7 on the Streets: Wolcott Avenue, Grand Avenue, Owen Avenue

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Friday, May 1, 2015
7 on the Streets: Wolcott, Grand, Owen
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Have you ever wondered where Chicago's street names come from? Roz Varon investigates in "7 on the Streets."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Our series on this history of Chicago street names, "7 on the Streets," has been so popular we're bringing it back. We asked our viewers to choose the street names they'd like to learn about.

We got so many responses on Facebook it was tough to narrow it down, but we're beginning with a request from Facebook fan Rosa Ruiz, who wanted to know how Wolcott Avenue got its name.

Originally known as Lincoln Street, Wolcott Avenue runs through about 20 miles of Chicago at 1900 West.

It was named after Dr. Alexander Wolcott Jr., who in 1819 was appointed Indian agent for Chicago, among other things.

"He has the distinction of being the first private medical doctor in the city," says Peter Alter of the Chicago History Museum.

"He had a connection to the Kinzie family in Chicago by marrying the daughter of John Kinzie in 1823," explains Katie Macica of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Societ, "and this was supposedly the first wedding in the settlement of Chicago."

"Cubs fans might know the street named for him is the street where the Cubs have won their only two World Series championships in 1907 and 1908, West Side Grounds," says Alter.

Located at Polk and Wolcott streets, West Side Park, closed in 1915.

It was replaced by the University of Illinois hospital & health sciences system, expanding to the Illinois Medical District.

The street was renamed Wolcott Avenue in 1939.

Robin Spina was curious about Grand Avenue, an angle street that runs about 12 miles in Chicago from Navy Pier to Harlem Avenue.

Like most of Chicago's diagonal streets, Grand Avenue was originally a muddy, Native American trail. Grand Avenue wasn't its original name.

"Grand Avenue had previously been called Whiskey Point Road, presumably because there was a tavern in what is now the Belmont Cragin neighborhood," says Macica.

"City planners plotting the streets said what do we want to do with something called Whisky Point Road," says Alter, "and they looked back to Chicago's history and they were reminded of someone by the name of Thomas Jefferson Vance Owen who at one point we believe said Chicago is a grand place to live."

There is a street named after Owen, one block on the Northwest Side.

Owen was one of the early founders of Chicago, and a companion of Daniel Boone. He became Indian agent of Chicago after Dr. Wolcott's death in 1830.

Owen is also said to have been Chicago's first village president, elected in 1833; Chicago wasn't incorporated as a city until 1837. Our city's first mayor has a street named after him, and we'll explore that in the next segment of 7 on the streets