Surrounded by waterways and railroads, Hegewisch on Chicago’s Southeast Side is the city’s most isolated neighborhood, according to Cynthia L. Ogorek, author of “Hegewisch,” published in November by Arcadia Publishing. The book, consisting of historical photographs, also suggests that the neighborhood may be among the most productive neighborhoods in terms of manufacturing.
“People in other parts of Chicago don’t even know Hegewisch exists,” said Ogorek, a Hegewisch native who now lives in Danville. “They think it’s a suburb of Chicago or in Indiana.”
Ogorek describes himself as a public historian and earned a master’s degree in history from Dominican University. Three of the other Arcadia books explore the early foundations of Chicago’s industrial sector; all linked to Hegewisch.
One is St. It examines the Calumet River system that connects the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Another involves the South Shore and South Bend Rail Line, which has carried workers and tourists between places in Chicago for decades. Another spotlights the Indiana Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad, a short line that gave five major railroads access to Chicago.
Like those books, Ogorek doggedly pursued facts and historical images, sometimes even risking traveling out of state to do research. However, the book “Hegewisch” contains more personal connections.
He and his family moved from Hegewisch to Calumet City when he was just 4 years old, but he insists his family’s roots remain in the old Chicago neighborhood.
“All my relatives were there, and seven of the 12 from my parents’ generation lived there until they died,” he said.
Much of Ogorek’s early knowledge of Hegewisch came from family gatherings where relatives ate cake, drank coffee, and played guessing games about Hegewisch natives. “We called it ‘Who Was From Home?'” Ogorek said. “They named it,” he said.
His maternal grandfather, Joe Pavich, came from Dalmatia, a region of Croatia, and ran Joe’s Tavern at 13259 S. Baltimore. In the book, Ogorek’s father, II. He is pictured with several other relatives, including World War II Army sergeant Walter Ogorek.
Some images came from a collection provided by Mike Aniol, owner of Aniol Ace Hardware at 13416 S. Baltimore St. But Ogorek, who has the lion’s share of photographs and information, spent more than a decade researching historical materials housed at the Southeast Chicago History Museum. The massive Chicago Park District Calumet Park estate home on Lake Michigan.
Ogorek, who appeared at a recent open house there, sold copies of “Hegewisch” and instructed first-time visitors to peruse the permanent exhibit of historic Hegewisch photographs and artifacts, along with other exhibits dedicated to Chicago’s South Chicago, South Deering and East Side neighborhoods gave.
The name Hegewisch was given by Adolph Hegewisch, president of the US Rolling Stock Company. The wooden boxcar manufacturer, once headquartered in New York City, established operations throughout the United States, including operations that opened in 1884 at Brandon and Brainerd Avenues on what was then the outskirts of Chicago.
Housing was needed for workers, so at that time investors formed the Hegewisch Land Company, with Adolph Hegewisch as manager.
The land syndicate purchased several hundred acres north of the U.S. Railroad Vehicles facility, then sold residential and commercial land.
“(Adolph) Hegewisch never owned a home like he did in other company towns like Pullman,” Ogorek said. “People bought land and built their own houses. That’s it.” Ogorek said it’s doubtful that any form of municipal government existed in early Hegewisch either, but Adolph Hegewisch worked with the community to establish fire and police stations.
“The way it worked in a lot of company towns back then was mostly to maintain the infrastructure to keep things running and keep people happy,” he said. US Railroad Cars were sold at auction in 1893. The plant later resumed operations as US Car, then Western Steel Car and Foundry, and then Pressed Car Company. Pressed Car eventually built military tanks and household appliances on site.
Ogorek opens the book with Hegewisch’s view through the eyes of an Inter Ocean newspaper reporter in 1905.
The journalist came to interview Oscar “Battle” Nelson, who will fight the longest match in modern boxing history (42 rounds) to become the world lightweight boxing champion.
Although the city of Chicago had annexed Hegewisch fifteen years earlier in 1889, the reporter noted the quiet of a country town surrounded by prairies, its streets unpaved and water flowing through ditches.
Some of the neighborhood’s first European residents were farming families. The British, Germans and Scandinavians were followed by Polish, Greek, Italian and more German immigrants seeking employment in manufacturing.
For decades they made wagons, buses, airplane fuselages, military tanks, stoves, chemicals and automobiles. US Steel established a warehouse in Hegewisch. Ford established an assembly plant that still produces cars.
Hegewisch residents also sought employment at nearby now-long-closed steel mills as well as a meatpacking plant in Hammond, Indiana.
Commuting to work in the early 20th century required walking for miles in all kinds of weather, crossing railroad bridges and boarding unheated rail cars. During lean periods, the first wave of factory workers resorted to hunting and carving giant blocks of ice from Lake Wolf. “Ice was used to cool wagons carrying meat to other parts of the country,” Ogorek said.
Working in the factory meant opportunity for men and women. Of the 43 boarding houses in Hegewisch’s early days, 23 were run by women. Other women worked as laundresses and seamstresses. Some later ran schools, established libraries and published a local newspaper.
Although heavy industry shaped harsh lives, people still managed to hold picnics and parades, play baseball on company teams, honor fallen heroes, worship at local churches, go to movies, take music lessons, organize scouting projects, farm water, Ogorek said. create lilies and cookbooks.
After World War II, Chicago’s only trailer park — now prefabricated homes — took root in Hegewisch to support much-needed housing for veterans and their families. The construction of brick bungalows with name letters on the streets has also started.
For decades, the Hegewisch Chamber of Commerce and the Hegewisch News have complained that Chicago city council members failed to provide amenities that other Chicago neighborhoods took for granted.
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A photo from about 1949 shows one of Ogorek’s cousins standing on a piece of ice wearing a snow suit. The caption states that since there was no ice rink or swimming pool, the children skated in puddles and swam in Wolf Lake.
Library access is also inconsistent, Ogorek said.
Things improved in the 1980s with the construction of the Mann Park swimming pool, ice rink, and permanent library branch, but soon Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to raze Hegewisch to create a third regional airport. Activists fought back. The airport never materialized.
Ogorek ends his book where it all began: the land first occupied by U.S. Railroads. In 2019, CRRC Sinfang America, 13535 S. Torrence, began producing a new type of rolling stock — railcars — for the Chicago Transit Authority.
“This is the same land, just a different address, a different entrance,” Ogorek said.
“Hegewisch” can be purchased at the Southeast Chicago History Museum, 9801 S. Avenue G, Chicago, open Thursdays, or online at: www.arcadiapublishing.com.
Susan DeGrane is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.