nation’s] prosperity." He pledges support for Englewood through his New Markets initiative for economic investment. Clinton and Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, agree to make the plan a bipartisan effort but announce no details.

Sources: Chicago Community Area Fact Books, 1930-1990; David K. Fremon, "Chicago Politics Ward by Ward"; James O. Stampley, "Challenges with Changes: A Documentary of Englewood"; Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerrett, "Chicago: City of Neighborhoods"; Arnold R. Hirsch, "Making the Second Ghetto"; Louise Carroll Wade, "Chicago’s Pride: The Stockyards, Packingtown, and Environs in the Nineteenth Century"; Chicago Historical Society; City of Chicago Web site.


More History: Gentrification of Englewood Community