Fraus with Plows: The 19th Century Development of Skokie

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Fraus with Plows: The 19th Century Development of Skokie

On the corner of Lake and Wagner Roads in Glenview, nearby an Audi dealership, the Glenview Tennis Club, and an Avon plant, nestled between rows of residential developments, is an 18-acre farm. As if its presence wasn’t anachronistic enough, the cows grazing in the field attest to the fact that the farm, which sits on the border between Chicago’s self-christened North Shore and its inner suburbs, is still in operation despite decades of efforts by developers to purchase it and convert the land into something more profitable for the north suburban niche. In fact, until 2000, the farm was owned by the Wagner family and run for profit, though it has since been purchased by the Glenview Park District and is now maintained as a museum to showcase the village’s historical roots. The rationale behind the village’s $7.2 million investment in the land was, as Park District Board President said, “...that this is a part of Glenview, and if we don't acquire it, it won't be there to show the children what Glenview was like.”

In some ways, perhaps Wagner Farm’s presence is most fitting as a historical division between the two sets of suburbs directly to the north of the city. While both regions began developing simultaneously as outgrowths of the rapidly expanding and industrializing urban metropolis to the south, the lakeshore settlements were almost immediately identified as centers to serve the needs of affluent urban commuters, and their subsequent development was largely directed towards this goal, whereas the inland settlements were abruptly awakened to their similar potential only in the real estate boom of the 1920s. The explosion of road and highway construction after WWII would eventually level the playing field for development between these competing areas and render their boundaries nearly indistinguishable, but until then, towns like Glenview, Morton Grove, Niles, Park Ridge, Lincolnwood, and Skokie (then known as Niles Center) , would develop along a very different trajectory than their lakeshore neighbors, one that had much more in common with Wagner Farm than with the elegant single-family homes arranged in well-maintained subdivisions that now surround it.

The development of Niles Center in many ways embodies a regional pattern of suburban development in 19th Century Cook County. With the exception of a few showcase towns like Riverside, Hyde Park Center, and the settlements along
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