That Old Swedish-Jewish Neighborhood


If you have ever passed through the North Park community on Chicago’s Far North Side, you certainly will recognize the brick two-flats flanking the Victorian. Maybe not those two-flats, but you have seen countless, identical buildings lining the neighborhood’s streets like books on a library shelf. The Victorian, on the other hand, now that’s a rare edition. Maybe you didn’t even know the neighborhood had a house dating back to 1897.


The house, located at  5223 N. Sawyer Avenue, was where Richard Jacobson lived from 1953 to 1962. His great-grandfather, John Hagstrom, built the house and it once was surrounded by prairie.


He doesn’t make any claims himself, but in a sense Richard is North Park royalty. Not only did his family build one of the community’s first homes, Richard’s grandfather, Rev. Frederic E.  Pamp, was assistant pastor at North Park Convenant Church and a faculty member of North Park Academy during his “retirement” years.  The Church is the raison d’etre for North Park, the driving force behind the establishment of North Park College University and the surrounding community. The founding of North Park is a good story and I’ll get around to telling it one of these days.

Richard and I were pint-sized ships passing in the night. He left Peterson Elementary School the year before I started. He was eight, I was six, but some of our early experiences match up: we both had Mrs. Minnich for first grade, we both remember a school that was largely Jewish. Richard recalls what it was like at Peterson on the High Holidays:

“The school didn’t close but it totally cleared out. I remember one year when it was me, Linda Bergquist, and Ann Liljegren, alone in the classroom and killing time on Rosh Hashanah.”

In his comment to an earlier post, Richard says that being a member of the Scandinavian minority among the Jews of the North Park/Hollywood Park neighborhood was ultimately a useful experience. He later married a Jew and he converted to Judaism, which lends credence to a theory Danny Miller and I’ve been discussing via email. We’re guessing that in the majority of the world’s Scandinavian-Jewish marriages, at least one spouse–and sometimes both spouses–came from our old neighborhood.

By the way, have I mentioned my mother was raised in an traditional observant Jewish family–and her grandchildren (my sister’s two sons) are half-Norwegian?

Resources: City of Chicago North Park community map.

Related Posts: Valkommen to My Old Neighborhood.

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3 Responses to That Old Swedish-Jewish Neighborhood

  1. Gregory Sager July 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    A correction, Frances: North Park Covenant Church was *not* “the raison d’etre for North Park, the driving force behind the establishment of North Park University and the surrounding community.” The North Park community was established in in the early 1890s when the University Land Association, an investment collective of Swedish immigrants in the area, bought up the land in what was then Jefferson Township from local property magnate Lyman Budlong, divided it into lots, and began selling them to fellow immigrants in the hope that the land would: a) turn into a thriving Swedish farming community; and b) induce the newly-formed Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church of America (founded in 1885, now simply called the Evangelical Covenant Church) to move its college from Minneapolis to the new community along Foster Avenue.

    The second wish came true; the first didn’t. The new denomination moved its school from Minneapolis to Jefferson Township in 1894 upon the University Land Association’s construction of the building that’s now known as Old Main on the North Park University campus. NPU, and the Covenant’s seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, have been located there ever since. But the dream of a fully-fledged Swedish community died with the national depression known as the Panic of 1893, which lasted for over three years and effectively scotched land investment for that brief period. The ULA sold only 18 of its 100 plots and went bankrupt. The Swedes, although a continuous presence in the North Park neighborhood from then on — including the era in which Chicago annexed Jefferson Township and the farm lots were subdivided for the construction of the mix of single-family homes and three-flats that make up most of the neighborhood — were never able to create a sizable demographic presence there the way that they had in Andersonville and Lake View.

    North Park Covenant Church, now located in a neo-Gothic edifice on the corner of Christiana and Berwyn but which originally met in Old Main, wasn’t founded until 1898, four years after the college had moved to Foster and Kedzie and over a half a decade after the ULA had begun inducing Swedes to move to the area. Prior to the founding of North Park Covenant Church, the local Swedes had worshiped at Foster and California in the community sickroom that eventually became Swedish Covenant Hospital. The Swedes who lived near the hospital continued to worship there after the North Park Swedes started their own church; that church to the east eventually moved to Damen and Ainslie further east in Ravenswood and is now called Ravenswood Evangelical Covenant Church.

    In other words, North Park Covenant Church is the latecomer institution. The school and the community itself both preceded it.

  2. Frances Archer July 21, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks, Gregory, for setting me straight. I had read the history but I confused the church with the founding group.

  3. Steve Imgrund September 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    I’m so sorry to be so late for this one. We moved next door (5225 N Sawyer) to the Jacobsons in 1953 from Pittsburgh. I was 3 and my little brother a baby in the crib. I remember Richard, only we didn’t call him that then, but rather a common nickname for Richard. He was a child prodigy, obviously possessed of a very high IQ. His mother was always kind to me, and I remember discussing Northwestern football with her. Even as a youngster I was a big fan of Chicago sports. Yes Peterson did clear out on Jewish High Holidays. In my fifth grade class there were 37 of us. Imagine that. 5 Swedish kids, one Chinese-American girl, 30 Jewish kids and me. The lone Catholic. It was so quiet on High Holidays. Anyway I hope the years have been kind to Richard Jacobson. This site is a gold mine and continues to amaze.

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