By Carol Flynn
The early 1970s were a busy time for the Beverly/Morgan Park community and for the Beverly Area Planning Association.
Numerous endeavors were undertaken to enhance the image of the community and to instill pride in homeowners. The goal, as always, was to promote Beverly/Morgan Park as an upscale, desirable residential community — the core of BAPA’s mission. Some of these endeavors were BAPA-driven, and some were originated by others in the community, but BAPA was always involved.
Two interesting projects that received considerable attention at the time were the “Beverly/Morgan Park Sesquicentennial” celebrations, and the “Victorian Village” shopping area near the 111th Street train station.
The Sesquicentennial evolved from a new “spin” on local history.
In 1822, French-Canadian fur trader Joseph Bailly established a permanent homestead in Porter, Indiana, on the Calumet River, from which his family ran trading posts. It was contended that Bailly had substantial interaction with the Native Americans of the Ridge, primarily the Potawatomi tribe, and opened up the Ridge to the fur trade. Therefore, the reasoning went, the Beverly/Morgan Park community should consider Bailly’s arrival in 1822 as the starting point for recording Ridge history, and the community had 150 years of history to celebrate.
And celebrate they did.
A year’s worth of events started in January of 1972 with a banquet at the Beverly House, a restaurant located on Vincennes Avenue, a street which started as a Native American trail. A 10-foot teepee was erected in the restaurant and young women dressed as Potawatomi maidens. Prominent attendees, including Robert Seward, BAPA president, were presented with real coonskin caps donated by a local furrier.
Other events that went on that year included a ball at the Beverly Country Club, a parade to which President Richard Nixon was invited but did not attend, a winter carnival and hayride, field trips to Springfield to see Lincoln sites, a soap box derby, themed activities for all the holidays, and many school projects and women’s clubs events. A special calendar was designed by artist Jack Simmerling. The Sesquicentennial Committee entered decorated boats in the Venetian Night race in Monroe Harbor and won several awards. They had a float in the downtown Christmas parade. There was even a Sesquicentennial beauty queen.
The Bailly homestead and gravesite were in the process of being preserved in the Indiana Dunes, part of the National Park Service. It was proposed that one of the log cabins from the site be moved to Beverly/Morgan Park to start a historic site, but that did not happen. Apparently, a suitable location could not be found, after the Chicago Park District declined space in Ridge and Kennedy parks.
BAPA participated in many of these events. As part of their Sesquicentennial contributions, they donated money from their annual bus tour of the community to the newly forming Ridge Historical Society and the Beverly Arts Center, which had opened in 1969.
The Victorian Village attempted to turn the area surrounding the 111th Street Rock Island train station into a themed shopping district. BAPA strongly supported the project. As part of the Sesquicentennial, in the spring and summer of 1972, shops along 111th Street and Hale Avenue set up displays of vintage items in their store windows, including laundry and cleaning equipment, fashion and toys.
For the Victorian Village, consultants were called in for recommendations, and meetings were held with business owners and residents. A new antique shop moved into the block.
In December, a Christmas tree was set up on the roof of the train station and a lighting ceremony was held. Phillip Dolan, the recently hired executive director of BAPA, participated. A new “Victorian Village” sign painted by artist Judie Anderson was unveiled, and the choir from Morgan Park High School sang carols. Santa arrived by train and had to distribute gifts in the dark when the hot chocolate machine borrowed for the occasion blew a fuse. Two police officers held flashlights to aid Santa.
By January of 1973, the Sesquicentennial had come to an end, and there had not been much progress with the Victorian Village.
A few good things had happened. Beverly Bank had paid to have the area cleaned up, removing unsightly bushes and undergrowth. The Rock Island Railroad had agreed to remove the old chain-link fence and volunteers were readying a picket fence to replace it. The city had promised to install new sidewalks and curbs. Volunteers and donors for spring planting were being sought.
Financing additional projects was an issue. A representative of the Small Business Administration recommended that the community consider forming a local development corporation that would then qualify for government loans. This necessitated finding businesses to move into the buildings, so new development then became a longer-term goal.
BAPA eventually formed a local development corporation in 1977, the Beverly Area Local Development Company. Initial efforts were concentrated on a successful project to purchase, renovate, and resell a block of commercial property on 95th Street.
Today the Victorian Village is a parking lot. However, one marketing concept did take root at the time that continues to be used to the community’s advantage — referring to Beverly/Morgan Park as the “Village in the City.”