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Tour Clearing, Garfield Ridge

The Clear Ridge Historical Society held its first Garfield Ridge tour on Saturday.

Beginning at the Chicago Portage National Historic Site on 48th and Harlem, tour director Rob Bitunjac guided his guests through a three-hour exploration of some of the oldest points of interest that have shaped the community.

The historically significant portage site was a perfect starting point, explained Bitunjac, because that is where Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet first set foot in the Chicago area. The site has been referred to as the Plymouth Rock of Chicago.

In the earliest days a giant marshy area known as Mud Lake ran from approximately 39th to 52nd streets, Harlem east to Albany. In 1673, while returning home to Canada following a five month canoe journey down the Mississippi, French explorers Marquette and Joliet discovered this portage, which connected the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers.

During the rainy season, travelers could ride their canoes through Mud Lake. The rest of the time, they carried their canoes from the Des Plaines to the Chicago River. The routes they used became Ogden Avenue on the north and Archer Avenue on the south.

Among the other stops on the tour was the site of former Chicago Mayor Long John Wentworth’s farmhouse at 54th and Harlem. At one time, Wentworth owned all of the land that now encompasses Garfield Ridge, Clearing and Summit.

Other stops included the two remaining concrete posts of early Bartlett developments that began as gated communities; as well as the oldest church, school and house in Garfield Ridge.

Going as far south as 63rd Street and as far east as Cicero Avenue, Bitunjac, who is the branch manager of the Clearing Library and a native of Garfield Ridge, regaled the audience with information garnered as a result of research done by he and his college friend Paul Walenga, also a Garfield Ridge native, in anticipation of founding an historical society for the community.

The Clear Ridge Historical Society got its start back in January of 2011 when the two men got the ball rolling by inviting residents to a precursor meeting where they could gauge the interest in forming a society, as was noted in a Southwest News-Herald story on Feb. 4, 2011.

ÒThe response was really great,” said Bitunjac. ÒAnd from there we worked to incorporate ourselves with the state.”

The official notice of incorporation came in September of 2011.

Bitunjac credits a core group of people with working toward the formation of the CRHS. They include Walenga, Ed Kozak, Bob Russo, Dianne Johnson, Bruce Beveridge and Bob Kott.

Since that time, they have gotten permission from the family of Robert M. Hill to reprint his 1983 book A Little Known Story of the Land Called Clearing.

Hill, who died in 2009, was the grandson of Clearing pioneer George Hill. Robert Hill’s book was the result of a life-long interest in the early days of Clearing and takes the reader from the early 1700s to 1950.

It was a self-published work and resources were not available to include pictures. The CRHS, when it reprints the book, will be adding photos of some of the places Hill talks about.

Bitunjac also came across an old manuscript written by former Brighton Park Life columnist Joseph Hamzik, which follows Archer Avenue from its beginning at 18th and State to Lockport. The 110 page unpublished work, written in the 1960s, sat in the Brighton Park Library for many years. CRHS has also contacted Hamzik’s family for permission to publish it as a book.

In addition, historical discussions are held every other month at the Clearing Library, where the society’s files are kept. Program topics so far have included Midway Airport, the Chicago Portage and Route 66.

ÒOur files also include information on Summit, Stickney and Bedford Park,” said Bitunjac. ÒWe’ve included the suburban areas because they had a lot to do with the development of our area.”

CRHS plans a repeat of the Garfield Ridge tour on Sunday, Aug. 19 beginning at the Chicago Portage site at 1 p.m. Reservations must be made in advance. The fee is $15 per person.

A tour of the Clearing area is planned for Sunday, July 29 beginning at 1 p.m. with the starting point to be determined.

For detailed information on the two tours as it becomes available, follow the Southwest News-Herald.

Information may also be obtained by visiting their Facebook page, e-mailing [email protected], or calling (773) 507-3108.

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