Andersonville is a neighborhood (located in the Edgewater community area) on the North Side of Chicago, about five miles (8 km) north-northwest of the city's downtown. Once a sleepy little village made up primarily of Swedish immigrants, Andersonville is now one of Chicago's most popular north side neighborhoods. The community is particularly known for its diversity, including a continued Swedish cultural presence led by the Swedish American Museum, the Swedish Bakery and other Swedish delicatessens. A significant number of Middle-Eastern businesses, a new influx of families with children, and a large lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) population all makes this a very diverse population. The LGBT community of Andersonville was showcased in the 1994 lesbian themed movie Go Fish. It is also known for its unique commercial district, made up almost entirely of locally owned, independent shops, restaurants, and service providers. Andersonville does however have a growing number of nationally known chains including a Starbucks Coffee, McDonald's, and a recently opened Subway restaurant.
The approximate street boundaries of Andersonville, as defined by the City of Chicago, are Winthrop Avenue to the east, Ravenswood Avenue to the west, Foster Avenue to the south, and Bryn Mawr Avenue to the north. The heart of the Andersonville commercial district is the corner of Clark Street and Berwyn Avenue (5300 N. Clark Street).
The main shopping street is North Clark Street, which runs roughly north-south. The stretch of Clark Street south of Foster Avenue (where Andersonville has expanded across community boundaries into northern Uptown) is sometimes called South Foster, or SoFo. Some maps show the entire stretch between Foster and Lawrence as Andersonville Terrace; although this name is seldom used by residents, realtors have recently started using it again for the area as far south as Argyle Street, in an attempt to capitalize on Andersonville's popularity. The stretch north of Bryn Mawr still retains a good number of Hispanic-owned business as well as some restaurants and cafes serving Andersonville's more recent transplants.
As reported in the Chicago Reader, in 2006 merchants along North Clark Street have seen significant increases in commercial property taxes, causing these independent shops to struggle. Though the residential property taxes have risen in the area, they have not skyrocketed like the commercial district in downtown Andersonville.
History Andersonville's roots as a community extend well back into the 19th century, when immigrant Swedish farmers started moving north into what was then a distant suburb of Chicago. In the 1850's the area north of Foster and east of Clark was a large cherry orchard, and families had only begun to move into the fringes of what is now Andersonville. The neighborhood's first school, the Andersonville School, was built in 1854 at the corner of those two thoroughfares, and served as the area's primary school until 1908. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, wooden homes were outlawed in Chicago. Swedish immigrants, who could not afford to build homes of stone or brick, began to move outside of the city's northern limits. Swedish immigrants continued to arrive in Andersonville through the beginning of the 20th century, settling in the newly built homes surrounding Clark Street. Before long, the entire commercial strip was dominated by Swedish businesses, from delis to hardware stores, shoe stores to blacksmiths, and bakeries to realty companies. The local churches, such as Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Bethany Methodist Episcopal Church, and St. Gregory's Roman Catholic Church, were also built by Swedes, and reflected the religious diversity of the new arrivals.
Like most other European-American ethnic groups, Swedes began to move to the suburbs during the Depression and post-war periods, and the neighborhood began to decline. Concerned about the deteriorating commercial situation, the Uptown Clark Street Business Association renewed its commitment to its Swedish heritage by renaming itself the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. On October 17, 1964 Andersonville was rededicated in a ceremony attended by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Illinois Governor Otto Kerner. At about the same time, the annual Swedish tradition of celebrating the summer solstice blossomed into Midsommarfest, which has since grown into one of Chicago's largest and most popular street festivals.
While some of the Swedish-owned businesses gave way to stores and restaurants owned by Koreans, Lebanese, and Mexicans, many remained in Andersonville, serving the remaining second- and third-generation Swedes as well as the new arrivals to the neighborhood. In 1976, a Swedish American Museum that had been on the drawing boards for fifty years was opened to the public in a ceremony attended by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. It later moved into larger quarters at 5211 N. Clark, where it remains today.
In the late 1980's, Andersonville began a period of revival as professionals rediscovered its lovely housing stock and proximity to downtown Chicago and the lakefront. A large lesbian and gay population developed, spurred by the opening of such businesses as Women & Children First, a bookstore focusing on feminist authors and topics. New gift shops and ethnic eateries opened up and gave Clark Street a new commercial vitality and diversity.
Today, in addition to being one of the most concentrated areas of Swedish culture in the United States, Andersonville is home to a diverse assortment of devoted residents and businesses, including one of Chicago's largest gay and lesbian communities, a large collection of Middle Eastern restaurants and bakeries, and a thriving Hispanic commercial area north of Catalpa Avenue.
Andersonville is now considered one of Chicago's "hot" neighborhoods. It also enjoys nationwide renown for its unique commercial district, comprised almost entirely of locally owned, independent businesses.