September once again plays an important role in Wicker Park's "life"


Taken at night, the fountain area was bathed in floodlight a couple of years ago**

Thanks to D.S. Lee's land purchases starting in 1847, M.L. Stewart's efforts in 1868, Alderman McGrath's action with Chicago's City Council on Sept. 19, 1870, followed by Stewart's generosity on Sept. 26, 1870, and the 2019 $67,000 gift from the Wicker Park Bucktown SSA #33, there will be a celebration in Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen. Ave., Sun., Sept. 8, at noon. Everyone is invited to be part of the event at the iconic Gurgoyle Fountain. 


The restored fountain awaits Sunday ceremony**

It will be the ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the restored replica fountain created and installed in 2002. Some of the molds used for the original 1800's version were used in the creation of the replica. In the last 17 years, Mother Nature and other man-made actions deteriorated the structure, requiring major re-construction to ensure the fountain's ability to continue serving the public today and into the future. 

Historic facts and folklore: Wicker Park the Park and the neighborhood
While countless stories credit Charles G. and Joel Wicker for "donating the land for the Park to the City," the original land tract book tells a different story.* 

David S. Lee began purchasing land in the area in 1847. According to 1850 Census, he was New Jersey born and 35-years-old with a Pennsylvanian born, 29-year-old wife, Mary P. Lee. 

When he died in 1860, his substantial real estate holdings were deeded to his wife Mary and mother Nancy. Upon Nancy's death in 1868, Mary, who remarried and became M.L. Stewart, was deeded all of Nancy's holdings in the D.S. Lee Addition. 

Thus it was M.L Stewart, in 1868, who initiated the formation of the D.S. Lee Addition to the City of Chicago. Its boundary is along North Ave. from the intersection at Milwaukee, to Leavitt, south on Leavitt to Schiller St., east to Evergreen, Evergreen to Milwaukee Ave., north on Milwaukee to North Ave. 

It was divided into 16 blocks. Block 7, a 4.3  acre triangle was labeled "Wicker Park." In the Land Tract Book there is only one transaction for Block 7. M.L Stewart deeded the land to the City of Chicago on Sept. 26, 1870, seven days after then Alderman McGrath submitted a resolution for improvements to the Park. The City agreed to the improvement provided they received the deed to the land. It read:


The original 1895 fountain photo is from the Chicago Park District

“Resolved. That the Board of Public Works be and they are hereby requested to extend the water pipe to Wicker Park, erect a fountain, lay out walks and otherwise improve said park, during the present season, to the extent of its share of the appropriation made for park purposes for the East Division, provided a good and sufficient deed of the same be given to the city for that purpose.” 

The Park was already established before the resolution. "The area was protected by a wooden fence, boardwalk and entrance posts, from cattle going to and from pastures. Winding paths, landscaped shrubbery, and a large oblong pond, spanned by a rustic bridge, presented a tranquil scene inside the enclosure. This serene location was home to swimming swans and chirping birds perched in a quaint wooden structure on an island located at one end of the pond. Named Wicker Park, it became the namesake of an entire community."* 


This image is believe to show the police structure from Washington Park

While the fountain's Gurgoyle design dates to 1883 and the above resolution was in 1870, Chicago Park District records indicate the original Wicker Park fountain was installed in 1895. It had relatively short life. 

The interim years, from 1870 to 1895, were filled with change beyond the enclosed small triangle which was becoming encircled with residences, particularly after Chicago's Great Conflagration in 1871 (Chicago Fire). 

"In 1885, park control was passed from the City of Chicago to the West Park Commission. Sidewalk areas were filled to grade, a few trees were planted and some landscaping was done. In 1886, a police shelter building, removed from Washington Boulevard, was repaired and placed near the center of the park. A small number of seats were added for visitor use. That same year the police dug much of the park up in a futile attempt to find bombs they thought anarchists had planted. The park bore silent witness to the unrest of the times, and to the funeral procession for the five convicted labor leaders that died as a result of the Haymarket Riot on Black Friday, November 13, 1887." 


This postcard shows pergolas along the pond with splashing water

Recreational areas in parks became a priority as the population increased. In 1905, Frederick Law Olmstead, landscape architect, and Daniel Hudson Burnham, architect and urban designer, took the lead in that trend on the south side. Three years later Jens Jensen, as the West Park System Superintendent, removed Wicker Park's 1895 fountain. 

"A new water system was installed and the space was changed to a children’s wading pool.  In the same project, Jensen built trellis-like structures (pergolas) and planted additional trees and shrubs."* 


Fountain was turned into a wadding pond in 1908

Charles G. and Joel Wicker
"Like so many of Chicago’s first business and real estate developers, the Wickers came from New England. Vermonters, they came from humble beginnings. Joel’s and Charles’ father, a minister, died in 1822. Joel moved from New York to Ohio and opened a general store. Charles, in 1836 at the age of 16, worked as a mule boy on the construction of the Erie Canal before joining Joel as a store clerk. Coming to Chicago in 1839, Charles once again worked for Joel. The Fergus Directory lists them as grocers at 87 Lake. The 1844 directory lists their residence as the Tremont. An advertisement for the business in the same year reads: 'Cheap Cash Store, No. 94 Lake St., C.G. Wicker & Co., Wholesale & Retail Dealers in Dry good, groceries, leather, glass, nails, produces, etc.' 

"At this point Charles pursued his own interests. He moved into the political arena in 1861 and became well known for championing the unpopular cause of saving the downtown lakefront property for public use. He served as Third Ward Alderman for two terms in the late 1860s." 

Aside from real estate transactions, nothing else has been found about Joel. 

Both brothers were involved in real estate transactions, according to the Land Tract Book. 

"Joel agreed to purchase specific lots in the D.S. Lee Addition, totaling eighty-four acres, from Simon Reinemann in June of 1868."* Looking through the transactions, it did not appear that the number of lots he purchased totaled that many acres. Transactions showed that he sold all the properties he purchased by 1872. 

"Between June 1868 and March 1869 Charles Wicker appeared to have worked with William Kerfoot, and Adolph Loeb in buying and selling property in Orrin Stevens’ parcel (West from Leavitt and south of North). Wicker purchased specific lots and Kerfoot purchased tax deeds on the same properties. [Often within days of the purchase…] They would subsequently both sell their interests to Adolph Loeb. "* 

"An 1890 biographical sketch, written by an employee of Charles, states, 'In 1867 he [Charles] bought, in connection with others, what was known as the ‘Lee tract’ on Milwaukee avenue, subdivided it, fenced it, laid out streets, made ditches, etc., and improved and set apart as a gift to the city the beautiful tract now known as Wicker Park.' There is no transaction in the tract books to support this statement. Though the Wicker brothers had [financial] interest in the community, there was no evidence found that either brother ever lived in the district that bears their name."* 

In 2019 it is difficult to imagine but Wicker Park, both neighborhood and park, were in Chicago's prairie in 1847 when Lee began buying land here…but they were! 

*Wicker Park from 1673 Thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide

**Photo by Elaine A. Coorens



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