*Originally posted on October 21, 2017*
Today we’ll visit Riverside, IL (pop. 8,875) for #SmallTownSaturday!
Portages, streams, free-flowing springs, wooded river banks, and vast prairie provided a few types of game to several Native American tribes in Riverside until their forced removal. The Potawatomi were the principal residents, but the Ottawa and Chippewas also lived in the region. Located just west of Chicago’s Ft. Dearborn though, white settlers began to lay their claim to the land as early as 1836.
Riverside was largely undeveloped in the early to mid-19th century. Farms belonging to the Forbes, Egan, and Gage families existed, but little else. This changed in 1868, when businessmen surveyed the lands surrounding Chicago. They hoped to build a suburb to provide easy access to the city while also allowing residents to enjoy the country life. Bound by the Des Plaines River and dense woods, the Gage farm was purchased in July and transferred to the new Riverside Improvement Company to begin construction.
The Company chose Frederick Olmstead, planner for New York’s Central Park and Chicago’s Lincoln Park, as their architect. His literary tastes provided the names of Riverside’s streets, which commemorate English poets like William Shenstone and George Herbert.
One of the first projects was a grand hotel, opened in 1870. Next came a multi-denominational church. Houses began cropping up in lots beside the church, summer vacationers began filling the hotel, and the town blossomed.
In 1873, false rumors that Riverside was malaria-infested and panics spurred by the Great Chicago Fire caused the Company to suffer financial losses and it failed. Still, a few faithful residents continued to build, and they successfully petitioned Cook County to incorporate Riverside in 1875, making it one of the first planned communities in the United States. The village slowly grew over the next decades.
That’s not the end to the Riverside story though! If you want to learn more, stop by IHLC to learn more.