Neighborhood History: Motoring Through Edgewater

Our friends at the Edgewater Historical Society sent in this description of the current, “Motoring Through Edgewater”, exhibit to us this afternoon (scroll below the photos). If you are a neighborhood history buff, head on over there sometime. We took these pictures earlier this summer when we went to check it out. It is really cool!

We will need to do a little investigating to learn more but apparently the founder of the Chicago Motor Club lived in Edgewater Glen.

Thankfully, modern day Edgewater folks seem to be a lot more diverse and pretty excited about other forms of transportation in the neighborhood as well… like obsessing over our new Metra stop 🙂





Thanks for sending this in Kathy! If we get any cool old photograph submissions, we will be sure to send them your way to add to the neighborhood archive for everyone to enjoy.

“On Thanksgiving Day in 1895, the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored an automobile race, now recognized as the first such race of its kind in the United States, and it came through what is now Edgewater.  The newspaper promised $5,000 in prizes to the winner of the 54-mile round-trip race between south of downtown and Evanston, and audiences across the country awaited results. Frank Duryea, inventor of the gas-powered automobile, won the race with a record time of 7 hours and 53 minutes. While the race put Chicago on the national map as an automobile city, it also put Edgewater in the center of the automobile revolution about to unfold.

The current exhibit at the Edgewater Historical Museum features the story of this dramatic change in Edgewater from the horse and buggy to the automobile. The Museum is open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 p.m., and admission is free. Come prepared to be amazed at all there is to see.

Within the ten years after that first race, from 1895-1910, car manufacturers, including Henry Ford, began setting up shop in Chicago along South Michigan Avenue. By 1920, Chicago’s Motor Row had developed into the largest concentration of automobile sales and service in the country, offering customers a selection from over 100 manufacturers.  By 1925, automobiles exploded throughout Chicago, and across the country. Once reserved for the wealthy, cars and trucks were increasingly affordable and commonplace for members of the middle class. It was not long before sellers along Michigan Avenue wished for additional locations outside of downtown to serve a growing customer base.

“We all know that the automobile had a transformative effect on American life in the 20th century, but in this exhibit, you will see how that happened in one community, Edgewater, and how that looked to people living in the community,” explained curator Tiffany Middleton.

Broadway through Uptown and Edgewater quickly developed into neighborhood motor row, which industry insiders dubbed the “Northside Motor Row.” It became a center for automotive sales and service, with numerous dealerships, garages, and parts sellers. These businesses flourished and brought much activity to the Edgewater neighborhood.  Many residents may remember some of the showrooms on Broadway.  The Cadillac dealership that once stood at the corner of Foster and Broadway, for example, was one of the largest dealerships along the Northside Motor Row, and remained there until the 1970s. Unlike that Cadillac dealership, many of the Northside Motor Row buildings still remain along Broadway, often with new facades and, in some cases, new businesses that disguise their original purpose. Show room architecture on Broadway ranged from the elegant Riviera Motor Sales showroom (formerly Broadway Bank) at Broadway and Elmdale, to the more modest Hudson showroom at Broadway and Rosemont (now the Ismaili Center).

The exhibit at the Museum features a 1928 map of Broadway showing all of the car dealerships and related businesses.  In addition, there is a collection of car ads that list the showrooms and provide a window into the advertising culture of the new automobile. There were also auto shows along the Northside Motor Row. They were often hosted by the North Broadway Dealers Association, which was a group of approximately 25 dealers from along Broadway.  The Broadway Armory hosted several of these shows, which included beauty contests, fashion shows, and dog shows, in addition to the automobiles on display.

Edgewater was also home to automobile scene leaders, including Thomas Hay, who lived on Glenlake Avenue and was a leader in the automobile sales industry in Chicago from approximately 1908 until 1945. He worked as a distributor for a variety of auto companies, selling Fords, REOs, and Hupmobiles.

In addition to photos, the exhibit includes a display of Illinois license plates, decade by decade, since their inception in 1911. One of the most interesting things in the exhibit is a map of the United States, which guides drivers on a “radio tour” of the country.

Plan a visit to the museum to see “Motoring Through Edgewater” before it ends March 13, 2015. Programs will be offered relating to the exhibit, including some guided gallery talks and presentations. Watch for additional updates about these events as they are scheduled.” – The Edgewater Historical Society

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