Friday, July 26, 2013


Most of the expressways in Chicago are named after politicians (Kennedy, Eisenhower, Reagan, Dan Ryan) or people of note (Jane Addams, Bishop Ford) that are known to most people.  But I bet you could ask the next 1,000 Chicagoans you encounter who the Edens Expressway was named after, and they will not have a clue.  Who was William Grant Edens, and why did they name an expressway after him? Let's find out.

William Grant Edens was born in Richmond, Indiana on November 27, 1863 to Harvey D. Washington Edens (1823-1870) and Ellen Jane, nee Fout (1826-1900).  William was the last of Harvey and Ellen's eight children:  Elizabeth Frances (1843-1920), Sophia C. (1845-????), Henry W. (1846-1927), David R. (1849-????), Elmer H. (1851-1938), Lewis A. (1855-1940), and Mary T. (1861-????).  Harvey Edens was a carpenter by trade.  Harvey and Ellen had started in Virginia, then moved west through Ohio and finally into Lebanon, Indiana.

After being educated in the public schools of Indiana, William Edens began his career as a messenger boy for the Western Union Telegraph Company.  He told the census taker in 1940 that the highest grade he completed was the 6th grade of elementary school.  Later, Edens worked as a mail carrier and in railway service, advancing to freight and passenger conductor.  He was the Vice Grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen from 1887-1890, and chief clerk and cashier of the same in Galesburg, Illinois from 1890-1896.

It was not all work for William Edens in Galesburg, because he found time to court and marry Lillian Maud Bruner of Galesburg on December 9, 1896 - although the marriage actually took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It was at this time that Edens began to show some interest in politics - specifically Republican politics.  In 1896 Edens became state organizer for the State Republican League, and later that same year joined the staff of the Republican National Committee under the direction of Marcus A. Hanna.  While working for the Republican National Committee he was elected chairman with supervision of the Organization of Railroad Voters.  It was about this time that Edens met (then) General Charles Gates Dawes of Evanston.  Dawes and Edens worked tirelessly to enable William McKinley to carry Illinois in the election of 1896.

Shortly after that, in 1897 Edens was appointed the Assistant General Superintendent of the free delivery system of the US Post Office Department, a position he held until 1904.    

In 1904 he resigned from the Post Office Department to serve in the Republican National campaign of 1904. When Edens' son who was born on March 18, 1903 was named William McKinley Edens, people assumed he was named after President William McKinley who had been assassinated in 1901.  That may have been partially true but the child was also named after William B. McKinley, a congressman and then senator from Illinois.  William Edens was very active in William B. McKinley's successful campaigns, and the two became great personal friends.

In 1905 William Edens started with the main vocation of his life:  he joined the Central Trust Company of Illinois in Chicago at the invitation of General Dawes.

Image courtesy

It was through his job with the Central Trust Company that he became interested in the greatest avocation of his life:  transportation by good roads.  In 1910 Edens became Chairman of the Good Roads Committee of the Illinois Bankers Association.  His growing interest in good roads led to his being elected President of the Illinois Highway Improvement Association in 1912.  It was during this time that Edens started work on what was to be his greatest accomplishment - a $60 million dollar good roads bond issue for Illinois in 1918.

Edens realized early on that only through good roads could Illinois continue to grow and thrive financially.   When he started his quest in 1912 there were 68,012 automobiles registered in the State of Illinois; by 1918 when the bond issue was adopted there were 389,761 autos registered, a 573% increase in only six years. (in 2012 there were 10.4 million cars registered in Illinois).

On December 22, 1912. the Chicago Daily Tribune published an editorial from William G. Edens that summed up the situation about the roads of Illinois:

The interesting thing about Edens' plan was that the $60 million bond issue would not be paid for by increased taxes, it would be paid for by a state vehicle registration fee (license plates).  The roads would be paid for by the people who used them.

Here's a photo from 1913 of Edens with bankers Miss Alma Miller, unidentified, Harrison Mathewson, and B. C. Getzelman.  Edens is on the far left as you look at the photo.

Edens worked tirelessly criss-crossing the state from 1912 to 1918 for the bond issue.  He addressed any group, large or small, who would listen to him.  In 1917, Governor Frank Lowden appointed Edens to the Board of Highway Advisors of Illinois.  Here's a photo of Edens from the time of the bond issue.  He looks like a banker, doesn't he?

William Grant Edens

Here's an advertisement run in favor of the bond issue from 1918:

The results were in.  On November 6, 1918, it was announced that the bond issue had passed overwhelmingly.  Over 600,000 votes were cast in favor - a plurality of over 450,000 votes.  Illinois would finally be pulled out of the mud.  The decisive victory was even more astounding because the country was still at war, and cost-cutting and frugality for the war effort were the standard for the time.  Edens convinced Illinois voters that it was time for them to invest in Illinois' future - and they did.

William Edens was in the military during World War I.  He was an honorary recruiting officer for the US War Department, but he also served in the 17th Engineers Regiment of the A.E.F. and the 108th Engineers Illinois Division.  It was in recognition of Edens' recruiting efforts during the war that he was awarded the honorary title of "Colonel", a title he proudly used for the rest of his life.

It is not known who actually made the suggestion to name the new north suburban highway after William Edens, but it was voted on and approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  The earliest evidence I could find was a small article from the Chicago Daily Tribune of December 14, 1941:

A project the size and scope of the Edens Expressway, which cost over $23,000,000.00 when completed, takes years of planning and review before the first shovel of dirt is turned.  In this case, the route was planned in the 1930s, land acquisition began in 1942, and the first construction contract was let in 1946.

Colonel Edens was the honored guest at the dedication ceremony which took place October 9, 1949 at the grade crossing over Cicero Avenue:

Due to the size of the project, it was wisely decided not to award the contracts to any one concern, but to break the project up into pieces and award the contracts in that manner.  There were 14 general contractors who were awarded work on the Edens "Superhighway":

Robert B. Anderson Company
Fred Lorenzen, Inc.
Arcole Midwest Corporation
Peter J. Crowley Company
Thomas McQueen Company
Contracting and Materials Company
Standard Paving Company
Frenzel Brothers Company
States Improvement Company
Leininger Construction Company
Kenny Construction Company
Michael J. McDermott Company
George D. Harding Company
Superior Concrete Construction Company

and sub-contractors too numerous to mention.

Here's a photo of the building of the Edens Expressway at the Lake Avenue exit in Wilmette.  The bottom middle of the photo is where Edens Plaza Shopping Center is today:

Here is the overpass at Cicero Avenue, a few months before the dedication:

Here is a photo of Col. Edens coming out of his home at 1212 W. North Shore Avenue, Chicago, three weeks before the dedication:

The Edens Superhighway, said to be the "Most beautiful highway in the country when finished", was officially opened on a snowy December 20, 1951.

Here are the officials, one step ahead of the snowplow:

Left-to-right:  Virgil Gunlock - Commissioner of Subways and Superhighways, James F. Ashenden - Commissioner, William N. Erickson - President of the County Board, Charles P. Casey - State Director of the State Department of Public Works and Buildings, and County Commissioners Christ A. Jensen and Daniel Ryan.  

Here is the "official" dedication, after they took partial cover under the overpass:

Left-to-right: Charles P. Casey, Col. Edens, William N. Erickson, Major George Quinlan and Dan Ryan (who will have an expressway named after him after his death in 1961)

Here's the Cicero overpass again, this time after the dedication:

The overpass in 1952.  The "Edens Superhighway" lettering on the overpass is the only known example of this phrasing.

The Cicero overpass today in 2013:

Some views of "The Most Beautiful Highway in the Country":

William G. Edens continued to be involved in various civic and fraternal organization activities throughout the 1950s.  Every year on his birthday, he would be remembered by the Chicago Daily Tribune such as this article from November 25, 1955:

In 1956, his health failing, William Edens moved into the Villa St. Cyril in Highland Park, a retirement/nursing home.

Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune from November 15, 1957 were greeted with the sad news:

William G. Edens is interred in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery, in Skokie, Illinois.

He crypt is just a short distance from the Old Orchard Road exit off the expressway named after him.  Edens wife, Maude Bruner Edens (1876-1968), and his son, William McKinley Edens (1903-1991) are both buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Metropolis, Illinois.    

Now that you know the story of Col. William G. Edens, whose lifelong crusade was for good roads for Illinois, I can let you in on a little secret: He never owned a car!

William Grant Edens, tireless advocate for good roads, for whom the Edens Expressway was named - may he rest in peace.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I have written before about tombstones carved to look like trees ( and how they often have objects carved into them that give us a hint as to the life of the person buried underneath. One of the saddest and most unique tree tombstones I have ever seen is at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.  It marks the grave of Jacob Raffsky, who died in 1889.

Many of the tombstones at Waldheim have porcelain photos of the deceased incorporated into them, but this one has an actual carving of Jacob Raffsky incorporated into the carving of the tree:

What can we find out about Jacob Raffsky, who died at the age of thirteen?  Let's see.

Jacob Raffsky was born in Chicago December 19, 1875 to Morris Raffsky (1850-1912) and Sarah, nee Harris (1851-1921).  Jacob and Sarah had both been born in Russia/Germany.  Morris came to the US in 1870, Sarah in 1871.  Morris was a tailor by trade but branched out, acting as a bail bondsman.  He and Sarah were married in Chicago in 1871.  The Raffsky family became US citizens in October of 1880.

Morris Raffsky was convicted of trying to bribe a grand jury in 1885 but let off with a fine.  He must have gotten back on good terms with the legal system because after he retired he acted as a Yiddish interpreter for the courts in Chicago.   

On the 1900 US Census, Morris and Sarah said they had five children, of whom only two were living in 1900.   I could only identify four:  three daughters - Mary (b. 1872), Jetty (b. 1873) and Lillie (1888-1931) and one son - Jacob.

Jacob Raffsky's tree tombstone is inscribed with Hebrew letters:

and then:
Our beloved son
Born in Chicago
Dec, 13, 1875
Sep 13, 1889
Rest in Peace

Let's look all the way around the "tree".  Note the ivy symbolizing friendship:

On the back of the monument note the doves - the live dove at the top is looking down at the dead dove lying at the base of the tree.  This signifies the death of innocence.

Note the oak leaves signifying victory over death and the calla lilies symbolizing beauty - in this case the beauty of youth.

I was not able to find a death certificate for Jacob Raffsky, but it is certain he died from one of the myriad of diseases that killed young people at the end of the nineteenth century.

Thanks to Jacob Raffsky's family he is remembered with an elaborate tree tombstone, but the only one I have ever seen where a carving of the departed was part of the tree.  A beautiful and unique memorial to one who died so young.

The Raffsky family plot can be found at Gate 28 - Moses Montifiore, at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

May Jacob Raffsky rest in peace.

Friday, July 12, 2013


As I was photographing the impressive monument of Seth Catlin at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago (see previous post) I spotted another monument that looked interesting - that of George W. Clarke.  Clarke's monument is immediately to the west of Catlin's in Section H. 

Unlike Catlin's monument, Clarke's had something carved into all four sides of it.  Here's the front side:

This is what is carved into the front side of the monument:


Civil Engineer

Born Feb 8 AD 1810

Brownsville, Fayette Co, Penn

Died at Chicago

Aug 13 AD 1866

Age 56 Yrs. 6 Mos. & 8 D

Graduate of  Jefferson College


A Citizen of Chicago

From 1833 to 1866

Moving counter-clockwise around the monument, here is the second side:

and here is what is carved on this side:

Clarke's point So. Chicago
Clarke station P. FtW & C RR
Clarke's subd. W. Chicago

and the next side:

Carved on this side are the tools of a civil engineer

and on the last side:

Integer vitae
                        Scelerisque purus

Upright of Life
                                And Free from Wickedness

What, then, can we find out about George W. Clarke, "A Citizen of Chicago?"

George Washington Clarke was born February 8, 1810 in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.  His parents were Robert Clarke (1773-1840) and Sara, nee Hamilton (1789-1842).  He had five siblings - two brothers: General Henry Francis Clarke, the hero of Gettysburg (1820-1887), and Major Robert W. Clarke, the hero of Bull Run; and three sisters: Caroline M. Clarke (1830-????), Sarah Jane Clarke  (1818-1905) and Harriet Seville Clarke (1823-1895).  Sara and Harriet are buried with George in the plot at Rosehill.  

Interestingly, George's brother William married Helen Margaret Catlin (1818-1856) in Vermont in 1838.  Helen does not seem to be a direct relation of Seth Catlin but it would explain why George Clarke's plot is immediately adjacent to Seth Catlin's at Rosehill.  

George came to Chicago in 1833 when he was twenty-three and Chicago was not even a city yet.   On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of around 200.  Within seven years it would grow to a population of over 4,000. On June 15, 1835, the first public land sales commenced.  The City of Chicago was incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837 and went on to become the fastest growing city in the world for several decades.

As a land agent and surveyor, Clarke was in the right place at the right time.  He knew that as the growth of Chicago exploded there would be a clamoring for honest land agents and surveyors.  Clarke was a believer in the expansion of Chicago to the south, and became one of the earliest investors in Lake County, Indiana, buying up large tracts of undeveloped land in that area.

His tombstone lists the three developments that Clarke was best known for:  Clarke's point in South Chicago, Clarke's subdivision of West Chicago and the Clarke station on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway (near modern-day Gary, Indiana).  The P. FtW & C RR was a major part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system, extending the Pennsylvania Railroad west from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Fort Wayne, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois and on to Iowa.

The Directories of Chicago from the period of 1855-1866 list George W. Clarke as a Land Agent, living and working from the Tremont House hotel in downtown Chicago.  

Tremont House circa 1860

Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune of Thursday, August 16, 1866 saw the following item:

DIED – George W. Clark (sic), one of the oldest residents of this city, having been identified with Chicago for over thirty years past, and owning considerable property in this city, died last evening of general debility, at the residence of Jacob Forsythe, Esq., No. 434 West Adams street.  The deceased was a bachelor, and about sixty years of age at the time of his death.  He was a native of Pennsylvania, coming from that state in this city.  He was a man who was loved and respected by all who knew him, very retiring in his disposition, and had he been more widely known, he would have been more universally beloved.  His funeral will take place at ten o’clock on Friday morning next, from No. 434 West Adams street.  

This follow-up appeared the next day:


In this city, on the evening of the 13th inst., GEORGE W. CLARKE, aged 56 years.

The funeral will leave the residence of his brother-in-law, Jacob Forsyth, 474 West Adams street, to-day (Friday) at 12 o’clock, for Rosehill Cemetery, by train.  His friends and the friends of his family are requested to attend without further notice.  Chicago Daily Tribune - Friday August 17, 1866

As with Seth Catlin's death records, the death records of George W. Clarke were lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  His obituary states that he died from "general debility" which is a broad term for loss of strength in the body.  Clarke was a pioneer and that took its toll on his body.  By age 56 he was just worn out.  

The death notice says that Jacob Forsyth was the brother-in-law of George Clarke.  Jacob Forsyth was married to the former Miss Caroline Clarke of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, so I thought she was also a sister of George Clarke.  However, Forsyth's own obituary says that he married a niece of George Clarke.  

George W. Clarke was buried in the seven-year-old Rosehill Cemetery in the plot next to that of Seth Catlin.  

Also buried in the plot with George are his sister Harriet Sevilla Clarke who died in 1895:

and his sister Sarah Jane Clarke who died in 1905:

Years ago, in a management training class, I had to write my own obituary.  Usually, as in the case of George W. Clarke, someone else writes it for us.  Of George W. Clarke they wrote:

"Integer vitae
Scelerisque purus"

"Upright of Life
And Free from Wickedness"

I think any of us would be satisfied with the same.

George W. Clarke, land agent, civil engineer and Chicago pioneer - May he rest in peace.

Friday, July 5, 2013


After you pass through the impressive front gates of Rosehill Cemetery, if you continue on bearing a soft left between Sections C and H, look to your right about half way through Section H along the roadside and you will see an interesting monument:

Just who was Seth Catlin, and why did the Chicago Board of Trade erect a monument in his honor?  I figured there would be an interesting story under this stone, and I was right.

Seth Catlin was born September 14, 1812 in Deerfield, Massachusetts to Richard Catlin (1773-1852) and Charlotte, nee Stebbins (1780-1855).   He was actually the second Seth Catlin born to Richard and Charlotte - the first was born in 1800 and died in 1803.  Using the same name more than once in a generation is guaranteed to drive genealogists slowly mad...

Our Seth Catlin - 2nd, was one of eight children born to Richard and Charlotte.  As mentioned, there was the first Seth Catlin (1800-1803), then Richard (1802-1803), Charlotte (1803-1859), Maria (1805-1807), another Maria, 2nd (1808-1809), Catherine (1810-????), Abigail (1815-1856), and Jane (1819-1842).  Richard Catlin was a farmer, as had been his ancestors.  Members of the Catlin and Stebbins families had been here since before the Revolutionary War.  Interestingly, the Catlin ancestors were Tories, but the Stebbins family fought for independence.

Seth moved to Chicago in 1835.  

Seth Catlin married Helen Griswold in Chicago on September 5, 1838. Seth and Helen were blessed with seven children:  Richard (1840-1878), George (1843-1910), Charles (1844-1913), Jane (1848-1930), Catherine (1850-1940), Helen (1853-????) and Seth (1856-1923).

History does not record just exactly when Seth Catlin joined the Chicago Board of Trade, but we do know that in April of 1858 he was appointed Superintendent of the Board of Trade, and in 1860 he was appointed to be the Secretary, a position he held until his death.

These were exciting days to be a part of the CBOT.  There was an economic boom as the country prepared for war, and everything went through Chicago.  In the 1850s the CBOT had first started trading "Forward" contracts, and the Board of Trade was officially chartered by the State of Illinois in 1859.  By 1860, Chicago had developed into a national center for commerce, serving as the westward bound transportation hub for both railroads and ships.

As the war began in 1861, CBOT adopted the gold coin as its standard of value.  In addition, CBOT financed the formation of three regiments and an artillery battery for the Union Army.  The pace at the CBOT was non-stop as commodities were gathered up for the insatiable appetite of the war machine.
Seth Catlin had been the statistician of the Board of Trade from the institution of its system of publishing annual statistical reports up to the time of his death and had won high rank in his profession by the faithfulness and accuracy of his work.   He inaugurated the popular system of keeping the books of the Board and the publishing of its review - an annual report of the "Trade and Commerce" of Chicago, and specifically how the CBOT was affected by this trade and commerce. He ended the 1861 report, published January 1, 1862, with these comments: 

"At no time since its inauguration has the Board been in so flourishing a condition as at present.  Since our last report, forty feet have been added to the building, on the east, making the rooms now occupied by the Board for Secretary's office, Grain Inspector's office, Reading Room, Sales Room, &c., one hundred and sixty feet long, by about fifty feet wide.  Its members number over 800.  Quite a number of firms from Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other points, have come to Chicago, transferring most of their business to this place.
SETH CATLIN, Secretary" 

When Seth Catlin presented this report to the Board, he did not know it was to be his last.

Unfortunately Seth Catlin became ill during the fall of 1862.  Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune of  Tuesday, January 20, 1863 saw the following notice:

Here, from later that same day, are the resolutions the CBOT passed about the death of Seth Catlin:

The Board of Trade, at their regular session passed the following resolution of respect in memory of the late Secretary of the Board, Seth Catlin, Esq.

WHEREAS, in the wise dispensation of Providence, Seth Catlin, the Secretary of this Board, has been removed to another world, and

WHEREAS, It becomes us, in view of his departure, to take heed of the solemn admonition thus forcibly presented to us; therefore

RESOLVED, That in the death of our Secretary we are deprived of an able, diligent, and invaluable officer, one whose records in the office of this Board will ever remain to the members as cherished mementoes of his commercial worth and knowledge, 

RESOLVED, That in our late Secretary, this Board recognize a man possessed of inflexible will, the purity of purpose, and the unbending integrity of character so essential to true manhood.  His errors, if any, were truly of the head and not the heart.

RESOLVED, That the above Preamble and Resolutions be spread upon the records of this Board, And with unfeigned sorrow we tender the family of the deceased our warmest sympathy and condolence.

RESOLVED, That this Board now adjourn.

We don't know what the disease was that killed Seth Catlin, other than that he had been sick for four months.  Having died in 1863, his death certificate was lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

There was a curious notice in the Chicago Daily Tribune on January 21, 1863 about the final resting place of Seth Catlin:

It is interesting that Rosehill donated the burial plot for Seth Catlin.  I imagine they did this for the favorable publicity it would bring to the cemetery.  Rosehill knew that a lot of rich and powerful people would be attending Catlin's funeral, and they probably thought this was a good way to reach out to potential customers.  When Seth Catlin died in 1863, Rosehill had not even been open for four years.  Donating a grave for a powerful and influential Chicagoan was a brillliant stroke of marketing genius.  

The second stroke of marketing genius concerned Seth Catlin's monument.  $1,000.00 had been collected by the members of the CBOT for Catlin's monument.  The Board decided, after consultation with the cemetery, that Catlin's monument should be done by Leonard Volk.  Fans of Volk have seen his own monument at Rosehill:


A good writeup on the life and works of Leonard Volk can be found here:

Always out for favorable publicity, here are excerpts from an article from the Chicago Daily Tribune of June 30, 1863:

Volk, the sculptor, has at present his hands full of commissions.  (He) is now at work upon (a) monument for the late Seth Catlin, ordered by the Board of Trade.  (It) will represent a writing desk, with closed book, and pen thrown down, resting upon an elaborate pedestal.  Upon the front of the desk is a wreath of oak, encircling the name.  A sheaf of wheat, exquisitely carved, reclines against the desk.

And so, here it is:

The Sheaf of Wheat

Comments made about a colleague after his untimely death tend to be rather "flowery" but I believe his colleagues really meant it when they said about Seth Catlin:

"That in the death of our Secretary we are deprived of an able, diligent, and invaluable officer, one whose records in the office of this Board will ever remain to the members as cherished mementoes of his commercial worth and knowledge..."

Little did they know that many of Seth Catlin's careful records would burn up in the Great Chicago Fire less than ten years hence.  

Seth Catlin:  Able, Diligent and Invaluable - May he rest in peace.