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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Waukegan's 150th

This year, Waukegan celebrates its 150-year charter as a city. This large letter postcard from the collections of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives exudes the vibrancy of 1950s Waukegan.

Waukegan's history goes back to at least 1695, when it is believed a trading post existed on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, in the area of today's Sheridan Road and Water Street. The post would have facilitated the fur and silver trade in northeastern Illinois. A map by surveyor Thomas Hutchins, published in 1778, records this location as "Riviere du Vieux Fort," and a year later the journal of ship's captain Samuel Robertson refers to the site as the "petit Fort."

The remains of a decaying structure were found by settlers in 1835, and the new settlement was named “Little Fort.”

Despite its key location on Lake Michigan, Little Fort remained quite small until 1841, when a countywide vote relocated the county seat here from Libertyville.

In 1849, the community reached a population of about 2,500, and it incorporated as a village and changed its name to Waukegan. The designation “little” was no longer satisfactory, and the Native American equivalent--Waukegan--was agreed upon, meaning “fort” or “trading place.” In 1859, this receipt (above) was issued from the town's treasurer. By then, the city had grown to 3,400 inhabitants. The Native American image on the receipt seems to represent the town's name, and the woman with goods and a ship behind her represents trade and commerce.

When this photo was taken on November 22, 1870, Waukegan was a hub of commerce. It was connected to Chicago by train, and its port was one of the busiest on the Great Lakes. The view is Genesee Street south of Madison Street.

The city's centennial was celebrated in grand sytle in 1959. Men were encouraged to grow beards, in remembrance of the city's founders.

Favorite son, Jack Benny, was brought back for his very own "Jack Benny Day." Here are two Chicago Tribune photographs by Ford Wilson of "Waukegan's Own" Jack Benny.

Note Jack Benny sitting on the backseat of the white convertible designated his "personal car." He's being driven on Genesee Street in downtown Waukegan. In the second photo, his car appears to be led by a police color guard.


Anonymous said...

I actually remember that centennial celebration. I was 7 and remember being there with my family. At some point Jack Benny was standing around after the parade and talking with people. He was friendly and totally approachable...surprisingly , there were only a few people hanging out afterwards

Anonymous said...

This white car was not from the centennial parade, but from "Jack Benny Day".

D_Dretske said...

Yes, the photos with the white car are from the Jack Benny Day as listed in the photo caption.