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Monday, September 22

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This week's question was suggested by Lauren. Thanks!

Q: For whom was Kedzie Avenue named?

Kedzie Avenue represents yet another example of a real estate developer immortalized for his efforts in building a community. But calling John Hume Kedzie just a real estate developer would be doing him a great disservice.

John Kedzie was born in Stamford, Connecticut on September 8, 1815, the son of Scottish immigrants. He became an attorney and moved to Chicago in 1847 to practice law. But when he arrived in Chicago, he discovered a young city experiencing incredible population growth and with vast stretches of open land at its borders just waiting to be developed. Kedzie knew an opportunity when he saw one. He soon left the law practice behind to become one of the most prominent real estate developers in Chicago.

In 1868 John Kedzie formed the Ravenswood Land Company with several partners including Luther L. Greenleaf, Cyrus P. Leland and John P. Wilson. Not coincidentally, Chicago has streets named after all of these men.

The Ravenswood Land Company purchased nearly 200 acres of land near the Chicago & Western Railroad tracks in what is now -- also not coincidentally -- the Ravenswood neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side. And where did the Ravenswood name come from? Historians are not entirely certain, but it may be another case of a Chicago transplant feeling homesick. Like John Cochran naming the streets of Edgewater after train stations in his hometown of Philadelphia, it seems one of the partners of the Ravenswood Land Company was originally from the town of Ravenswood, West Virginia.

But, in addition to laying the foundations for the Ravenswood community, John Kedzie also planned and developed parts of Evanston. And, in fact, Kedzie is similarly honored in Evanston with a street named after him.

Kedzie built his own home in Evanston on Ridge Avenue, but it burned down in 1873. He built a second home on the site and that one, too, burned down in 1880. Not to be deterred, like the king in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who builds his castle in the swamp, Kedzie built a third home in Evanston and that one stayed up.

Fellow Ravenswood Land Company partner Luther Greenleaf was also an Evanston resident, with a mansion at 228 Greenwood. Greenleaf was also an early trustee and benefactor of the fledgling Northwestern University. In particular, he is remembered for purchasing the library of Johannes Schulze, a collection of 20,000 volumes of German and Classical writings, for the University's library.

John Kedzie, too, was a friend of libraries. Kedzie and Greenleaf together helped to found the Evanston Free Public Library in 1873, and Kedzie even served as the first president of the library board.

Finally, adding to his long list of accomplishments, Kedzie served in the Illinois state legislature and helped organize the Republican Party in Illinois.

John Hume Kedzie died in 1903 at the age of 87. Appropriately, he is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, located at 5800 North Ravenswood Avenue, near the neighborhood he helped create.

Resources

Haynor, Don and Tom McNamee. Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1988.

 

About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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