Northwest Chicago Historical Society
CHICAGO — Most neighborhoods’ histories can be traced back to a single pioneering outpost — like a farm, a trapping station or a military fort — from which a community began to grow.
For Jefferson Park, that place was a tavern.
The Northwest Chicago Historical Society tells the full story of the opportunistic barkeep who became the neighborhood’s first permanent resident:
Around 1830, Elijah Wentworth Sr. was the proprietor of a tavern located on Wolf Point, which is on the west side of the Chicago River near present-day Kinzie Street. His tavern was located near a Native American trail that led northwest.
Elijah traveled this trail eight miles northwest to a place called Sand Ridge, just south of the Northern Indian Boundary Line. This Boundary line outlined area ceded by the Fox and Sauk to the United States in 1816, at the Treaty of St. Louis. At this place, he constructed a new tavern. Apparently, Elijah was looking for a new venue where he had more space or could cater to many travelers, trappers and Native Americans. Sand Ridge was a perfect spot for an inn, located near the junction of three well-traveled Native American Trails (current day Milwaukee Avenue, Higgins Avenue, and Northwest Highway). He built a large, 2-story, log tavern, “The Wentworth Tavern,” which later became “The Jefferson Hotel.” His inn was located on the land now occupied by the Jefferson Park Bus Terminal. Elijah Wentworth became the first resident and business owner in what is now the Jefferson Park neighborhood.
With the exception of a short stay at Fort Dearborn during the Black Hawk War (1832), Elijah Wentworth continued to operate his inn until he sold the property, tavern and farm to David L. Roberts in the early 1850s. Before he left, others came to join him in the business district.
After the City of Chicago incorporated in 1837, the surrounding townships followed suit through 1870. Jefferson Township was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1861 within Cook County. This empowered the township to better govern the provision of services to its increasingly suburban residents. In the beginning, the township was a large tract of land, bordered by Devon Avenue on the north, Harlem Avenue on the west, Western Avenue to the east and North Avenue to the south. (Norwood Park Township would eventually break away from Jefferson Township taking a small portion of land at its northwest side). The first European settlers in the area wanted the township to be named for President James Monroe. However, they soon learned that another community in Illinois was known as Monroe, so they decided to honor President Thomas Jefferson instead. By 1855, the local area supported 50 buildings.
The Township was its own form of government, but it also contained “villages,” like Irving, Dunning and Cragin. Another village, known as “The Town of Jefferson,” was centered near Milwaukee and Higgins Avenues. Jefferson was officially incorporated in 1872.
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