On a recent trip to Ottawa, IL, I spent some time in the space where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas first debated. When I looked at statue of Stephen Douglas, my thoughts instantly went to the Chicago’s South Side.
I imagined the past with trees, farmland, cottages, and Camp Douglas, the prisoner of war camp, to present day Lake Meadows, Groveland Park, and Bronzeville.
In 1852 Stephen A Douglas purchased 70+ acres. He called his land Oakenwald, which was about from McCormick Place along the lakefront to about 35th St. & west to where the Dan Ryan Expressway is today.
Douglas built his cottage on 35th Street which also happens to house his tomb and monument.
I wondered why his statue was facing east towards Lake Michigan. Later, I read it was so he could forever see the Central Railroad tracks. He put together a federal land grant that funded the expansion of the rail line into Chicago. (1836)
When Douglas died in 1861 he was buried near the shores of Lake Michigan near his old cottage. Later some friends commissioned a Memorial & Tomb be built on the land he called Oakenwald.
The extravagant yet simple tomb was designed by Leonard Volk. The Monument was completed in 1883.
Once the Monument was completed in 1883, Douglas was exhumed and moved to tomb.
The area that we know today of Bronzeville, Groveland Park, Lake Meadows, and Oakenwald all originated from some land that was once owned by Stephen A Douglas, a.k.a. Little Giant.
One thing remains true so many years later: the Little Giant will always be a part of Chicago’s South Side.
References and Further Reading
- Chicago: A Personal History of America’s Most American City (book by Finis Farr)
- Douglas (Encyclopedia of Chicago)