Skip to main content

West Town Community Collection

Identifier: spe-nhrc-wt

Scope and Contents

The West Town Community Collection covers the history of Chicago's West Town neighborhood, its residents, and its institutions, including churches, businesses, organizations, settlement houses, schools and libraries. The material in this collection from before 1970 is primarily comprised of news clippings, programs, historical sketches and school newspapers. The files in this collection from after 1970 cover the history of the neighborhood and its institutions including churches, businesses, charitable organizations, settlement houses, schools and libraries through articles, brochures, news clippings and reports.

The organizations and topics included in the collection includes Chicago Artesian Ice Company, Hochspeier Funeral Home and Northwestern University Settlement. Social topics includes demographic shifts, gentrification and homelessness.

News clippings in the original collection that were duplicated in the library’s newspaper holdings have been indexed in this guide, but not physically included in manuscript collection.


  • 1860 - 2007

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, West Town, Community Area 24, is about three miles northwest of downtown Chicago, with its official boundaries roughly corresponding to Bloomingdale Avenue on the north, Kinzie Street on the south, the Chicago River on the east, and a shifting western boundary that can go as far as Kedzie Avenue. West Town is comprised of all or part of several smaller neighborhoods including Bucktown, East Humboldt Park, East Village, Noble Square, Pulaski Park, River West, Ukrainian Village, and Wicker Park.

Much of the West Town area east of Wood Street was within the limits of what was incorporated as the City of Chicago in 1837. During the 1860s, homes were constructed near the railroad shops and yards and near newly constructed factories by the river and along Milwaukee Avenue. Poles had begun to settle the area, and the 1869 establishment of Humboldt Park in West Town’s northwest corner, as well as Humboldt station by the Milwaukee Railroad, led to a settlement of primarily Germans and Scandinavians north of the park. The area attracted many workers after the Chicago Fire of 1871 who wished to build lower cost wood-frame homes, and in the following decades Polish immigration to the area increased, along with Russian Jews, Ukrainians, and Germans.

As ethnic groups became more affluent, they moved further north along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor. As the Germans and Scandinavians moved north, the Poles moved in. During the second half of the twentieth century, Poles began moving north, as Puerto Ricans and Mexicans moved in.

The 1950s saw not just a demographic shift in West Town, but also urban renewal efforts by the City of Chicago, including subsidized housing projects and construction of the Kennedy Expressway, Interstate 94. Ethnic communities organized against many urban renewal projects and met with some success, though several projects were realized despite community opposition. Toward the end of the twentieth century, sections of West Town, most notably Wicker Park and Bucktown, experienced various degrees of development, and many ethnic residents in these areas were displaced as a result.


4.5 Linear Feet (in 5 boxes, includes 3 oversize folders, 82 photographs)

Language of Materials



The West Town Community Collection covers the history of Chicago's West Town neighborhood, its residents, and its institutions, including churches, businesses, organizations, settlement houses, schools and libraries. Of particular note are the photographs that document schools in the neighborhood.


The collection is arranged in nine series by topic:

Series 1: Biographical Data, 1929-1946, undated

Series 2: Business Establishments, 1867-1997, undated

Series 3: Religious Institutions, 1902-2003, undated

Series 4: Clubs and Organizations, circa 1910-2003, undated

Series 5: Historical Sketches and Newspapers, 1936-2007

Series 6: Municipal Agencies and Parks, 1899-2005, undated

Series 7: Residences, 1876-circa 1996, undated

Series 8: Schools, 1860-2000, undated

Series 9: Street Scenes and Transportation, 1874-circa 1996, undated

Custodial History

Material in this collection from before 1970 was originally part of the collections of the West Side Historical Society, which formed at the Legler branch of The Chicago Public Library. From 1976-1986, the materials were temporarily housed to the University of Illinois-Chicago Campus (UIC).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Chicago Public Library, Legler Branch via University of Illinois-Chicago in 1986 and from Chicago Public Library, Eckhart Park Branch in 2008 to CPL’s Digitization Working Group who transferred the files to Special Collections. Other materials continue to be added through transfer and donation.

Related Materials

Chicago Department of Urban Renewal Records

Humboldt Park Community Collection

Logan Square Community Collection

West Side Historical Society Papers

West [Near West] Side Community Collection

West Side Newspaper Collection

West Side Council of Parents and Teachers Records

Guide to the West Town Community Collection
The material in the collection from before 1970 was processed by CPL staff in the mid-1980s. The material from after 1970 was processed by Johanna Russ in 2013. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875