Annex Lake Michigan 1896

We at first contemplated a home on the North Side, and here again I am reminded of some of the great changes in the growth of Chicago. A new subdivision was building up at the time in Edgewater, a small town, not so well known, but attracting considerable attention because of the character of houses that were being erected and the rural surroundings. The transportation was over the Chicago and North Western Railroad. We had almost made up our minds to buy one of those houses as the price was reasonable and the terms easy.

At that time Lake Michigan was not as popular as it is today. The general public held it as not a fit place to bathe in and unsafe for sailing. Very few people aside from the fishermen ventured out in boats. When we informed some of our friends of our thought of locating on the North Side, we were told that it would be bad for the baby, on account of the cold damp air, anywhere near the lake; so we changed our minds, concluded to move to the West Side to get "away from the lake". We bought a house on Warren Avenue, which was then considered, next to Washington Boulevard, the finest residence street on the far West Side, Ashland Boulevard excepted.

Along about 1896 the North Side began to grow farther to the north towards Rogers Park, and Edgewater. The first big boom commenced after the Edgewater Beach Hotel was in its promotion stage. The North Side elevated railroad had extended its terminal to Wilson Avenue. Then started the exodus from the West Side, lead by the HI society, many of whom, as I remember, were financially interested in the great development that virtually built up a new Chicago in that section. Real estate values went skyrocketing at a rate that was astonishing. Land values doubled and doubled again, while people were looking on waiting to buy.

The Edgewater Beach Hotel added to its grounds and buildings at a rate that made it superior in appointments and popularity to anything of the kind ever known in Chicago. Bathing beaches were established all along the lake shore. The lake that a few years before was considered too cold to bathe in and too treacherous to sail on, became all of a sudden as attractive as the swan in its transformation from the "Ugly Duckling".

Along about this time, Chicago had increased its population, largely by annexation of small towns on the South, North, and West Sides, such as Lake View, Austin, Town of Lake, Pullman, South Chicago and other adjacent towns. So now to secure more new territory the city began to take steps to annex Lake Michigan, or rather some of the ground from beneath her surface. Property owners on the North Side owning land running back into the lake and the city authorities and park commissioners went at the work ruthlessly and vigorously with great dredges and sand suckers piling up land along the lake front for miles, establishing the outer drive and reclaiming what came to be the highest priced residential property ever known in the city of Chicago. Naturally, this made land come into the hands of men of large means who built beautiful homes until today it is known as the "Gold Coast".

When you drive along, passing Lincoln Park on the outer drive, and the bathing beaches, it is hard to realize that this is the same old lake shore that was the last resting place for a few dead fish and an occasional carcass of a defunct cat, as was the case when I first saw it, scarcely more than a decade before.


In Reminiscence by Frederick E. Coyne, pages 60-64
Excella Press, Chicago, 1941.