This blog was contributed by Demetrius Simpson. He is a Chicago native, sits on the Wicker Park & Bucktown Chamber Board of Directors, sits on the Bucktown Community Organization (BCO) Board of Directors, and is a Realtor with Sergio & Banks Real Estate.
Since the 1800’s, the Wicker Park & Bucktown communities have been a melting pot of cultures.
German, Scandinavian, Eastern European, African and Spanish descended cultures all played a role in shaping the Wicker Park & Bucktown neighborhoods and the architecture that we know today.
In 1800, the neighborhoods now known as Wicker Park & Bucktown were a dense, marshy forest full of wildlife. It was an isolated area on the outskirts of the City of Chicago, connected to the City primarily by the Indian trail known today as Milwaukee Avenue.
It was The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that sent a wave of settlers into the WPB areas,
As the fire left seventy three miles of Chicago streets and 17,450 buildings destroyed and a third of the city’s population homeless.Affluent German and Scandinavian immigrants settled in Wicker Park, away from the ashes of the once thriving neighborhoods to the east. They built large homes made almost entirely of brick and stone, as a response to the vulnerability of wood frame homes to fire. By 1895, homes built in the Italianate and Victorian Gothic styles, to name a few, circled the four acre park donated to the city by developers Charles and Joel Wicker, after which the park, Wicker Park, and eventually the neighborhood were named. Wicker Park was the showplace of architectural styles during the 1890’s. Many of these homes still stand today and are located within Wicker Park’s Landmark District.
By the end of the 19th Century, in addition to German and Scandinavian immigrants, Wicker Park was home to African and Eastern European descended cultures. These working-class immigrants, primarily Ukrainian, lived in small cottages on Bell Avenue. The area south of Division Street at Bell Avenue eventually became known as Ukrainian Village.
By 1930, Bucktown was home to a very large population of Polish immigrants. It is said that Bucktown got its name because goats kept by these Polish immigrants ran wild in the streets. A Buck is the male of the species. Bucktown became known as Little Poland or the Polish Downtown.
World War I sent a wave of Russian and Jewish immigrants to WPB.
The large mansions that were built by the affluent German and Scandinavian immigrants were converted to multi-family dwellings, especially after World War II and during the housing shortage.
By 1950, Spanish-speaking immigrants moved into the area making WPB a true melting pot of cultures.
The Wicker Park & Bucktown neighborhoods were shaped by a Great Fire and two World Wars.
These events sent immigrants here who built homes, built lives and ultimately shaped these communities into what we love them for today, the rich flavor of different cultures and beautiful buildings.