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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Epsy Smith of 1630 South Dearborn

This is from the first paragraph of a page 1 obituary in the Illinois State Journal on May 10, 1892. She was a fascinating woman, known to her family as Epsy Smith, and to those to whom she was indentured as Hepsey:

“It was in one of the dilapidated old frame tenement houses on Dearborn St. near Sixteenth, Chicago, where the rattle and roar of constantly passing trains never cease, and where such a thing as a garbage cart or street sweeper is unknown, that “Aunt” Epsy Smith died. It was near 1 o’clock Sunday morning that she breathed her last. She was of African descent and unknown, so to speak, in the great metropolis, but she had an eventful life — one of almost historic interest."

She had been Abraham and Mary Lincoln's maid when they lived in Springfield. And, as noted further down in the obituary, she died at 1630 South Dearborn, Chicago. So, I Google-mapped and street-viewed the address. (Love that thing.)

If I'm looking at it right, it appears to be a vacant lot now with lots of trees and scrub in place of an apartment building, obviously long ago demolished. The Aarow Bolt and Screw factory is on the lot(s) to the north, and a police parking lot is to the south. I'm guessing Arrow Bolt and Screw is no longer in business, and who knows if it (or that building) was even in existence back then. But, it's easy to imagine all the tenements lined up on that side of the street at one time. And, yes, the blocks around it are almost surrounded by railroad tracks, making the little neighborhood not only noisy, but certainly a dangerous place to live and cut off from the rest of the world.

I'm sure everyone else is thinking what I'm thinking. But, I'll say it anyway: Historical marker. I don't know how difficult it would be, but I suppose the first step would be to find out who owns the land.

Posted by Marie at March 23, 2011 10:06 PM

Comments

Chicago changed its street numbering system around 1908, so "1630 S. Dearborn" was a different location in 1892 than it is today. In fact, I'm pretty sure that site you pinpointed was in the middle of a railyard in 1892. Everything south of Polk Street between Clark and Plymouth would have been railyard, terminating on the north at Dearborn Street Station on Polk.

But regardless of location, I agree with you about the marker.

Posted by: Pete Anderson Author Profile Page at March 24, 2011 10:35 AM

Thank you, Pete. I did not know that. So, I suppose the first step would be to locate a map of the area from the 1890s.

Posted by: Marie Author Profile Page at March 24, 2011 8:22 PM

See if you can find a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that wasn't updated ... The earliest I can find in the black & white set online via subscription is a 1911 one (vol 3, sheet 16)... At that point in time the 2 story residence to the north (1628 S Dearborn) was still standing as was the 4 story tenement to its north and so on heading north on the W side of the block, but the E side was empty.
Check your libraries or historical society... they should have earlier Sanborns or other fire insurance maps. Good luck!

Posted by: Kris Zapalac Author Profile Page at May 29, 2011 3:30 PM

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