Monday, March 2, 2015

Groveland Park, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Groveland Park, Chicago (1855) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If you were to head down to the intersection of 35th and Cottage Grove Avenue today you'd probably notice the tall monumental column topped by a patinated bronze statue facing the train tracks and Lake Shore Drive. The oxidized sculpture of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas stands nine feet tall - who in real-life stood at five feet, four inches - while the column itself is perched on top of a stately tomb containing whatever remains of the "Little Giant's" earthly remains. The now isolated burial vault sits at what was once the southeast corner of 75-acres of land that the one-time presidential candidate owned on the south side of Chicago. When Abraham Lincoln's former debating partner began purchasing the sandy-soiled acreage along the shoreline of Lake Michigan the property contained a stand of oak trees and Douglas named the site of his future estate Oakenwald.

  [Groveland Park, Chicago, Caretaker's Cottage, 3339 S. Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The native Vermonter had come west in the 1830s, studied the law, got into politics, became a judge, got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1846 the Illinois legislature elected Douglas as one of the two senators representing the state in the nation's capital. The following year Senator Douglas decided it might be time to leave his home in Springfield, Illinois - where he had once dated Abraham Lincoln's future wife Mary Todd - and move north to the booming city of Chicago. In 1849 he purchased a piece of land along the lakefront about 5 miles south of the city center, and over the next couple of years bought-up more and more of the sandy soil and cluster of native oak trees. With his accumulated 75-acres at hand he set aside two large parcels for gated, luxury residential developments that would surround private parks and considered where, on the remaining acreage, he would build his own large single family home.

  [Groveland Park, South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1851 Douglas was spending most of his time in Washington, but he was still busy overseeing his Chicago investment. He built a small frame cottage near the site of his future mansion for rental income while spending much of 1854 working the Senate and House floors talking to his colleagues about passing federal legislation that would secure right-of-ways for the country's emerging rail transportation network. His efforts paid off. The Illinois Central Railroad - who would build a rail line connecting Chicago to New Orleans - purchased a slim sliver of sand along Douglas' lake front property for $21,300, nearly doubling the $11,300 he had paid for the entire 75-acre plot. At the same time the "Little Giant" was playing an instrumental role in getting the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed giving previously slave-free territories the right to determine their own "popular sovereignty" futures. Critics of the law said Douglas needed Southern votes for his railroad bill and had traded previously enacted legislative freedom for newly enacted "state's rights" enslavement just to enrich himself. The following year a plot plan was drawn-up for the exclusive residential communities of Groveland and Woodland Parks on the Senator's Oakenwald estate.

  [Groveland Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Senator never got to build his manor house or see his land developed. He died in his room at Chicago's Tremont House hotel on June 3, 1861. His family sold off chunks of Oakenwald, and as the 1860s drew to a close Groveland Park finally started to see some action. Miss Lizzie Moulton moved into No. 1 Groveland Park, where one member or another of the Moulton family lived for the next 50 years. In 1871 State's Attorney Charles H. Reed hosted a picnic for his new neighbors in their private park, and Joy Morton of Morton salt fame came to live at No. 15. In 1890 the residents of Groveland Park were aghast when they found out that plans were afoot to have a saloon open on their side of Cottage Grove Avenue. When Douglas had laid-out the adjoining communities of Groveland and Woodland Park a narrow alley was created separating the two developments and a tiny piece of the northwest corner of Woodland Park, at the southwest corner of Groveland where the alley joined Cottage Grove, was eventually cut-out of the upscale acreage. A small, 2-story frame house had stood there for years when Joseph Mansfield applied to the city for a permit to turn the first floor into a commercial enterprise and open a saloon. But that was nothing compared to the changes that came in the 1950s when massive urban renewal projects began to level most of the neighborhood in and around the former estate. Woodland Park was swept away entirely by bulldozer's shovels while Groveland Park held on as best it could. And even though some of the great old houses that had fronted the little park since the 1870s, 80s and 90s were demolished, a few new homes were added to the mix. And although Stephen Douglas never got to live on his large Chicago acreage, his earthly remains did come to reside in the towering tomb facing the lake. But only because the State of Illinois paid his widow Adele Cutts Douglas $25,000 for the southeast corner of Oakenwald to insure that the "Little Giant" would remain in the state and not be carted-off to Washington D.C as she threatened to do.

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