“The small settlement of single-family homes huddled just south of the Stevenson Expressway’s Cicero exit may no longer be the swampy marsh it was when Dutch farmers arrived more than 120 years ago. But some residents still call the tiny hamlet in Garfield Ridge by its early name: Sleepy Hollow.
“There are no plaques or markers to commemorate the tiny Southwest Side village, but Sleepy Hollow is itself a living remnant of the area’s early pastoral history when it was one of dozens of independent, free-standing communities that sprang up during Chicago’s 19th-century industrial boom. Each with its own early identities, local characters and points of interest.
“The city’s current map of 77 communities and neighborhoods was created by the University of Chicago’s Social Science Research Committee in the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt to create order and identity and ease the census-taking process. But some old neighborhoods pop up in online maps, revealing glimpses into former lives.
“One hundred and eighty years ago, the mostly rural area around Armitage and Grand avenues was known as Whiskey Point thanks to the saloon George Merrill opened to farmers and travelers out of his family home. Around the same time, a subdivision in north Lincoln Square became known as Bowmanville after a local hotel innkeeper and swindler who sold plots of land he didn’t own and skipped town. Nearby, a part of the North Center community was known as Bricktown for the brick quarries in the area. All three can still be found on online maps despite no longer existing.
“Experts say every corner of the city is awash in defunct names and neighborhoods that disappeared. The names come from old settlements that preceded modern Chicago. Some were communities built on commuter transit lines in the rapidly expanding city. Others were the creations of real estate agents eager to create branding for new housing construction.
“‘It’s layers-upon-layers of names, often overlapping and in conflict with each other. All come from different origins, circumstances and periods of time,’ said Tim Samuelson, the city’s emeritus historian, who has done exhaustive research on neighborhood names and how they came to be. It was a daunting task given how many cropped up across the city and how some disappeared completely while others lingered.
“‘The deeper you dig, the more you’ll find! It never ends. My head swims just trying to write this,’ Samuelson said in an email.
“‘Some were originally named to reflect familiar places of origin for dominant immigrant ethnic groups, but the names can still solidly remain when the dominant population group changes,’ Samuelson said, citing Pilsen, which now has a large Mexican population but was named by Czech immigrants.” (Lee, Chicago Tribune, 5/29/22)