Why was this neighborhood called McCormickville (and why didn’t the Nickersons live down on Prairie Avenue with the rest of the wealthy)?
Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.
If you’re from Chicago, you’ve probably heard of Evanston. It’s a nice place: lake views, good schools, safe, easy parking, not nearly as noisy as down here near the Loop. It has all the benefits of the suburbs while sidled right up to one of the greatest cities on Earth (in our opinion, anyway).
We could perhaps think of McCormickville as the Evanston of the late 19th century. The neighborhood Samuel Nickerson chose for his palatial residence—McCormickville then, River North today—was similarly lakeside (Lake Michigan used to lap at the shores just steps east of the Magnificent Mile, but receded over time and was subsequently filled in and became Streeterville). The area was also removed from the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s center, which was further south than it is today. While George Pullman and Marshall Field built their mansions on a short stretch of Prairie Avenue down south, the Nickersons and a handful of other Chicago elite—among them Cyrus H. McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, and many of his relatives, which is where we got the name McCormickville—built north of the Chicago River. Other affluent inhabitants included Henry J. Willing, a dry goods merchant; Judge Mark Skinner; and the lawyer Henry W. Bishop. Another of Chicago’s wealthiest businessmen, Potter Palmer, built his colossal 1885 home on the Gold Coast just a mile north of the Nickerson Mansion.
Sally Sexton Kalmbach, the Chicago historian who leads McCormickville Walking Tours, tells it better than I do. There are only two more of these tours before we succumb to winter, so if you have Saturday afternoons free and want to hear more about the lives of this historic neighborhood’s rich and famous, get your tickets today!