The annexation in 1890 brings a new city plan | Community News
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series on the history of the City of Chicago neighborhoods in the Blue Island Ridge communities.
When North Beverly and Washington Heights annexed the city of Chicago in 1890, it was speculated that Morgan Park would soon follow. However, it took another 24 years for Morgan Park to become a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.
It was no surprise that annexation was controversial for Morgan Park. The village had an independent identity as an educational, religious and temperance community. It boasts prestigious churches, private schools and clubs; its own library, public primary school, post office, and mostly volunteer police and fire departments; and its own cultural life. There was even an abundant water supply from natural artesian wells.
The “national leaders” argued that Chicago’s city government was corrupt and that annexation would mean a drop in the quality of public services. They spread fear saying that saloons would be allowed if the village joined the city, which was not true.
The “annexationists” pointed out that Morgan Park residents paid higher taxes than city residents, and that they believed public services would improve within the structure of the city. According to the law, the community would always decide for itself on the issue of alcohol.
The future of Morgan Park High School, which leased space from existing schools, was a major concern. Fearing that it would be interrupted by the city without its own building, many residents wanted the village to construct a building dedicated to the high school before annexation. No existing high schools had been closed after the annexation.
Another problem was that Morgan Park banks were undercapitalized to become Chicago banks. They could be required to raise additional funds or close. Some Morgan Park businessmen had significant interests in local banks.
To call annexation an intense political and social issue for Morgan Park is an understatement. Neighbors have become enemies; fights broke out at town hall meetings; and there was at least one documented death threat.
The law required residents of Morgan Park and Chicago to vote on annexation. Seven elections have been held over a 20-year period, starting in 1894, when the measure was first defeated in Morgan Park, although Chicago approved it.
It was next considered in 1907, prompting Henry J. Bohn, a publisher and local park district commissioner for whom Bohn Park at 111th Street and Longwood Drive is named, to voice his opinion in The Morgan Park Post, the precursor to The Beverly Review.
“If a town ruled by rum-soaked red-nosed politicians, whose religion is self, whose principle is pelf, can manage the affairs of our village more honestly and satisfactorily than businessmen having the good of their homes at stake,” said Bohn, “then by all means annex.”
The measure was again rejected at Morgan Park but approved by Chicago.
Annexation votes were defeated again at Morgan Park in 1908 and twice in 1910. As Chicagoans continued to favor annexation, city newspapers joked that Chicago should annex at Morgan Park instead of the reverse.
In 1911, the annexation of several suburbs is on the ballot. Oak Park and Cicero voted against, treating it largely as a joke even though Chicago was strongly in favor. However, it was a serious problem in Morgan Park, and that year voters in the village and town approved annexation.
The vote was tight in Morgan Park, with 441 votes in favor and 409 against annexation. The village celebrated with bonfires in the village square and an impromptu parade. But, when the village chiefs met, the insults – and the fists – started flying, and soon the police had to disperse the crowd as the violence spilled into the streets.
The Chicago City Council assigned Morgan Park to the 32nd Ward, joining the rest of the ridge. Chicago immediately took over some services, including police and fire, and paid teachers’ salaries.
Local leaders could not rest, however, and Enoch J. Price, the former village attorney and chairman of the high school board, hired and worked with attorney Isaiah T. Greenacre to challenge the annexation before the court.
Greenacre, of Washington Heights, had served as an alderman for the 31st Ward from 1895 to 1897, the first elected alderman in a Ridge community. They succeeded in having the elections annulled. Price was the person who received the death threat.
The major problem was that the law had not been followed correctly. The law stated that the boundary between the city and the newly annexed lands should be continuous, and there was a gap in the northeast boundary line due to 200 acres of unincorporated land. The village had tried to buy the land, but it was tied to an estate. The vote for annexation was declared invalid due to this gap in the boundary.
Tempers reached breaking point in Morgan Park, and Chicago police had to provide protection for local leaders who rose to the challenge and at village board meetings.
The annexationists managed to get the Unbroken Boundary Lines Act overturned, but now, by law, they had to wait another two years for a new vote.
The next vote on annexation was in 1914, and by then there had been changes at Morgan Park that had led to more favorable views on annexation.
More importantly, women had been granted limited voting rights in Illinois in 1913 and could now vote on the issue of annexation. The majority of women in Morgan Park favored annexation to improve services.
Moreover, during the 20 years of debate, many young landowners had moved in, replacing some of the original leaders, and these new voters favored annexation. Finally, the city said it would continue Morgan Park High School, for which a building was under construction.
The final election was held on April 21, 1914, and annexation finally won, this time for good.
City services began immediately, with funds earmarked to switch to Lake Michigan water, improve trash removal and street maintenance services, and build a new police station and fire station .
On June 16, 1914, the Chicago City Council passed the official ordinance annexing Morgan Park and placing it in the 32nd Ward.
The section west of Western Avenue to California Avenue from 99th to 115th Streets was part of this 1914 annexation package. The southern portion of this land was considered part of Morgan Park, but the northern part was probably unincorporated, as it did not belong to Evergreen Park. The land bordered the local cemeteries, Mt. Greenwood, Mt. Olivet and Mt. Hope, all of which are on unincorporated land in Cook County.
Neighbors to the south, the city of Blue Island, and to the west, the village of Evergreen Park, voted against annexation, so Morgan Park became Chicago’s southwest boundary until Mount Greenwood be annexed in 1927.
Next: Some of the early aldermen who represented the crest.