My sister and her husband gave me an unexpected visit the other weekend and we decided to eat dinner at Tre Konor, a Scandinavian restaurant near Foster and California owned by a Norwegian man and his Swedish wife. The cozy mom-and-pop bistro is about all that’s available for authentic Nordic fare in a city that still teems with those of Viking descent.
After our dill-laden seafood-fest—including tuna, crab, shrimp, salmon, smoked salmon and rainbow trout—my sister wanted to show off for my brother-in-law the North side’s 5200 block street Leland Avenue. He tried to muster a little excitement at the sight of the green sign bearing our family name but it was obvious it held no real charm for him.
One of the things I’ve always treasured about Chicago is its incredibly strong Norwegian heritage. A lot of Scandinavian-Chicagoans aren’t even aware that only 60-some miles southwest of the city is Norway, Ill., recognized as the first permanent Norwegian-American immigrant settlement in the Midwest. The Norsk Museum, once an old Norwegian Lutheran Church, sits at the center of the tiny, unincorporated community that is only a hop, skip and a jump from another Norwegian farm village by the name of Leland!
I’ll never forget the afternoon some 15 years ago when Naperville’s Mayor George Pradel drove us to Leland so we could see just what it was like and, after eating at their downtown diner, we moseyed into the Leland police station where Pradel introduced himself as a Naperville cop and the officers kindly gave me two official Village of Leland police patches to sew on my jacket if I chose. I still have them as mementos.
All of LaSalle County in the Fox River Valley, where Norway and Leland lie, was, in fact, a major migration point for Norwegian pioneers who had first sailed to America in 1825 aboard the Restauration. An excerpt from an old historical book posted online by the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society reveals:
“The century that has passed since the migration of six Norwegian families from Orleans County, New York, to LaSalle County, Illinois in 1834 has seen the emigration of over three-quarters of a million Norwegians from the old homeland to the New World, and has witnessed the establishment of countless Norwegian settlements throughout the United States and Canada, particularly in the region drained by the upper reaches of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. That this latter region should have become a veritable New Canaan for Norwegians was perhaps both natural and inevitable considering the fact that Norwegian emigration to America became considerable at the time that the westward movement of the American population rounded the lower end of Lake Michigan. The migration of the pioneer Norwegians to Illinois in 1834 was a part of the greater migration of thousands of families both native American and foreign-born, westward to Illinois and beyond.”
In Chicago, whole neighborhoods were built by Scandinavians and I like to think the man Leland Avenue was named after, Henry Leland, could have been a relative of mine. It wouldn’t surprise me since Leland is an old, old Norwegian name that is not common at all.
When my church was first established in 1900, under the name The North Shore Congregational Church, it was decided it would be located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood only at the corner of Sheridan Road and Wilson Avenue, only a long block from where Leland intersects Sheridan.
If you go to the website http://uptownhistory.compassrose.org/ and click on the left-side link “Leland” you can actually view an old black-and-white photo of the intersection of Leland and Sheridan where the North Shore church tower is clearly seen in the distance.
In her book about North Shore’s history, church member Matilda B. Carse writes, “The North Shore Congregational Church was the first church organized for Christian worship and work in the territory, more than a mile square, extending from Graceland avenue to Argyle avenue, and from Lake Shore to Clark street. An excellent class of people, of moderate means, were making their homes here, and readily responded to the first call for a church.
From Carse’s book, we’re told the 86 charter members quickly grew within six months “so that when the Council was called on Nov. 8, 1900, the charter membership showed the unusual list of 136 names, from 46 different churches, and eight denominations, and 26 on confession of faith. Prominent members of the Council expressed the opinion that seldom, if ever in the history of Chicago, had a church been organized with such strength at the beginning.
“The little store where the services were held, at length became too crowded, and the building was enlarged by an addition of 18 feet to accommodate the audiences.
“After a careful search for the ideal location for the new church (every possible site from Montrose boulevard to Lawrence avenue having been investigated), it was unanimously voted that the corner of Sheridan road and Wilson avenue was the strategic point. Accordingly, by vote of the church, the Trustees were authorized to purchase this site for the sum of $14,500.”
In a promotional ad inside the Chicago Tribune newspaper written years later, the church at 1011 Wilson Ave., was identified as “Home of Radio Show We Preach Christ Crucified. This building is located on a busy corner, 4600 North, in Chicago. More than 250,000 people pass the corner of Sheridan Rd. and Wilson Ave. every 24 hours. In our church services as well as in all of our Radio Broadcasts, we are true to our slogan:
We Preach Christ Crucified
We Praise Christ Continually
We Proclaim Christ’s Coming”
(Editor’s Note: To be continued . . .)