The Day That Marshall Field Sued Western Springs
In 1898, Marshall Field owned most of the property east of Wolf Road between Ogden Avenue and 47th Street (hence "Field Park.") And he took serious exception to the need for sidewalks.
Everyone acknowledges Marshall Field (first photo) as one of the world’s greatest department store entrepreneurs. However, he was also a land speculator. When the City of Chicago began planning its 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, no one knew exactly where the world’s fair would be built. But, it had to be a large piece of vacant property accessible by railroad. So, Field bought up virtually all of the land that today comprises Field Park and Ridge Acres in hopes that he could resell it (at a significant profit) to the World’s Fair planners.
Despite Field’s considerable influence, the decision was made to locate the exposition in Chicago’s Jackson Park, south of the downtown area. See second photo.
Marshall Field then had to find a way to dispose of his considerable land holdings in a village with a population of just 662. So, he decided to carve his property into hundreds of residential lots that could be sold to those wanting to leave the congested city for the suburbs.
In 1892, he successfully petitioned the Village of Western Springs to survey and stake out many of today’s residential streets, including Johnson, Franklin, Howard, Ellington and Clausen avenues. The Village then built new sewers and water mains along these streets. However, most of the new “streets” were just dusty lanes, not yet improved with curbs, sidewalks, or any form of paving.
While Field willingly paid for adding the sewers and water mains, he was apparently not pleased when he learned that the Village had passed an ordinance requiring the installation of a concrete sidewalk along the north side of Hillgrove Avenue between Wolf Road (then called East Avenue) and Gilbert. See third photo. Among other things, the sidewalk was intended to provide a safe way for Lyons Township High School students to walk to school in La Grange … other than by following the railroad tracks, as was often the case.
As the adjacent property owner, Field would have to cover $2,000 of sidewalk expense ($56,000 in 2012 dollars). So, he filed a lengthy lawsuit against the Village in October of 1898. In it, he contended that the sidewalks were not necessary since Hillgrove was a dirt-covered road without curbs and was “rarely used” by the public. He also pointed out that there were, as yet, no residences or businesses along that stretch of Hillgrove. Therefore, he argued that he should not have to absorb the expense of adding concrete sidewalks.
The Village countered, noting that all village streets in 1898 were dirt-covered without curbs. The only exception was 47th street, which was a county road that had a gravel surface. The Village also contended that the addition of sidewalks would increase the likelihood of commercial and residential development along Hillgrove, as was already true in La Grange. The Village also observed that (1) it had previously prohibited the construction of any more crushed stone or plank sidewalks and (2) more than 8,000 feet of concrete sidewalks had already been installed elsewhere in town. As a result, they argued that this was not an unreasonable requirement.
According to records in the Western Springs Historical Society archives, Marshall Field died in 1906. The land in Western Springs was eventually sold to Ellsworth Martin, who announced plans for building a “high-grade residence section”. In 1917, he christened the section north of the tracks ”Field Park” and the section south of the tracks “Ridge Acres.”
But what became of the Marshall Field lawsuit?
Like many lawsuits, this one dragged through the courts for years. Finally, in 1914, the court found in favor of the Village, and the estate of Marshall Field was ordered to pay the Village its long-awaited $2,000 for the Hillgrove Avenue sidewalk. Ironically, as shown in the fourth photo, a park bearing the name “Field Park” now stands on Hillgrove Avenue, right alongside the very sidewalk that prompted Field’s original lawsuit.