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Piecing together the history of Rogers Park
By Lorraine Swanson   - 07/09/2007

Chicago News-Star

More Info on This Book: Rogers Park

From the Native American tribes that once made their home along the Lake Michigan shoreline to neighborhood legends like Herbert "Herbie" Williams, an African-American newspaper vendor who worked the same corner for 50 years, Jacque Day Archer and Jamie Wirbinski Santoro's photographic history book, Rogers Park, chronicles the untold stories of Chicago's gem with unbounded insight and reverence.

Inspired by an evening walk along Rogers Avenue, once the dividing "Indian Boundary" that separated Chicago's white settlers from the Ottawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi nations, Day thought "there's a story here." She asked Santoro if she wanted to collaborate on the book, which is part of Arcadia Publishing's critically acclaimed series of regional histories.

Day already had access to a huge cache of historic local photos at the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, where she is currently board president. (The book is dedicated to the historical society's executive director, Mary Jo Doyle.)

"When Jacque first approached me, this historical society had already published two histories. We needed a different approach," Santoro said.

The two friends who have long ties to Rogers Park and now live on opposite sides of Calvary Cemetery, hit the streets looking for photos. One of the first places they visited was Loyola University's photo archives, where they met up with Sister Ann Ida Gannon, who grew up in Rogers Park and had served as president of Mundelein College, the women's college which closed in 1993.

"We started going to other places. We probably visited every church in Rogers Park and reached out to other social service organizations. We went beyond the neighborhood to talk to people who had roots here who had family photos. We looked for stories that weren't told before," Santoro said.

While the neighborhood's history as a pioneer settlement is well documented--Patrick Touhy, an enterprising Irish-Catholic immigrant named the burgeoning village "Rogers Park" in honor of his late father-in-law, Philip MacGregor
Rogers, in 1878. The authors were also interested in telling the story of the area's Native American tribes.

"We were into the 'pre-history.' We went to the Library of Congress to supplement the early telling of how this area was settled by both the Potawatomie and Irish," Day said.

Once word got out that Day and Santoro were putting together a book about Rogers Park's history, the stories and photos started pouring in.

"We spent a year working on the book. Nine months was spent talking to people, the rest was spent writing the book. As we got the ball rolling, we started getting stories and the stories kept coming even after our deadline," Santoro said.

For several months, Day carried around a photo of Herbert Williams, who owned a newsstand on the corner of Rogers and Sheridan for 50 years.

"I found a picture of him taken in 1933. One day we were with (resident) Dan Dooley (who is featured in the book) who said, 'that's Herbie.' I'm still hearing stories about Herbie. No one knew his last name and finally a little old lady on Rogers Avenue told me his last name," Day said.

Santoro was also interested in chronicling Rogers Park's social justice history, from residents who refused to pay an extra fare to the North Chicago Street Railway Company for the privilege of riding south of Graceland Avenue (now Irving Park), to Loyola becoming one of the first American universities to field an integrated men's basketball team, to Mundelein College's female students being the first to volunteer for President Kennedy's Peace Corps.

"We tried hard to connect Rogers Park to the world at large. We saw Rogers Park as a microcosm of what was happening in the world at large," Santoro said.

Released in January, Rogers Park is already headed into its second printing. Day and Santoro, both accomplished book-publishing editors, recently signed on to do an Arcadia history of West Ridge. They are also considering writing a sequel to their popular book on Rogers Park.

"I received a call from a man living in Florida who hasn't been back in 35 years, who started belting off names, facts and stories. There are still so many parts of the Rogers Park story that haven't been told," Day said.

Buy It Now: Rogers Park $21.99

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