History is the invisible fabric of the community, manifest in the present only with markers and artifacts. Modest homes on quiet streets in Evanston rarely reflect their cultural or historic significance, and present-day shops do not reveal their predecessors.
Working with Morris “Dino” Robinson, founder of Shorefront Legacy Center and collector and curator of the history of African American history in Evanston and on the North Shore, the City of Evanston has designated several African American Heritage Sites here.
Eight sites honor several “firsts” in local history: the homes of the first African American mayor and the first African American alderman, founders of one of the first churches here, as well as the locations of several businesses. Unobtrusive markers at the sites will offer some information that supplements that provided on a website that will have a map, site indicators and historical write-ups.
2206 Darrow Ave., home of Lorraine Hairston Morton, educator, alderman, and Evanston’s first African American Mayor, who served the community for more than 50 years. She was elected Mayor in 1993 and re-elected in 1997, 2001, and 2005. She began as an educator at Foster School in 1953 and continued as a middle-school teacher at Nichols and Chute, and principal of Haven Middle School. While principal, she also served on Evanston’s City Council as Fifth Ward alderman for nine years before winning election as Mayor.
2032 Darrow Ave., home of Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr., Evanston’s first African American alderman, who served from 1931 to 1947. Before he took his seat, Harvard graduate Mr. Jourdain was a managing editor of the Chicago Bee and sports editor of the Chicago Defender. He was instrumental in fighting the City’s adoption of Jim Crow practices and championed desegregating movie theaters, public beaches and other public areas. He served as the Midwest representative of the NAACP. He died in 1984. .
1918 Asbury Ave., Evanston Sanitarium, established in 1914 to serve the African American community. The founding physicians, Dr. Isabella Garnett and Dr. Arthur Butler, and their children lived in the house at the back of the lot. After Dr. Butler died in 1924, Dr. Garnett continued to run the hospital for six more years until the facilities were renamed Community Hospital and then transferred to a new site at 2026 Brown Ave.
914 Davis St., Butler Livery Stable, owned by Henry Butler and a business partner. The livery operated from 1891 to 1930. The offices were located on Grove Street west of Elmwood Avenue, and two stable locations in today’s downtown Evanston area: 914 Davis St. and 1024 Emerson St. Mr. Butler and his wife, Mary, lived at 327 Dempster St.
1031 Sherman Ave., Butler Groceries, owned by Cornelius and Barbara Butler, who also lived on the site. Arriving in Evanston in 1878 from Kenosha Wis., they sold their farm and brought much of their livestock by train to Evanston. Their sons later started their own businesses in roofing and livery, most notably Henry Butler’s Butler Livery Stable.
325 Dempster St., home of Maria Murray Robinson and George Robinson. Maria Murray was the first recorded African American brought into Evanston as an indentured domestic in 1855 at the age of 14. George Robinson came to Evanston in 1865.They later married and moved into the Dempster Street home. The Robinsons were founding members of Second Baptist Church in 1882.
1619 Sherman Ave., William Twiggs Print Shop. After owning and operating his barbershop on Orrington Avenue just south of Davis Street for eight years, William Twiggs opens a print business at 1619 Sherman Ave. There he produced two newspapers, the North Shore Colored American in 1904 and The Reporter and Directory in 1909. In 1911, he moved his print business and his home to 1315 Emerson St. The building burned down in 1956.
1813 Benson Ave., Ebenezer A.M.E Church. Stemming from the early interest group, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church was formally recognized on Oct. 30, 1882. The Rev. George H. Hann was the first pastor. During his tenure, the first house of worship was built at 1813 Benson Avenue between Clark Street and University Place on land leased from Northwestern University. The frame structure served the congregation until a fire destroyed the building in 1902. New land was purchased in 1903 and its new structure was dedicated in 1908 at its present location 1109 Emerson St.
The City’s Preservation Commission supported the measure, first considering the establishment of an African American cultural district in Evanston somewhat similar to existing historic districts. However, wrote Senior Planner and Preservation Coordinator Carlos Ruiz in a June 22 memo, “We came to realize that the community was more interested in preserving their cultural heritage than the architectural features of buildings and would prefer a different framework.”
The memo also noted that the designation of these structures as historic sites does not impose any burdens or restrictions but added any of them could be landmarked “if a future need arose.”