Blue Island, Illinois
|Blue Island, Illinois|
|Nickname(s): The City on the Hill|
|Motto: "Discover Blue Island: The Historic Heart of Chicago Southland"|
|Chicago metro area|
|Incorporated||October 26, 1872|
|• Type||Mayor-council government|
|• Mayor||Domingo Vargas (Blue Island Independent Party)|
|• City Council|
|• State House||Robert Rita (D)|
|• State Senate||Emil Jones, Jr. (D)|
|• U.S. House|
|• Total||4.16 sq mi (10.8 km2)|
|• Land||4.07 sq mi (10.5 km2)|
|• Water||0.09 sq mi (0.2 km2) 2.16%|
|Elevation||640 ft (195 m)|
|• Density||5,824.6/sq mi (2,248.9/km2)|
|• Demonym||Blue Islander|
|Time zone||CST (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|Area code(s)||Area code 708|
Blue Island is a city in Cook County, Illinois located approximately 16 miles from the Chicago Loop. Blue Island is adjacent to the city of Chicago and shares its northern boundary with the city's Morgan Park neighborhood. The population was 23,706 at the 2010 census.
Blue Island was established in the 1830s as a way station for settlers traveling on the Vincennes Trace, and the settlement prospered because it was conveniently situated a day's journey outside of Chicago. The late nineteenth-century historian and publisher Alfred T. Andreas made the following observation regarding the physical appearance of the nascent community in his History of Cook County Illinois (1884), which must have played at least a part in its ability to attract settlers in the early years: "The location of Blue Island Village is a beautiful one. Nowhere about Chicago is there to be found a more pleasant and desirable resident locality."
Since its founding, the city has been an important commercial center in the south Cook County region, although its position in that respect has been eclipsed in recent years as other significant population centers developed around it and the region's commercial resources became spread over a wider area. In addition to its broad long-standing industrial base, the city enjoyed notable growth in the 1840s during the construction of the feeder canal (now the Calumet Sag Channel) for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, as the center of a large brick-making industry beginning in the 1850s (Blue Island was at one time considered to be the brick-making capitol of the world), and, beginning in 1883, as host to the car shops of the Rock Island Railroad. Until the Eighteenth Amendment put them out of business in 1919, Blue Island was home to several breweries who used the east side of the hill to store their product before the advent of refrigeration. A large regional hospital and two major clinics are located in the city. Although initially settled by "Yankee" stock, Blue Island has been the point of entry for many of America's immigrants, beginning in the 1840s with the arrival of a large German population that remained a prominent part of the city's ethnic makeup for many years. Indeed, by 1850 fully half of Blue Island's population was either foreign-born or the children of foreign-born residents. Later, significant groups came from Italy, Poland, Sweden and Mexico.
- 1 Geography
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Origin of the name
- 4 Transportation
- 5 Uptown
- 6 Brickyards
- 7 Public library
- 8 Religious life
- 9 Parks and recreation
- 10 Education
- 11 Health care
- 12 Buildings and architecture
- 13 Blue Island goes to war
- 14 Writers and literature
- 15 Music
- 16 Television and Hollywood
- 17 Government
- 18 Notable people
- 19 Further reading
- 20 References
- 21 External links
Blue Island is located at  According to the 2010 census, the city has a total area of 4.16 square miles (10.8 km2), of which 4.07 square miles (10.5 km2) (or 97.84%) is land and 0.09 square miles (0.23 km2) (or 2.16%) is water.(41.658412, -87.679424).
As of the 2010 census there were 23,706 people, 8,013 households, and 5,452 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,824.6 people per square mile (2,257.7 per square kilometer). The racial makeup of the city was 41.3% White, 30.8% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 23.6% some other race, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 47.0% of the population. There were 8,013 households, of which 43.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.7% were married couples living together, 22.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.0% were non-families. The average household size was 2.95, and the average family size was 3.62.
In the city the population was spread out with 29.8% under the age of 18, 10.7% from 18 to 24, 28.4% from 25 to 44, 22.8% from 45 to 64, and 8.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31.3 years. For every 100 females there were 96.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.7 males.
For the period 2009-2011, the estimated median annual income for a household in the city was $41,408, and the median income for a family was $48,760. The per capita income for the city was $17,660.
Origin of the name
Blue Island is so named because it is situated on the south end of a glacial moraine that was once an island when Lake Chicago covered the surrounding area thousands of years ago at the end of the last ice age. Early pioneers gave the ridge the name because at a distance it looked like an island set in a trackless prairie sea. The blue color was attributed to atmospheric scattering or to blue flowers growing on the ridge. From the Chicago Democrat, February, 1834:
"Nearly south of this town and twelve miles [19 km] distant is Blue Island. This name is particularly appropriate. It is a table of land about six miles [10 km] long and an average of two miles [3 km] wide, of an oval form and rising some forty feet out of an immense plain which surrounds it on every side. The sides and slopes of this table, as well as the table itself, are covered with a handsome growth of timber, forming a belt surrounding about four or five thousand acres of beautiful table land. In summer, the plain is covered with luxurious herbage. It is uninhabited, and when we visited it, from its stillness, loneliness, and quiet, we pronounced it a vast vegetable solitude. The ridge, when viewed from a distance, appears standing in an azure mist of vapor, hence the appellation 'Blue Island'."
The Portland question
- Norman Rexford became the community's first permanent resident when he established the "Blue Island House" at the southern edge of the ridge in November 1836, where in 1838 he became the settlement's first postmaster. In his reminiscences published in the Blue Island Standard in 1876, Heber Rexford (who first came to the area in 1834 and was Cook County treasurer at the time of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871) related the following:
"The north end of the bench of land on which Blue Island stands was originally covered with a dense forest, and from Chicago, before the view was obstructed by buildings, this timber presented a blue appearance like smoke. Water was like-mirrored forth by the mirage which almost always prevailed, giving the timber the appearance of land surrounded by water, and it was from this circumstance that the hunters called it Blue Island, which name was perpetuated by my brother getting a Post Office located there, which was also called Blue Island – so much for the name."
- On April 13, 1839, Peter Barton and his partners (who included Gurdon Hubbard and John H. Kinzie) registered the plat of "Portland" with the state of Illinois. Portland had been laid out on land purchased from the federal government which was situated south of Vermont Street (more or less) and east of Wabash Road (what is now Western Avenue uptown, again, more or less). The Little Calumet River ran through the center of the platted area, and its promoters felt with this advantage that it would become a prosperous river town. They used their influence to have the local post office name changed from Blue Island to Portland (a circumstance that as time went by would be a source of aggravation to the people of Blue Island), and on May 1, 1839, this was accomplished. The post office, however, wasn't located within the platted area of Portland since there were no buildings in which to operate it, but in fact was on contiguous property to the west at the Blue Island House. Portland was never incorporated – it existed for many years by and large only as a plat of survey. No buildings of any consequence were erected there for nearly half a century. While some of the street names from Portland remain (although sometimes not entirely on their original courses), any of them that were laid out (and in fact a majority of them never were) waited in most cases for many years until they were needed. About half of the area was eventually annexed within what would become the corporate boundaries of Blue Island as time went by, and significant other sections of it became parts of the village of Calumet Park, the Joe Louis the Champ golf course, and unincorporated Calumet Township. According to John Volp, whose family had lived in Blue Island since 1862:
"'Portland' did not become a river town. Neither did the name 'Portland' ever come into general use. In spite of all the efforts of its promoters to popularize the locality the people preferred to live on top of the hill and call the place 'Blue Island'..."
- For reasons that remain unclear (but most likely because all of the development that was taking place in the area was occurring in the as yet unincorporated settlement of Blue Island to the north and west), the state legislature changed the name of the platted "town" of Portland to correspond with that of its neighbor. From the Laws of Illinois - 1842 and 1843:
"An Act entitled AN ACT TO CHANGE THE NAME OF PORTLAND IN COOK COUNTY TO THE NAME OF BLUE ISLAND: Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly that the name of the place called Portland in Cook County, Illinois is hereby altered and changed to Blue Island and the same shall hereafter always be known and called by such name of Blue Island. Approved February 24, 1843."
At the same time, the post office department in Washington, D.C. changed the name of the post office to “Blue Island". In the 1903 edition of Blue Book for the State of Illinois, the state shows 1843 as the year Blue Island was granted "incorporation under special acts", recognizing the existence of Portland, but not as an incorporated entity. (Blue Island would not officially incorporate for almost another three decades - see below.)
- April 20, 1850, the post office name was changed to "Worth", this time to coincide with the name of the township in which it was located.
- The Rock Island Railroad inaugurated service to the community in 1852. From the Chicago Journal, May 27, 1852:
"The work of laying ties upon this Road (sic) between Chicago and Blue Island will be commenced next week. Mr. H. Fuller... will complete the work in the course of ten or fifteen days. Two hundred and thirty-six men are now employed on it."
The "Rocket" pulled into the Vermont Street station (the only one in town then) for the first time on October 10, 1852. The Rock Island called the station "Blue Island".
- On January 10, 1860, the post office name reverted again to "Blue Island".
- On October 26, 1872, Blue Island incorporated as a village using the name by which it has always been known. Although about twenty percent of Portland was included within the corporate boundaries of the new village, that Portland was not an incorporated entity can be determined from the following excerpt that was taken from the petition that was submitted to the state to permit the election to consider incorporation: "...Your petitioners further represent that the territory herein described and bounded is not more than two (2) square miles, and that no part of the same is now included within the limits of any incorporated town, Village or City..."
The city is a hub for Metra trains, with six stations, four of them along the Rock Island District line: 119th Street, 123rd Street, Prairie Street, and Vermont Street. The Rock Island District line splits at Gresham, northeast of Blue Island, and the branch (known alternately as the "Beverly", "Blue Island", or "Suburban" branch) serves the Chicago communities of Gresham, Beverly Hills and Morgan Park and the stations in Blue Island between 119th Street and Vermont Street, where the tracks rejoin the main line. (The branch line was built in 1888 as a result of efforts by the Blue Island Land and Building Company to promote its interests in what was to become the town and eventually the Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park.) The Vermont Street station, which is one of the oldest in the Metra network (having been built in 1868) is across the street from the fifth station, which serves as the terminus of a Metra Electric (formerly the Illinois Central)  spur line. The sixth station, also on the electric line, is a half mile north on Burr Oak Avenue (127th Street) and Lincoln Avenue. Blue Island is also served by Pace Suburban Bus.
Blue Island is 34 miles (55 km) (45 minutes) from O'Hare Airport and 12.5 miles (20.1 km) (30 minutes) from Midway Airport. It is located a half mile west of Interstate 57, one and a half miles east of the Tri-State Tollway, and is bisected by Western Avenue, which in Blue Island is part of the historic Dixie Highway that in its heyday connected Chicago with Miami, Florida.
Norman Rexford came to Chicago from Charlotte, Vermont, in 1835 and became the first permanent settler of Blue Island when he established the Blue Island House inn there in 1836. (The site where the building stood can best be described using current landmarks as being at the confluence of Western Avenue and Gregory Street just north of the Western Avenue bridge.) Before Rexford built the Blue Island House, he had constructed a four-room log cabin in the wilderness at the north end of the Blue Island ridge that he intended as a tavern for wayfarers, but after a year realized that the place was not likely to be profitable for him and began to look for another site where he might have more success. Although farther from the settlement at Chicago (which by that time was incorporated and had a population of several thousand persons) and Fort Dearborn by about 3 miles (5 km), the new inn was better situated because it was located on the Wabash Road (in Blue Island now Western Avenue), which was then a part of the Vincennes trail that went from Chicago to Vincennes, Indiana. It was considerably larger and more refined than Rexford's previous venture, being a 2 1⁄2-story white frame building that also had various outbuildings to accommodate the needs of his guests. Because it was a day's journey from Chicago, within a few years the inn became the nucleus for a group of businesses that catered to the soldiers, cattlemen (with their herds) and other travelers who arrived by stagecoach or otherwise frequented the Vincennes trail.
From this time and through the 1970s, Blue Island's central business district ("uptown" to the locals) was regarded as an important regional commercial center, with stores such as Woolworth's, Kline's, Sears, Montgomery Ward, Spiegel and Steak 'n Shake. Today, downtown Blue Island is better known for its antique stores, art galleries, ethnic delicatessens and fine dining. Much of this shift in business activity has been brought on by "big box" development outside of town that space constraints make it impossible for uptown to accommodate. To this day Blue Island maintains a healthy business climate, though, as is evidenced by the fact that several local businesses have served the area for generations. DeMar's Restaurant, for example, opened its doors in 1950, Jebens Hardware was established in 1876, and Krueger Funeral Home was founded in 1858. As a nod to the 21st century, however, the city and a dedicated group of volunteers, working with the Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago  and the Center for Neighborhood Technology have devised the Blue Island Plan for Economic Development which addresses not only the commercial expansion of the historic uptown business district, but the continued improvement of the housing stock and industrial base as well
After it was discovered in the early 1850s that rich deposits of clay surrounded the ridge, Blue Island became the center of a significant brick-making industry that lasted for over a century. In the early years, these efforts were small, with the bricks being made by hand and the turnout created mostly for local use, but by 1886 the Illinois Pressed Brick Company (organized in 1884) was employing about 80 men and using "steam power and the most approved machinery", which allowed them to produce 50,000 bricks per day. By 1900 the Clifton Brickyard alone (which had opened in 1883 under the name of Purington at the far northeast corner of the village) was producing 150,000,000 bricks a year. In 1886, the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan designed a large complex for the Wahl Brothers brickyard (the main building of which was 250 by 350 feet (76 by 110 m)) on the west side of the Grand Trunk tracks between 119th and 123rd streets. These buildings had been demolished by 1935, and all of Blue Island's brickyards were re-purposed by the latter part of the mid-20th century. The larger ones for a while become landfills, and the Wahl Brothers location is now the site of the Meadows Golf Club.
The image (right) shows three workers posing outside one of the sheds of the Clifton Brickyard in 1901.
A lending library has been in existence in some form or another in Blue Island since about 1845, when Thomas McClintock began to make his private library of about 100 volumes available to the public for a nominal fee. The founding of the library as a publicly supported institution dates to 1854, when the library's collection, which at this time numbered around 800 volumes, was housed in the new Whittier School building on Vermont Street. The library expanded again in 1890 when the Current Topics Club, predecessor to the Blue Island Woman's Club, opened a small reading room above Edward Seyfarth's hardware store on Western Avenue with a collection of about 1,500 books and various periodicals which were acquired with funds that were donated by the community through public subscription. Except for what was in the hands of patrons, this library's collection was destroyed by the Great Blue Island Fire of 1896.
The public library as a taxpayer-supported institution was founded in 1897, and the first building built in Blue Island expressly for the purpose of housing the library's collection (by this time up to 3,200 volumes) was made possible by a matching grant of $15,000 (about $392,000 in 2013) provided by Andrew Carnegie in 1903. This building was demolished in 1969 when the current library, which opened housing the library's collection of over 70,000 volumes, was built. Today the Blue Island Public Library provides a host of services, including multi-language reading materials, computers with internet access, public meeting rooms and a wide variety of educational programs.
The library is a member of the Metropolitan Library System and is host to the Blue Island Historical Society's award-winning Museum Room.
Although religious gatherings have taken place in Blue Island almost since it was settled in 1836, the first denominational services took place in 1850 with the founding of the Central Methodist Church (predecessor to today's Grace United Methodist Church). Blue Island continues to respect the tradition of its early settlers by maintaining many of the congregations that were established there during these early years, and also by hosting new places of worship that serve the needs of new residents of this culturally diverse community. The following institutions, many of them well over a hundred years old, serve the Blue Island area today:
Places of worship
- California Gardens Christian of Love Baptist Church – 13911 S. Kedzie Ave.
- Blue Island Church of Christ – 2304 W. 120th St.
- Glorious Life Worship Center – 12654 S. Maple
- Evangelical Community Church – 2237 W. 120th Pl.
- Family of Hope Christian Church - 2324 W. Orchard St.
- St. Joseph's and St. Aiden's Episcopal Church – Oak St. at Greenwood Ave.
- Mission Covenant Church of Blue Island – 2501 W. Collins St.
- First Evangelical Lutheran Church – 2515 W. Grove St.
- Salem Lutheran Church – 12951 S. Maple Ave.
- St. Peter's and St. Paul's Lutheran Church – 13153 S. Greenwood Ave.
- St. Philip Lutheran Church – 2500 W. 121st St.
- Grace United Methodist Church – 12739 S. Maple Ave.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – 2445 W. Birdsall
- Church of the Nazarene – 12815 S. Gregory St.
- Fortress Bible Church – 2237 W. 120th Pl.
- Calvary Chapel Blue Island - 12640 Sacramento Ave
- Bethel Pentecostal Church - 2726 W. Broadway
- Life Changing Ministry - 2817 139th St.
- St. Benedict Church – 2339 W. York St.
- St. Donatus Church – 1944 W. High St.
- St. Isidore Church – 1811 W. Burr Oak Ave.
- Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima – 13811 S. Western Ave.
- Salvation Army Community Center - 2900 W. Burr Oak Ave. (127th St.)
- Christ Memorial United Church of Christ – 2440 W. York St.
Parks and recreation
Blue Islanders have enjoyed a system of parks since 1912 when the park district (which was formed in 1909) acquired the property of the late Benjamin Sanders, who was Blue Island's first village president when the town incorporated in 1872 and served as the chairman of the building committee of the Cook County Board after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The 9-acre (36,000 m2) property, which is bounded by Gregory Street, Union Street, Irving Avenue and York Street, came with Sanders' home, which was remodeled into a field house and provided living quarters for the park's superintendent. Central Park eventually offered tennis courts, playground equipment, and the community's first swimming pool. It was vacated by the park district in 1965 when St. Francis Hospital acquired the property for $325,000. (about $2.4 million in 2013) to build its east campus there.
Memorial Park, the city's next public park, was dedicated on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), 1922, in ceremonies that were presided over by Brigadier General Abel Davis of Glencoe, Illinois, who was Commander of the 132nd Infantry during World War I. The section of Memorial Park running adjacent to Burr Oak Avenue with 330 feet (100 m) of frontage on Highland Avenue had originally been laid out as a cemetery in the early 1850s, when this section of Blue Island was a healthy walk from the settled section of the town. Although the cemetery was added to and improved in subsequent years, it was closed by village ordinance in 1898, and almost all of the bodies that were interred there were moved to Mt. Greenwood Cemetery in Chicago, which had been developed by citizens from Blue Island. The acquisition of the entire parcel bounded by Burr Oak Avenue, Highland Avenue, Walnut Street and the B & O tracks was completed by the park district in 1935. The park at that point had reached its present size of 10 acres (40,000 m2), and eventually, with the help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Alphabet agencies, it was provided with landscaping and acquired an outdoor swimming pool, playground equipment, and a handsome Art Deco stadium that seated 1,000 persons. (The stadium was demolished in December 2009.) With the closing of Central Park, Memorial Park has become the flagship of the Blue Island park system.
The 8.5-acre (34,400 m2) site of Centennial Park at Vermont Street and Division Street on the east side was acquired from the East Side Development Association in 1935 for $11,500 (about $195,200 in 2013). This park provides a field house, convenient athletic fields and playground equipment for the East Side community.
The city operates the Meadows Golf Club, a 6,549-yard (5,988 m), 18-hole golf course that was designed by J. Porter Gibson ASGCA and opened in 1994. It has a course rating of 71.3 and a slope rating of 121.
Blue Island Area Sports Hall of Fame
As part of its focus, the park district serves the needs of the community by sponsoring Little League Baseball, football, and other sports activities. It is also host to the Blue Island Area Sports Hall of Fame, which was sponsored by the Blue Island Sun Standard and founded by its sports editor, Don Rizzs. As part of a community that is heavily involved in sports on many levels, the Hall of Fame is a repository of photos and biographies of many individuals who have distinguished themselves on the playing field, both on the local level and in the international spotlight.
Blue Island athlete Don Kolloway became a Major League Baseball player when he became an infielder for the Chicago White Sox in 1940. Except while he was in the service during WWII, Kolloway played most of the '40s with the White Sox. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1949 and to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1953, where he ended his baseball career. September 15, 1946, was "Don Kolloway Day" at Comiskey Park, where he was presented with a new automobile. Topps honored him with a baseball card (#97) while he was a member of the Athletics. For many years after his retirement, Kolloway operated a tavern in Blue Island called "Kolloway's".
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Moeller was born in Blue Island and spent the early years of his life there. Moeller pitched for the Dodgers between 1962 and 1971 and at age 19 years and 2 months became the youngest starting pitcher in the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Topps released a baseball card (#444) for Moeller in 1969.
As the largest settlement in the southern part of Cook County in the middle of the nineteenth century, Blue Island was an important trading and cultural center. The village offered educational opportunity to its residents as early as 1845 in the form of a private school for girls that was operated by local citizens, and public education was introduced in 1846 with the construction of a one-room schoolhouse that served the community exclusively for that purpose until the first Whittier School was built in 1854. The one-room schoolhouse was repurposed several times in subsequent years and still stands, much remodeled, as a comfortable house on Greenwood Avenue. The public school district as a legal entity (now Cook County School District 130) was established in 1887, and the current high school district (Community High School District 218) was created in 1927, replacing earlier versions from 1897 and 1903. Blue Island Community High School (now Dwight D. Eisenhower High School) was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (now North Central Association - Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement) in 1899. As president of Columbia University, Eisenhower was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the new facility on Sacramento Avenue for Blue Island Community High School in 1951, and the building was renamed in his honor in 1962.
Blue Island hosted a number of educational conferences during the 1850s, and because of this (and through the influence of Benjamin Sanders, whose tenure with the Cook County Board was during that time) Chicago State University was founded in Blue Island in 1867 as the Cook County Normal (or Teacher's) School in the classrooms of the old Whittier School building on Vermont Street. This arrangement lasted until 1870, when the new campus for the college was completed in what is now the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago on 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land that was donated by L. W. Beck for the purpose in 1868.
The following schools serve Blue Island today:
|This section requires expansion. (February 2013)|
Elementary and middle schools - public
- Everett F. Kerr Middle School – 12915 S. Maple Ave.
- Greenbriar School - 12015 S. Maple Ave.
- Greenwood School - 12418 Highland Ave
- Lincoln Elementary School – 2140 W. Broadway St.
- Paul Revere Intermediate School – 12331 S. Gregory St.
- Paul Revere Primary School – 2300 W. 123rd Pl.
- Veteran’s Memorial Middle School – 12320 S. Greenwood
- Whittier Elementary School – 13043 S. Maple
Elementary and middle schools - private
- St. Benedict School – 2324 W. New St. Top 25 Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
High school - public
- Dwight D. Eisenhower High School – 12700 S. Sacramento Ave.
High school - private
Higher education - public
- Moraine Valley Community College – 12940 S. Western Ave.
Special education - public
- Able Program, Garfield School – 13801 S. Chatham St.
- Academy for Learning – 13813 S. Western Ave.
Special education - private
- Blue Cap School – 2155 W. Broadway St. The keynote speaker for the dedication of Blue Cap in October 1967 was then-Senator Charles H. Percy.
Technical and vocational - private
- Environmental Technical Institute – 13110 S. Division St.
Blue Island is home to MetroSouth Medical Center. Founded in 1905 as Saint Francis Hospital in the former mansion of Ernst Uhlich when this section of Gregory Street was lined with churches and the homes of some of Blue Island's more prosperous citizens, the hospital has long been nationally recognized as one of the nation's premier cardiovascular primary care centers. The founders of the hospital, the Sisters of St. Mary (currently the Franciscan Sisters of Mary), relinquished ownership of the facility to MetroSouth Medical Center on July 30, 2008. In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked MetroSouth as one among the top 20 hospitals in the Chicago metropolitan region.
Buildings and architecture
Because of its long history, the built environment of Blue Island exhibits a broad range of architectural styles and periods. Although largely built in the vernacular tradition, the works of notable architects, including Adler and Sullivan, George Maher, August Fiedler, Oscar Wenderoth, Robert E. Seyfarth, Perkins and Will, and Bertrand Goldberg, are featured throughout the community. Architectural distinction of a somewhat different nature is associated with the Bell/Hendriks house at 12020 Maple Avenue, whose design and construction were heavily publicized in 1947. The house was designed by Eric Wenstrand for the Prize Homes competition which was sponsored and promoted by the Chicago Tribune, and several thousand persons toured the “modified Colonial” home when it was built, with many of the visitors' comments reported in the newspaper during the month the house was open to the public for tours. Ceremonies attended by regional dignitaries with Dr. Bell turning over the first spade of earth were broadcast over WGN radio, and plans of the house and of the other twenty-three prize-winning designs from the competition were the subject of an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago the previous year. In 1948 the Tribune published a book entitled Prize Homes, and included an entry for the house which appeared on p. 43. This house and the other Prize Homes that were open for tours played a role in introducing WGN television to the world. Although the station was not yet broadcasting over the airwaves at the time the houses were visited by the public, “Camera, cables and monitoring equipment, and the newest in television receivers were installed and gave visitors an opportunity to see themselves on the tele screen as they visit[ed] the homes.”
The oldest section of Blue Island's city hall, built in 1891, was designed by Edmund R. Krause, who was the architect of the Majestic Building (along with its recently restored Bank of America Theatre) in Chicago's Loop The first buildings of Northwest Gas, Light and Coke Company in Blue Island were designed by Holabird & Roche in 1902 (demolished). The city also has 22 houses known to have been built with mail-order kits sold by Sears Modern Homes. There is one building in Blue Island listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 27 are included as part of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's Historic Architectural and Archaeology Resources Geographic Information System, and 41 individual buildings and one district have been designated as local landmarks by the Blue Island Historic Preservation Commission. The city's newest development is Fay's Point, a gated community built at the confluence of the Calumet River and the Calumet Sag Channel on the site of the historic farm of Jerome Fay.
The American House
One of the oldest buildings in Blue Island, the American House was built in 1839 as the courthouse for Lake County, Indiana - a function it never actually had the chance to serve, as the county seat was moved from Liverpool to Crown Point in 1840. In 1844 the building was disassembled and sent by raft up the Little Calumet River and reassembled in Blue Island. Although its Greek Revival roots are clearly discernible, the building is much remodeled and serves today as a private residence.
Greek Revival was the architectural style of choice in the early years of Blue Island's history. Many of the buildings that remain from those days have been similarly remodeled - perhaps the best "pure" examples of the style, albeit in a vernacular form, can be seen either in the Walter P. Roche House on York Street or the Henry Schuemann House house on Western Avenue.
The Joshua P. Young House
The house was built by Carlton Wadhams (1810–1891), who came to Blue Island in 1839 from Goshen, Connecticut, and farmed on land north of the village until he opened the American House Hotel (building extant) in 1844. During his time in Blue Island, Wadhams made his first fortune as the owner of the hotel and as a cattle dealer, staying until c. 1857 when he sold his holdings and moved to South Bend, Indiana. In South Bend he was one of the founders of the Dodge Manufacturing Company and of the First National Bank, where he was a director until his death. Wadhams sold the house along with all of the property on which it was located, which included the American House and all of the land between what is today Western Avenue, Maple Avenue, Burr Oak Avenue and Vermont Street to Joshua Palmer Young (1818–1889), who, by himself beginning in 1848 and in a partnership with John K. Rowley that was established in 1866, played an important role in the development of the Chicago communities of Beverly Hills, Morgan Park, Near West Side, Washington Heights and Englewood, as well as the suburban communities of Blue Island, South Lawn (now Harvey), Homewood and South Holland.
Young operated the hotel for a time and was otherwise active in local affairs. He served from 1878–1880 as the president of the village board, and was a founder of the Congregational church (now Christ Memorial United Church of Christ). He was one of the incorporators, a director and secretary of the Chicago, Blue Island and Indiana Railroad Company (now part of the Grand Trunk Railway), whose charter was approved by the state of Illinois on March 7, 1867.
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is included in the State of Illinois' Historic Architectural and Archaeology Resources Geographic Information System.
Blue Island goes to war
The USS Blue Island Victory
On December 28, 1945, 91 days after her keel was laid, the USS Blue Island Victory was launched from the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. Dubbed "the Ugly Duckling of the merchant marine" by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Victory ships were armed cargo ships that were built during World War II to transport troops and supplies wherever in the world their services were required. Of the 550 or so built, 218 were named after American cities.
The USS Blue Island Victory was a type VC 2-S-AP2, which was 455 feet (139 m) long, 62 feet (19 m) wide, and had a 25-foot (7.6 m) draft. It was equipped with a 5-inch (130 mm) gun on the stern for enemy submarines, a 3-inch (76 mm) anti-aircraft gun, and a 20 mm cannon. The Blue Island Victory served variously as a troop ship and as a cattle transport ship, and saw service in the Korean War. It was scrapped in 1972. The picture shown here is the USS Lane Victory, a twin to the USS Blue Island Victory that today serves as a museum in Los Angeles, California. It is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Writers and literature
Over the years, Blue Island has provided the setting for the works of at least a couple of writers. In 1935, for example, the Chicago playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margaret Ayer Barnes (1886-1967) wrote the novel Edna, His Wife, an American Idyll, using Blue Island as the first locale of the four that make up her story (the other three being Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City). The book chronicles the life of the title character who spent her formative years in Blue Island but leaves after she marries, becoming increasingly unhappy as she leads a more sophisticated life elsewhere while "...remain[ing] a Blue Island girl at heart." The book was later adapted into a one-woman play by Cornelia Otis Skinner, and her opening night performance of it at the Harris Theater was enthusiastically received by Chicago society, which was pleased to "...have a chance to see a Chicago play in a Chicago theater..." Barnes was the wife of a prominent Chicago attorney and was the sister of suffragette and fellow author Janet Ayer Fairbank (1878–1951). Her son was the noted architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915-2004). It is not known if Barnes had a personal connection with Blue Island, but it is clear to anyone who knows the town and has read the book that if she didn't, she researched its history and makeup thoroughly to give the reader an authentic view of life there in the early years of the twentieth century.
Twelve years later, Gus the Great, the Book of the Month Club selection for September 1947, was published. The book was a runaway best seller, and its author, Thomas W. Duncan, is reputed to have earned $250,000 (about $2,607,000 in 2013) in royalties from it, including $100,000 (about $1,043,000 in 2013) from Universal Studios for the movie rights. It is the story of the life and adventures of Gus Burgoyne, a circus owner of questionable character. Duncan was a college friend of Hill Lakin, the editor of the Blue Island Sun-Standard, and, after a visit to the town's industrial section, he was inspired to use it for several scenes for his book.
Several writers of distinction have had their roots in Blue Island. Noted author Michael A. Black  graduated from Eisenhower High School. Black writes short stories and has written a number of books on various subjects, including a critically acclaimed series of mystery novels. His book A Final Judgement won a Lovey Award (formerly the Reader's Choice Award) in 2007. One of his later works, I Am Not a Cop, was co-authored with Richard Belzer, who plays Detective John Munch on NBC's police drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The book was published by Simon & Schuster and was released on October 14, 2008. A second book in the series by the duo, I Am Not a Psychic, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2009.
Another graduate of Eisenhower High School is the noted financial author and editor Andrew Leckey. He is best known in Chicago metropolitan area as having been the financial editor for WLS-TV in the 1980s before going to New York to be a financial anchor for CNBC. He has either authored or edited ten books on finance, and for the past 20 years has written a nationally syndicated investment column for the Chicago Tribune Co.
Born and raised in Blue Island, author Christian Picciolini depicts his youth growing up in Blue Island as a former member and leader of America's first racist skinhead gang in his autobiography Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.
Blue Island was the hometown of well-known Chicago author and sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times Taylor Bell, and of Dave Nightingale, who wrote for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Tribune.
Because of the wide popularity of performers such as W. C. Handy, the blues became a popular musical genre during the Roaring Twenties. It is not surprising, then, that when Wendell Hall, Harry Geise and Emory O'Hara were looking for a title for their 1923 composition, they hit upon the name "Blue Island Blues" The sheet music for it was published that year by Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. Described by the New York Times art critic John S. Wilson as a "striking and colorful original composition", it is a plaintive love song about a man who is missing his girl and "...has a ticket to Chicago..." that will be used to help him "... lose - those Yesterday's - Blue Island Blues". It was performed in 1923 by Hall with The Virginians on the Victor Talking Machine Company (now RCA Records) record label and again in 1929 by Tiny Parham. An instrumental version is currently available on the CD by George Shearing and Brian Torff entitled Lullaby of Birdland: Blues Alley Jazz/On a Clear Day which was released by Concord Records in 2000.
A closer connection between Blue Island and the music world has been made by several individuals. On December 26, 1937, resident La Julia Elizabeth Rhea (1908—1992) broke the color barrier by being the first black woman to sing the title role in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida with the Chicago Civic Opera. Chicago Tribune drama critic Cecil Smith was there and made this assessment: "A musical event without parallel in grand opera in America took place at the Civic Opera House last night when two colored singers, La Julia Rhea and William Franklin, sang the Ethiopian roles of Aida and Amonasro in a special performance of Aida ... Both singers won a goodly success and were warmly applauded." On August 29, 1941, the two reprised their roles for the inaugural performance of the National Negro Opera Company, for which the music critic for the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph wrote, "We have rarely heard so impressive a chorus in all [our] opera experience." During her career she appeared with the jazz and blues vocalist and actress Ethel Waters in a 1931 production of Rhapsody in Black, and toured in 1935 with a group of winners from the Major Bowes Amateur Hour.
The rock band Enuff Z'nuff also has members who lived there. One of their songs on the album Strength is named "Blue Island", and a later album is titled Welcome to Blue Island. The group has appeared on MTV, Howard Stern and David Letterman. Their music has been released on Atco Records and Arista Records.
The singer, songwriter and music producer Peter Brown was born in Blue Island. Brown was a popular performer in the late 1970s and early 1980s with hits that included "Do Ya Wanna Get Funky With Me" (the original version of which was recorded in his bedroom) and "Dance With Me". He was introduced to a somewhat younger group of fans as the writer, with Robert Rans, of Madonna's smash hit signature song "Material Girl", which was later sung by Nicole Kidman as part of the "Sparkling Diamonds" medley in the 2001 Golden Globe-nominated and Academy Award-winning 20th Century Fox motion picture Moulin Rouge!.
Another musical group that called Blue Island home is the pop punk band Mest. Former frontman Tony Lovato grew up there. Their performance of "I Melt with You" was part of the soundtrack from the 2001 Columbia Pictures film Not Another Teen Movie. The CD for it was released by Maverick Records the same year.
Saxophonist Eugene Rousseau was born in Blue Island.
Marty Grebb, a multi-instrument musician, grew up in Blue Island attending St. Benedict's Elementary School. He was a member of The Exceptions, a local group from the 1960s. Next Marty joined The Buckinghams as keyboardist; the band went on to earn multiple top recordings for singles and albums with Columbia Records. Marty went on to become part of the group Chicago with Pete Cetera in the late '70s. Marty has worked with Etta James, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Taj Mahal, and Leon Russell. Eric Clapton has covered his songs. You can hear some of Marty's latest work on the new CD from Elton John/Leon Russell coming in October 2010. Marty is still an active part of the musical community and lives in California.
Folk singer Anna Stange has lived and worked in Blue Island for many years. She has released several albums including When Will We Ever Learn: Songs for Justice and Peace and Miss Anna's Music Class Volumes I and II. As an advocate for environmental responsibility, Anna Stange was highlighted in the Chicago Tribune in 2008 as being one of the most "green" inhabitants of Chicago, with a carbon footprint of just 11,500 lbs/year.
Television and Hollywood
Because of its picturesque nature, Blue Island has been used for location shots in several movies and television series. For example, scenes from the 2006 Paramount Pictures film Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood, were filmed in Blue Island. The movie was based on the book of the same name by James Bradley with Ron Powers about the Battle of Iwo Jima, the six men who became famous for raising the American flag there, and the sensation it caused after the photograph that was taken of it by Joe Rosenthal was published by the Associated Press. Scenes from the 1987 film Light of Day, starring Michael J. Fox, were also filmed there, including the scenes at the arcade "The Video Zone" (which for many years after filming was completed served as a Big Boy submarine sandwich shop - it was demolished in June 2009), as were scenes from the 2008 Universal Studios film The Express, the story of Ernie Davis, who was the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Scenes from the 2008 film The Lucky Ones were also filmed in Blue Island. The film, which stars Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Pena, is the story of three veterans of the Iraq War as they try to pick up the threads of their lives after they return home. It was directed by Neil Burger and produced by Lions Gate Films. And winter came early to Blue Island in 2010 when, on October 21, leaves were plucked from trees and artificial snow fell as New Line Cinema prepared to film exterior shots for the film The Rite. The movie stars Anthony Hopkins and Colin O'Donoghue) and was directed by Mikael Håfström.
Several actors have ties to Blue Island as well. Acclaimed actor Gary Sinise was born in Blue Island. Sinise has had a distinguished career: in 1974 he and fellow actors Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry founded the Tony Award-winning Steppenwolf Theatre Company in the basement of a church in Highland Park, Illinois. He has won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of George Wallace in the 1997 Turner Network Television production of the same name, and a Golden Globe Award for his role as the title character in the HBO film Truman. He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 Amblin Entertainment production of Forrest Gump, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor. He is a star in the television series CSI: NY, whose creator and executive producer, Anthony E. Zuiker, was also born in Blue Island. In December 2008 Sinise was presented with the Presidential Citizen Medal by George W. Bush.
Also from Blue Island is the actor and writer John Franklin, who may be best known for his highly regarded work in two of the films based on Stephen King's short story Children of the Corn. Franklin has appeared in other films, including two from Paramount Pictures: The Addams Family and the Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated Addams Family Values. His work on television includes appearances in the series Highway to Heaven, Chicago Hope and Star Trek: Voyager.
Blue Island is also the birthplace and former long time home of author and television producer Christian Picciolini who was nominated for three regional Emmy Awards for his role as executive producer of Chicago's longest running music television program JBTV in 2010 and 2011 and nominated once as director of the Flatfoot 56 music video for their song 'Courage' in 2011. Picciolini is also the author of an autobiography entitled 'Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead,' which depicts his youth growing up in Blue Island as a member and leader of America's first racist skinhead gang. Picciolini is now an entrepreneur and peace activist in Chicago and founded a non-profit called Life After Hate in 2009.
Former Blue Island resident Nicole "Nikki" Kaapke, then a 29-year-old administrative assistant, was one of the Bachelorettes on the 2009 season of ABC's television show The Bachelor. She later appeared on a spin-off called "the Bachelor-Pad". Kaapke has also held the title of Miss Illinois Galaxy and Miss Galaxy International (beauty pageants).
- Curtis Granderson, center fielder for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees; two time all-star; born in Blue Island
- Christian Picciolini, Emmy Award nominated director and television producer of JBTV, author, peace activist, entrepreneur and musician; born and raised in Blue Island
- Robert A. Schuller, televangelist, former minister on the Hour of Power TV show at the Crystal Cathedral
- Henry E. Seyfarth, attorney; a founder of Seyfarth Shaw; was born and raised in Blue Island and was a long-time resident. As the chairman of the Cal-Sag Waterway Development Committee, and of the Association of Modern Banking in Illinois, Seyfarth played a significant role in the improvement of the Calumet Sag Channel in the 1950s and in the creation of branch banking in Illinois in the 1970s.
- Robert E. Seyfarth, early 20th century architect
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