Motoring Through Edgewater

Edgewater Historical Society
Chicago, IL

Motoring Through Edgewater explores how the automobile transformed the Edgewater community and the nation between 1900-1930 through photos, maps, documents, artifacts, and original historical research. Through this innovative exhibit and its public programming, the all-volunteer Edgewater Historical Society presents a compelling story of their community’s transformation.

The exhibit begins with the birth of the American auto industry when the nation’s first automobile race, from Chicago to Evanston, was routed through Edgewater in November 1895. In the 1920s, Edgewater became a center for automotive sales and service, with numerous dealerships, garages, and parts sellers located along Broadway Avenue. The neighborhood was so densely populated with automobile-related businesses that it was dubbed the “North Side Motor Row” by industry experts. The exhibit informs members of the community and visitors of the changing roles that transportation and automobile commerce played in Edgewater, and how they reshaped the economy, landscape, and pace of life in the neighborhood.

Motoring Through Edgewater has been EHS’s most successful exhibit to date, both in terms of presentation and engagement with the community. Approximately 500 visitors have toured the exhibit, even though the free museum is only open on weekend afternoons. Evaluation results indicate that respondents found the information presented in the exhibit valuable and that it made “strong local connections to a national history narrative.” Lectures on topics like local truck history and early road maps reached out to audiences beyond the museum.

The sources used in the exhibit include materials from the Society’s collection, objects obtained specifically for the exhibit, and items lent by local residents and collectors. Using objects and memories from locals both enhanced the exhibit’s content and allowed the museum to share authority with their neighborhood and those who experienced Edgewater’s automotive history firsthand. The resulting display is far more than a mere assemblage of objects and provides a thoughtful examination of how a new industry affected the development of the neighborhood in the early twentieth century.