The Good City Group is a salon-style urban design group of architects, industrial designers, urban planners, design strategists, IT professionals and policymakers from diverse practice areas dedicated to healthy, sustainable cities.
According to some, the footprint of Jefferson Park was originally inhabited by European traders since the 17th Century. Early explorers mentioned several settlements around what would become the Chicago area, one of them roughly at today’s intersection between Milwaukee and Irving Park. Jefferson Park's situation at the top of a ridge, 24 ft. above lake level, could explain why it has, from the very beginning, been considered a gateway to Chicago. In 1818 we know that John Kinzie Clark, a nephew of John Kinzie, was one of Jefferson Park’s first settlers to start the strong relationship that has existed ever since between the community of Jefferson Park and that of “downtown.” Jean-Baptiste Beaubien and his brother Mark, whose tavern is said to have been the first to entertain voyagers on the bend of the Chicago River, and later, David L. Roberts all started businesses downtown for which they needed the goods grown in Jefferson Park’s farms and transported down Milwaukee Avenue, then the Old Plank Road.
In 1850, Jefferson Township was formed, and in 1855 the village was laid out by David L.Roberts. Three important local institutions - the Masonic Lodge, the Jefferson Bank and the Congregational Church have united the people, among them the Roberts and the Esdohrs, who made Jefferson Park grow and become an independent town before it was incorporated into Chicago in 1889. Today it still maintains this legacy of independence and remains the Gateway to Chicago, thanks to the Jefferson Park Multi-modal Station, which serves a dozen bus lines, the CTA Blue Line and the Metra Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.
The Jefferson Park Railroad Station was built in the late 1850s for the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad. This signaled the boost of the township and allowed the surrounding farms to grow before the farmers in turn found it more lucrative to develop their land and sell lots to builders. The commercial center near the station developed mostly along Milwaukee as residential neighborhoods densified on both sides of the tracks.
Laramie Avenue and Ainslie Street were respectively the north-south and east-west thoroughfares that brought people to the town center through the maze of angled streets that the old diagonal Indian Trails (Elston, Milwaukee and Higgins) generated. Around the Congregational Church and the Jefferson Park Club House, streets laid out by Roberts bore his name and gave the center of the neighborhood a European atmosphere.
Apart from the Congregational Church on Giddings, Roberts also gave land for the Park that faces Beaubien School, which replaced the original Jefferson School when it burned down in 1905.
A little brick house, painted beige with brown highlights, sitting in the middle of Jefferson Park, acts as a shrine to Jefferson’s early business life. This house used to stand a few feet Northeast before it was moved to make way for Long street to reach Higgins. At the time, it belonged to the Esdorh Family, one of the first to open business in Jefferson Park. Henry and his brother Herman had arrived from Germany by themselves when they were just boys. From farmers, they became business men and bankers, holding important civic positions in the community school board and township. The well at Esdohr’s farm was so deep that it provided the purest water in the township. People came from far away to get their water until the well was closed in 1995.