These two photos show M. J. Suerth Funeral Home on Northwest Highway in Edison Park. The funeral home opened in 1927 and has been part of Edison Park ever since.
The top photo shows M. J. Suerth on the right with his father Joseph on the left.
Edison Park is named for inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who gave his blessing to this community namesake in 1890. It has been part of Chicago since 1910.
What the pioneers found:
Edison Park is perched on a glacial moraine, one of a series of ridges left behind as the glaciers retreated. Other area ridges are along Milwaukee Avenue, Newark Avenue and in the center of Park Ridge.
A series of little streams (later funneled into underground culverts) flowed into the local rivers, the Chicago River's North Branch to the east and the Des Plaines River to the west. The main stands of timber were along the river corridors. This was a local continental divide, with the Chicago River flowing then into Lake Michigan, which connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes, and the Des Plaines River feeding into the Illinois River and the Mississippi River to reach the Gulf of Mexico.
With the two rivers only about six miles apart, this area was one of the portage points for early travelers who would carry their canoes across to the other water corridor, although Chicago's Portage Park is more generally recognized for this type of access.
Edison Park's settlement history dates back to 1834, with the arrival of pioneer Christian Ebinger Sr., 21, and his family: parents John and Katherine Ebinger and his new bride, Barbara. Traveling northwest from Chicago on the Indian trail to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Milwaukee Avenue), their single horse was bitten by a snake and died, leaving them stranded. The Ebingers decided to settle there, between Touhy and Devon, west of the North Branch of the Chicago River where they were joined by Christian's older brothers Frederick and John and their sister Elizabeth (Mrs. John) Plank.
Christian and Barbara's farm, which extended west of modern Harlem Avenue, north of Pratt Avenue, was the first in what is modern Edison Park. Their eldest child, Christian Ebinger Jr., was the first white child born in the area, in1834.
This settlement of German families was dubbed "Dutchman's Point" (also the predecessor of modern Niles) and was a stopping place for other pioneer travelers along the Milwaukee corridor, one of the few "dry" (less soggy) routes out of the somewhat swampy prairie surrounding Chicago. It became the core of modern Niles as well as the first pre-Edison Park settlement.
Later arrivals, the Friedrich Blume and Jacob Wingert families, settled south of Pratt Avenue west of Harlem Avenue, and participated in the German Evangelical Association church, founded by the area's early circuit riders and maintained in a Sunday School at the Ebingers' settlement. That church is now part of the merged congregations of New Hope United Methodist Church in Norwood Park. Rev. Christian Ebinger Sr. was the first pastor ordained in the denomination in Illinois.
The John Wingert House, on Canfield, just north of Talcott Avenue, one of Edison Park's two city-designated landmarks, was the home of Jacob's Wingert's son John and the Blumes' eldest daughter, Dorothea.
With the laying of tracks northwest in 1853 by the Illinois and Wisconsin Railroad, land speculators followed, laying out blocks and streets in prospective subdivisions along the route. Jefferson Park was Plank Road (another name for Milwaukee Avenue), and Canfield (future Edison Park) was the next stop, followed by Brickton (Park Ridge) and Des Plaines. Canfield had a train stop, primarily to take farmers' milk into the city, and a few blocks of lots, but few of them were sold to home builders. Railroad employees were the primary investors but didn't build here.
The railroad went through several bankruptcies in the 1850s, emerging as the Northwest Line, one of the routes of the reorganized Chicago and North Western Railway.
The next chance for growth came in the early 1870s, after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. City dwellers escaping the congested city responded to marketing of the new Norwood Park subdivision a mile to the east, so parts of Canfield were repackaged as "Ridgelawn."
Other names were tried, including Roseneath in 1889. That year, Chicago absorbed many of the previously suburban towns along the train line, everything from the old city boundaries at North and Western avenues out through Jefferson Park.
New real estate promoters focused on the possible suburbs just beyond the city limits. Butler and McCabe built fancy suburban houses along Olmstead, Oliphant and Oxford avenues, and installed six early electric streetlights at major intersections. Marketing it as Chicago's first "electric suburb" inspired them to ask Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the incandescent bulb, to name the subdivision for him. These were actually arc lights, an earlier type of electric light. "Edison Park" was born in 1890.
Modern Northwest Highway (then Edison Park Avenue, a renamed piece of Rand Road) was completely residential, and the few stores were along the Olmsted Avenue corridor between Oliphant and Olmsted. A hotel (now the Ridgewood Apartment building) was constructed east of Oliphant. Many outer subdivisions had hotels, where people shopping for land might stay, and the proprietors also promoted it as a place to stay (only two train rides away) from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Hyde Park. It was later used as a health resort.
The Edison Park United Methodist Church, organized in 1891 and built in 1892, was the first church built within the subdivision. The original frame church is now the central part of the modern building.
Although this was the first real growth spurt for the community, there were still relatively few new houses. The community was surrounded by farms and was part of Maine Township and its school system. The railroad was the main way to reach the community.
Among the early residents in the 1890s were two recognized Illinois artists. Painter Adam Emory Albright inherited two lots at Lunt and Overhill, swapped for some of his paintings, and built a log cabin studio, which was later incorporated within a house and only torn down in the 1980s. Two of his sons, twins Ivan and Malvin, both became recognized in their own right. Ivan, who has famous works in the Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection, is the best known from the family. The Albrights moved farther into the suburbs when Edison Park entered the city.
Around the corner on the next street, sculptor Leonard Crunelle, an assistant and colleague of Loredo Taft, settled his family. Two of his statues of Abraham Lincoln, in Dixon and Freeport, Ill., are reproduced in miniature within the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Ill.
Into the city
As Norwood Park annexed into Chicago in 1893, Edison Park voted to become a village, but it also made a decision to join the city in 1910, hoping to get the same promised city services and utilities that had attracted other communities since 1889. A major reason was the expense of negotiating separate utilities for a small village. The city was so overloaded by the annexations since 1889, that promised services and infrastructure did not really happen until after World War I. Police services shifted from a one-man force in Edison Park to the nearest station in the city, at Irving Park Road, Milwaukee and Cicero avenues.
Street names across the north side of the city were renamed in mile-wide swatches of alphabetic letters to eliminate duplicated names and help the post office sort mail. Edison Park inherited the "O" streets, many of them named for Indian tribes. East-west street names were borrowed from the extended lines along the grid from Rogers Park along the lake. Because most streets here were perpendicular to the railroad's angled corridor, the northeast and northwest side streets were all designated as "northward" streets and assigned "O" names, although several were renamed to more manageable, spellable words. The city also standardized its address numbering system.
The area west of Harlem and south of Devon remained primarily farm land. A few blocks along the Harlem corridor and Jacob Wingert's former farm had been subdivided and annexed with the Village of Norwood Park.
At the turn of the century, the Passionist Fathers purchased a farm at Harlem and Talcott, establishing their monastery, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and its school. In 1912 the Polish order of the Sisters of the Resurrection purchased the first of a series of farms west along the Talcott Avenue corridor, establishing Resurrection Academy (a grade school) and Resurrection High School.
The Norwegian Lutheran Children's Home relocated to the west side of Canfield Road, later renamed the Edison Park Home. While its students attended Edison Park schools and the Edison Park Lutheran Church into the 1950s, it remained unincorporated until Park Ridge annexed it. The "Edison Park Home" in Park Ridge confused people for years until Lutheran Social Services closed it and the complex was torn down in the late 1990s and replaced by a private development of single-family homes.
Edison Park sent its young men to war in 1917, most of them serving in the same units overseas. One of them, Thomas Pope, received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and was one of the last surviving of the World War I medal winners when he died. All the names of the men who served in that war were inscribed on a plaque on the marble pillar in Monument Park. Edison Park American Legion Post 541 continues to commemorate Memorial Day and Veterans Day at the monument.
After World War I ended, Edison Park experienced its second major expansion. Blocks of bungalows joined four-squares and Dutch Colonials, filling in south of Touhy Avenue to Devon Avenue. Edison Park's four-room school (now Edison Park Field House) added mobile units, and in 1926-27, Ebinger School was built to relieve the overcrowding.
On Northwest Highway several blocks of houses were replaced by storefronts, many with apartments above. Corner apartments buildings also appeared in a few surrounding blocks, but the majority of construction continued to be single-family houses.
The Methodist Church expanded and other churches were started: the Edison Park Evangelical Church (now Community Church of Edison Park) in 1924, St. Juliana Catholic Church and Edison Park Lutheran Church in 1927. Immaculate Conception had started the area's first parochial grammar school in 1910. St. Juliana established a grade school in 1928.
Many improvement organizations and several garden clubs took up the tasks of beautifying the community in the 1920s. Blocks and blocks of parkway trees were planted by the homeowners. Most were elm trees which, by the 1960s, had grown to statuesque arches three stories above the streets.
The stock market crash of 1929 stalled Edison Park's expansion. Many families couldn't afford to finish their houses. Some lived in smaller back buildings or garages. Others lost property in defaulted mortgages. Home construction started in the late 1930s and was delayed again when World War II broke out and building materials were needed for the war effort.
One of the more unusual residential additions, in 1938, was a home designed for the Charles Turzak family at 7059 N. Olcott Ave. The architect was Bruce Goff from Oklahoma, who was spending some time in the Park Ridge artists' colony. He later rose to international fame for his unusual and creative designs. The house was designated a city landmark in 1992, and is the only Chicago house which he designed from scratch, although his renovation of another house on the city's Northeast Side also has been given landmark status.
World War II also brought the Douglas Aircraft factory to the old Orchard Field, a relatively small airport near Higgins and Mannheim. Douglas would be building aircraft for the war and was hiring thousands of workers a week (and creating the base for the future O'Hare International Airport). There was suddenly a demand for housing near the plant, which prompted construction of many blocks of housing along the Higgins corridor, in the southern ends of Edison Park and Park Ridge and the northern end of Oriole Park. By the end of the war, these areas had filled with blocks and blocks of new starter houses.
Taft High School was built in 1939 in Norwood Park, so Edison Park students were spared the longer commute to Schurz High School. In this era the only bus service came from the privately-owned suburban United Motor Coach, which connected to the Milwaukee Avenue streetcar line in Jefferson Park. Thomas Edison School (now Edison Regional Gifted Center) was built and eventually added two satellite buildings to accomodate the baby boom generation.
Returning G.I.s were looking for places where they could start their own families Some couples lived in temporary public housing near Touhy Avenue. North of Touhy, more starter houses went up and school officials, anticipating large families of future children, built and soon expanded Stock School as a K-6th grade branch of Ebinger School.
The combination of the various transit systems into the Chicago Transit Authority merged the streetcars, trolley buses, elevated trains and regular buses, and over the next 20 years a better network of public transportation finally emerged. The nearest elevated (rapid transit) line connections were at Logan Square on the Milwaukee bus or at Broadway and Berwyn, at the east end of a Foster-Northwest Highway connection.
The construction of the Northwest Expressway (later Kennedy Expressway) was part of a larger network of expressway construction through the city. Although proposed for years as the "Avondale Superhighway," it was rerouted away from the Avondale Avenue corridor at Bryn Mawr Avenue due to efforts of Northwest Side communities. That saved the cores of Norwood Park and Edison Park's residential neighborhoods from being chopped into shreds, because the final route went straight west instead of following the railroad (Avondale Avenue) corridor as it did further in the city. In the end, only a block's width of homes were destroyed to build the expressway, although Bryn Mawr and Higgins were both re-routed from their original intersection.
Edison Park's old frame train station was replaced in 1959 by a brick station. The 1959 station will be replaced by a new station in the near future.
Edison Park was no longer surrounded by farms, but by brand new subdivisions. Continuing growth through the 1950s and the early 1960s filled nearly all of the vacant lots in the community. Older houses were torn down--especially along Northwest Highway, Harlem Avenue and the railroad-- and replaced by rows and rows of dense apartment buildings. This type of dense rezoning was enabled by court cases which sidestepped city zoning ordinances, although the neighborhood fought hard to maintain its single-family character. Efforts were made as early as the mid-1960s to have new apartment buildings sold as condominiums rather than rental units, to give residential stability.
The Avondale Avenue corridor continued to be a source of jobs in light manufacturing for many years, although this started to deteriorate with the departure of Sun Electric Company on Avondale between Devon and Harlem Avenue. When Edison Fuel and Material closed its yard on Avondale in the 1970s, its distinctive storage towers were torn down, but an effort was made by the Edison Park Community Council to rezone the site so it would be earmarked for light manufacturing and keep jobs available in the community.
Local park facilities were expanded. Olympia Park was built in two phases, completed in 1971. A new Brook Park Field House along Harlem Avenue opened a decade later, replacing a tiny junior field house near Octavia and Estes. The Edison Park Field House, used for park activities after Ebinger School opened, has most recently focused its programming on arts programs.
Public transportation opportunities expanded in 1970 with the opening of the Jefferson Park station, which became a hub for CTA and suburban buses, rapid transit and commuter trains. However, when the Regional Transportation Authority suffered funding problems in the early 1980s, the CTA started to chop out parts of the bus routes it had subdivided, a situation which has continued to erode service in Edison Park. The "Blue Line" rapid transit route down the center of the Kennedy Expressway from Jefferson Park opened in 1984 as far as O'Hare Airport, and may eventually link to new northwest transit initiatives beyond Rosemont and O'Hare, which are still in discussion stages in 2003.
There have been changes to the business districts in Edison Park. In the Northwest Highway corridor, where once there were two butcher shops, two bakeries, two drug stores, two hardware stores, gift shops, bike repair, a popular dime store and the Resurrection Auxiliary's Bargain Basket, the main thrust is food, from Tony's Italian Deli and Happy Foods, to a series of restaurants ranging from a coffee shop and fast foods to fine dining and taverns. Among the longest surviving businesses on the street are M. J. Suerth Funeral Home and Kaage's Newsstand.
In local education, the Stock School branch was closed due to declining enrollment in the early 1980s, leased for a few years to the private Victor Neumann School, and later was reclaimed to house a preschool-kindergarten program for children with physical challenges.
Thomas Edison School's neighborhood students were sent to Ebinger and Oriole Park schools. The Beard Classical School moved into the building in the early 1980s, and, now known as Edison Regional Gifted Center, is one of the top scoring schools in the state. Ebinger School has undergone several phases of renovation and recently had a campus park installed on the east end of its property.
One tradition in the community since 1972 is the Edison Park Fest, an end-of-summer weekend sponsored by the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce, combining merchant sidewalk sales, entertainment, a parade, Taste of Chicago and arts and crafts. It is an opportunity to introduce visitors to the benefits which the community has to offer.
Courtesy of Anne Lunde and the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce
For more information on Edison Park, click here to read the entry on the
Chicago History Museum's "ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHICAGO".