History of Old Town Chicago
Old Town is an active and eclectic neighborhood with a diverse history. The area is filled with many shops, restaurants and entertainment options. Originating as a home and trade center for Native American nations, including Potawatomi, Miami and Illinois, the area was founded in the 1850s by German settlers. Immigrants began to farm potatoes, celery and cabbage, which is where Old Town inherited its nickname as “The Cabbage Patch” in the early 1900s.
The German settlers also built St. Michael’s Church, the oldest Victorian building in the neighborhood, and one of the only buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire. In fact, many of the streets in the Old Town neighborhood were constructed before the Fire and were not part of the Chicago street grid built after the devastating event.
Beginning in the 1920s, the neighborhood became a center of art and culture. Artists like Sol Kogen and Edgar Miller began investing in the neighborhood by creating spaces, known as the Carl Street Studios, which served as functional places for both producing art and displaying innovative works of art.
Around this time, the first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights in American history, was founded in Old Town by Henry Gerber. While the organization was active for only a short period of time, Gerber’s work led to other more enduring LGBT rights organizations in the United States.
In the 1940s, the neighborhood became known as the “Old Town Triangle” after a civil defense map created during World War II highlighted the boundaries of North Avenue, Clark Street and Ogden. Shortly after the war, the region became North Town and hosted Old Town Holiday, giving the neighborhood its current name.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the area became a diverse place of culture and counterculture, and an entertainment destination. The Old Town School of Folk Music brought musicians such as Bob Gibson and Bonnie Kolac into the neighborhood at infamous venues like Mother Blues. The world-famous The Second City, a comedy theater known for its sketch and improvisation comedy, opened in Old Town in 1959 and since then has produced some of the most notable names in comedy.
Today, Old Town is a very hip and fun urban neighborhood and is home to some of the best shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in the city. Be sure to take it all in as you walk down Wells Street!