In the late 1850s, German and Swedish farmers settled the land in the fork between the North Shore Channel and the North Branch of the Chicago River. Interestingly, where these two waterways meet is Chicago’s only waterfall, albeit a modest one with a mere four-foot drop. Regardless of its size, the waterfall provided serene and verdant surroundings for successful cultivation of a homestead and farmland. Early immigrants used the dried-up riverbeds for vegetable gardening and a placid, remote community evolved at the site.
In 1894, construction of North Park University began on 8.5 acres of land donated by the Swedish University Association of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant. The small town slowly replaced existing dirt paths with planned cobblestone streets. A sanitation system was created by installing sewer pipes, and boardwalks were laid to give the little North Park community the feeling of an upstart town. All the while, the university was slowly being built. While tremendous advancements were being made, the evolution of North Park proceeded gradually because by 1910 the neighborhood population didn’t exceed 500.
Things began to pick up with the onset of the 1920s, and the first low-rise flats and apartments started to appear in the neighborhood. Soon thereafter, North Park began to rapidly grow. In fact, its population tripled by 1930, as a residential haven of two-flats and bungalows took shape.
After World War II, America’s economy was booming and so was North Park. The suburban-esque respite hit its highpoint in the mid 1960s. With the move of Northeastern Illinois University into the northeast corner of the community and the long-established North Park University in the southeast corner, plenty of students and faculty made the neighborhood their home filling the air with a scholastic awareness that seeped into all aspects of North Park’s existence. In addition, the nearby Swedish Covenant Hospital, established in 1886, continued to draw residents and professionals into the area. It is this continual flow of folks from the academic and hospital sectors that has created a thriving yet stable Chicago neighborhood that caters to people from all walks of life.