A Walk Through Swedetown Chicago

In the summer of 2010 the dream of taking that walk through Chicago's old Swedetown came true. Even better, at the weekly meeting of the Swedish "high coffee" at Brandel Library at North Park, we found a kindred spirit who had a similar dream...a bus tour of old Swedetown. Surely this synergy will come to something! Check out "Ted and Bob's Tours"

The day of the walk was a beautiful as the pictures will indicate. Let's get started! As suggested by the satellite view, it would be possible to take the familiar Ravenswood (now "brown/purple line) "L" train from North Park right down to Swedetown: it would be the Chicago Avenue station which places one right at Chicago and Franklin Street. Yes, the very Franklin street of the "Franklin Street Missionhus" dear to Covenant history. That spot is about three blocks north.

Franklin Street Mission looking northward, and today a southward, sunny view of the site

Since our visit was on Saturday morning, it was possible to find an unmetered parking spot with a little searching, less than a block from the Franklin Street Mission site. Let's get a map in front of us to get oriented. At Franklin and Chicago there is a neighborhood lunch counter, "Steve's" as I recall, where local people grab a bite including the bicycle cops. Most "L" stations have similar establishments, and Steve's served our dining needs very well.

1)Moody's 2)St. Ansgars Episcopal 3)Franklin Street Mission 4)Baptist
5)Immanuel Lutheran 6)Methodist 7)Eisling church 8)Superior Street church
9) the way to Oak Street Mission eastward

It was somewhat of a surprise to find, just one block north on Franklin, a very nice used book store...quite a bonus and a good place for resting up along the way with friendly staff and comfortable lounging. Check out the "Chicago" and "religion" sections at Open Books.

Franklin Street Mission was sold to a Jewish group for use as a synagogue and later became a car repair garage according to historical accounts. The block now contains commercial buildings and is near a latino restaurant.

On a corner further north is a French cafe, "Kiki's Bistro", where we had dinner later that day. If you see Kiki's trademark red Citroen 2CV parked outside, expect to see a white haired gentleman of French extraction greeting his patrons personally in continental style.

(image courtesy Covenant Archives)
North Side Mission church with Pastor August Pohl
In the year of the photo his confirmands numbered 72!
today a church (below) remains on the site

It is one block west to this corner of Walton and Orleans streets: the location of the North Side Mission church, later First Covenant, which replaced the Franklin Street Mission in 1887. Important note: Orleans Street was called Market Street in Swedetown days, and Walton was called Whiting. (Pearson Street is now Institute Place) The numbering system has also shifted since that time, leading to confusion. Finding a picture of this church also proved more difficult than one would imagine. This corner remains a church site; St. Luke Church of God in Christ.

North Side Mission church cost just over $26,000 and was called the "largest in America" of the Mission churches. Was the contrast with the many austere mission houses so typical of the mission friends a bit embarrassing? Just a thought. When First Covenant vacated this location in 1926 for Artesian and Albion far to the north, it was sold to a congregation which had difficulty in meeting payments and lost the edifice to fire in 1931. Whether there was always a church on the corner is unknown; it seems likely.

The only surviving denomination: the Methodists

One block to the north, on the northwest corner of Oak and Orleans (Market), is the only surviving denominational church site from the Swedetown days (excepting Moody's). This is the St. Matthews United Methodist church; a sprawling, functional building contrasting with the earlier edifice. It seems very likely this site has always been home to a Methodist church. Sketchy notes reveal that O.G. Hedström of Bethel Ship fame organized a congregation in Chicago in 1852. S.B. Newman went there as minister in '53, and built a church in '54 at Illinois Street and Orleans (Market?). This church, well to the south was lost in the Chicago fire. Presumeably the Swedetown location was next, since it is on the Robinson map in 1886. It would be good to know more about this church, or to join them in worship some Sunday.

The story is quite different one and one-half blocks due west, where the Swedish Baptist church stood. Now that street has been closed, and though there is an alleyway, only a large building and vacant space remain. Here some helpful locals offered help to the wandering photographer who no doubt looked quite out of place. In this area we also saw the only grocery-cart scavenger met that morning. The affluency boundaryline which cuts through Swedetown is even more dramatic than the ethnic boundaryline.

Looking east down the former Oak Street (now closed west of Orleans)
J. Edgren's vision for Bethel Seminary dawned here

The first Swedish Baptist work in Chicago was undertaken by L.L. Frisk, utilizing a building purchased from German Lutherans at LaSalle and Erie (well to the south). The years given are 1853-57, and in spite of some unsuccessful joint efforts with Danish Baptists, the Swedes require reorganization by O.Lindh in 1867 at the American North Star Baptist church. The church at the site we show was built in 1868, reportedly seating 700, and served till superceded by the Milton and Elm Street church built in 1889, costing $37,000 and seating a thousand, and the Addison Street Baptist church built in 1912. Evidently the Oak Street church was not rebuilt after the Chicago fire, we have no picture of this building.

J. Ring was called as pastor; he ended up in Oakland, Nebraska, in the jewelry business (easy to remember). J. Edgren was pastor at the time of the fire, preparing to conduct his seminary in the basement.

Just a block north of here is the site of Immanuel Lutheran church. It is now replaced by a Parks District ballfield and green area. It takes some imagining to realize that old Immanuel stood here. But how close all these places are! The original address was Sedgewick and Hobbie, but Sedgewick does not go through north of Locust, and Hobbie (now Wendell) stops at Orleans.

Once the busy hub for Chicago Swedes, Immanuel's grounds are now a peaceful park literally in the shadows of gold coast towers. Covenant president C.V. Bowman remembers encountering a belligerent goat while walking near Immanuel as a youngster that caused him to redirect his route home. His uncle, with whom he lived, had a flat on Chicago Ave. west of Sedgewick. (Allmogesonen p.185)

Now, let's move out to the periphery of the church district, though that will only mean two full blocks south along Sedgewick between Locust and Chicago Ave. This was the place occupied by St. Ansgar's Swedish Episcopal. There is a fine looking Catholic church just to the north, but only a commercial building on the Ansgar site. Still, in summer bloom the view is picturesque.

Sedgewick Street looking northward, the site of St. Ansgars Epicscopal

Continuing down to Chicago Ave. one can look westward to the location of the Norwegian Eisling church, the one acquired by Immanuel as a school building and home to Hemlandet newspaper. It was also home to Esbjörn's seminary when it left Springfield. This was at the time before the Immanuel site just visited was built, when the group still met at the Superior Street church (coming up).

The location of the 1856 Immanuel school; the school was soon relocated adjacent to the church

This site is the location of another of Bowman's candid youthful memories recorded in his biography (Allemogeson p.204) By "Bredberg's Church" (St. Ansgar) some acquaintances from work are lounging on a porch, sharing a bucket of Chicago Avenue "bock". Though it is Sunday morning, and plans were to visit Franklin Street Mission, the upshot is a very unsteady "Kalle" who sleeps off the indescretion and misses the train home! Only "pop and ginger ale" for Bowman after that! Reference to Bredberg is a reminder that the first St. Ansgars was to the north of Swedetown and founder Unonius had returned to Sweden by the time this Sedgewick church was built.

Across Chicago Avenue is a building clearly from the Swedetown period, nicely restored, and shown because it is so similar to the Oak Street Mission of the Free church.

Oak Street Mission is long gone, but this building on Chicago Ave. recalls the style. The Oak Street building, home to John Martenson's Chicago-Bladet newspaper and the Swedetown Free congregation, was dedicated in 1889 by P. Waldenström. According to E.W. Olsson's "History of the Swedes in Illinois", C.O. Sahlström was the preacher there. An earlier Chicago-Bladet location on Wells street had been lost to the fire.

Oak Street Mission and Chicago-Bladet was at 205-7 Oak, the Missions-Wannen newspaper offices were at 144 Oak. It is not known if these numbers correspond with today's system, but in any case they were only a block apart! Since these papers were bitter opponents and competitors for subscribers, it must have been an interesting situation. These sites would be just east of our map's border.

Superior Street near LaSalle is very upscale now, and it is a stretch to picture old Immanuel there. It was Rev. Paul Anderson's Norwegian congregation, first shared by the Swedes and then acquired by them.

Old Immanuel on Superior Street, and the spot today looking eastward

One block north on LaSalle brings us to the Moody corner, for a very long time a very busy place. Just behind our backs, to the southeast, loom the towers of the gold coast. On the Robinson map, this is not labeled as a church: remember, Moody wanted it that way.

Go just two blocks east and the beautiful Holy Name Cathedral endures the passage of time.

No scars from the machine guns could be found on Holy Name on this beautiful Chicago morning

Address of J.G. Princell, back in the day

J.G. Princell, living at this corner of Wells and Oak, northward from Moody's, was host to the committee striving to bring reconciliation to the Covenant, Congregational and Free parties. The chairman was Skogsbergh; think of the people who walked these streets! Here we are perhaps two blocks west of the Oak Street Mission. Princell's funeral was held in the North Side Mission church, as it was the only one big enough to hold the crowd. Chicago Swedetown had something of the character of a "village." The different Swedish denominations remained in daily touch with one another; something that would have been more difficult out in the hinterland.

We are nearly back at our parking place. For orientation, it is possible to look directly east to the John Hancock building and directly south to the Sears Tower.

Old Chicago Swedetown in 2010. What an experience!

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