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History lessons offered on Clearing, Garfield Ridge

Visitors to the Clearing Branch Library, 6423 W. 63rd Place, enjoyed a fun jaunt down memory lane Monday night during a slide show presentation celebrating Ò100 Years of Clearing and Garfield Ridge” and the regions’ annexation to the city of Chicago in 1915.

Clear-Ridge Historical Society president Rob Bitunjac and vice-president Ed Kozak transported the audience back in time for a glimpse of neighborhood life as it existed over a century ago with never-before seen photos and facts.

Before 1915, much of the area consisted of mud lakes and marshland, but its unique topographical features created a perfect travel conduit for Native Americans and early explorers.

Its significance as a portage route led to the eventual development and sale of surrounding government land to speculators, such as Colonel William Beatty Archer, the first I&M Canal commissioner, for whom Archer Avenue is named, said Bitunjac.{{more}}

Much of the presentation centered around the sometimes inexplicable origins of street names, such as Archer, which was once known as ÒRoad to Widow Brown’s,” and later, Old Chicago Trail.

ÒThe road follows the original trail, which crosses the Chicago Portage between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River and parallels the path of the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal and the old Alton Railroad,” said Bitunjac. ÒArcher Avenue has always been a busy transportation hub, at one time servicing a stagecoach line and the Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway. “

For those who wonder how the name Garfield Ridge came to be, the Historical Society concluded that, in all likelihood, it was coined by Frederick Bartlett, an early land developer, who actually first named the area ÒBartlett Highlands.”

The naming of Garfield Ridge refers to the fact that Garfield Boulevard (55th Street) runs through the middle of the neighborhood and ÒRidge” is derived from the natural ridge left over from the glacier period.

ÒOther names for Garfield Ridge included Archer Limits, Sleepy Hollow and West End,” said Bitunjac.

Harlem Avenue is named after the settlement of Harlem that existed to the north of the area many years ago. Historians surmise that the community was likely named after the bustling urban neighborhood of Harlem in New York City.

ÒLater on, the area was settled by Dutch farmers and may have been named after the Dutch town of Harlem,” said Bitunjac. ÒIt is interesting to note that early pioneers of the area used to call it Zander Road, after a local farmer, Andreas Zander.”

Sixty-third Street, when it existed as an unpaved thoroughfare, was called Junction Avenue. The area known as Clearing developed in the 1870s and was bounded by 65th Street to 55th Street and Austin Avenue to Cicero Avenue.

The subdivision was named the ÒThe Lost Village” by local historian and author Robert Hill in his book ÒA Little Known Story of a Land Called Clearing.”

The village of Summit (also called Point of Oaks) was bounded by the current streets of Harlem, Neva, Archer and 54th Street and was known for its high ground above the wet prairie (hence its name.)

ÒLong” John Wentworth, a former mayor of Chicago, owned 4,700 acres of land in what is now Garfield Ridge, Clearing and Summit. He called his holdings “Summit Farm,” which was located where the present-day European Chalet at the Mayor’s Mansion stands at 5445 S. Harlem Ave.

To learn more, visit the Clear Ridge Historical Society website at www.clearridgehistoryweebly.com.

On Sunday, June 14, an educational bus tour of Garfield Ridge and Clearing will be conducted by Bitunjac of the Clear Ridge Historical Society. The event begins at 1 p.m. at the Chicago Portage Historical site, 4800 S. Harlem Ave.

More information can be obtained from GarfieldRidgeCivicLeague.org or call (708) 269-9094.

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