WBEZ | geography http://www.wbez.org/tags/geography Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Don't believe the height! Why Chicago suburb names flat out lie about their elevation http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/dont-believe-height-why-chicago-suburb-names-flat-out-lie-about-their-elevation <p><p>Picture it. The majesty of Chicago suburbia.</p><p>The ridges of Park Ridge like waves of a tumultuous sea! The grandeur of Arlington Heights and the sweeping sublime of Palos Hills. And beyond, the bold peak of Mount Prospect rises in the distance like Olympus itself!</p><p>Name-wise, the Chicago suburbs sound like the most romantic landscape this side of the Mississippi.</p><p>But if you&rsquo;ve actually set foot in the place, like our questioner John Leahy, you know the terrain is hardly reminiscent of a <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=thomas+cole&amp;espv=2&amp;biw=1777&amp;bih=905&amp;source=lnms&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMI2pW5ge_CyAIVRZyACh21NgRr&amp;dpr=0.9" target="_blank">Thomas Cole painting</a>. Feeling the discrepancy between place names and actual geography, John sent us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>In notoriously flat Chicago, why do so many suburb names imply elevation?</em></p><p>The irony runs deep.</p><p><a href="http://www.disruptivegeo.com/2015/08/the-flatness-of-u-s-states/" target="_blank">A recent nationwide flatness study</a> suggests Illinois is the second-flattest state in the country (number one being Florida, <a href="http://choices.climatecentral.org/#8/25.933/-80.681?compare=scenarios&amp;carbon-end-yr=2100&amp;scenario-a=unchecked&amp;scenario-b=extreme-cuts" target="_blank">which will be under water pretty soon anyway</a>), but you definitely don&rsquo;t get that impression from the names of Chicago suburbs.</p><p>For real:</p><blockquote><p>Highland Park, Park Ridge, Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Palos Heights, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Barrington Hills, Palos Hills, Rolling Meadows</p></blockquote><p>And before you say: &ldquo;But wait! There is some elevation out in the &lsquo;burbs!&rdquo; Let&rsquo;s make something clear: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/sweet-spot-top-chicago-107897" target="_blank">You&rsquo;re not wrong</a>. Chicago&rsquo;s Loop is at about 500 feet above sea level, and <a href="http://peakbagger.com/map/BigMap.aspx?cy=42.124567&amp;cx=-88.237406&amp;z=13&amp;l=CT&amp;t=P&amp;d=6431&amp;c=0&amp;a=0&amp;sx=-999&amp;sy=-999&amp;cyn=0" target="_blank">the high point of Cook County is in Barrington at 900 feet</a>. That height difference is about 400 feet, and that&rsquo;s spread over 40 miles. If we were talking about any other state in the country (besides Florida) you&rsquo;d barely notice the difference. In other words, in Illinois, the default standards are low for what&rsquo;s considered high.</p><p>Besides, getting muddled in the numbers takes some of the most interesting curiosities out of John&rsquo;s question. Because the answer to why suburbs&rsquo; names involve height involves a melding of a broad cultural trend and a specific psyche present in Chicago-area real-estate marketing. I&rsquo;ll move through three theories, each getting a little closer to sweet home Chicago.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory one: Flatness doesn&rsquo;t feel good</span></p><p>Picture the flattest place you can possibly imagine. Maybe it&rsquo;s miles of desert under a hot sun, or it&#39;s a view from a lone sailboat on a windless day. Or maybe it looks more like this:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Cumulus_Clouds_over_Yellow_Prairie2.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" title="(Wikimedia/Wing-Chi Poon)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Whatever you&rsquo;re picturing, it&rsquo;s likely you&rsquo;re confusing flatness for expanse, according to geographer Josh Campbell, who&rsquo;s studied perceived flatness versus actual flatness.</p><p>&ldquo;I think people associate flatness with that sense of being able to look in 360 degrees and feel wide open,&rdquo; Campbell says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s that feeling of openness.&rdquo;</p><p>Flat is a feeling, he says, a perception that&rsquo;s triggered by the absence of features that would otherwise disrupt the sense of expanse. For disruptors, think: mountains, bluffs, a dense forest of trees or even a visible coastline.</p><p>Campbell believes he has convincing evidence for this cultural trend. When he surveyed people about <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140314-flattest-states-geography-topography-science/" target="_blank">what they thought the flattest state is</a>, a common answer was Kansas. The correct answer? Florida.<a href="http://isgs.illinois.edu/sites/isgs/files/maps/county-maps/cook-ga.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/elevation chart.png" style="height: 405px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="There is a bit of elevation in the south and northwest Chicago suburbs. But Illinois is the second-flattest state in the country. (Source: ISGS)" /></a></p><p>That&rsquo;s because Florida has the visual relief of a coastline, he says. Even though Florida is the flattest state in the country, its coastline disrupts the human feeling of endless, repetitive, boring landscape.</p><p>&ldquo;Somehow relief in the terrain seems to be more exciting,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>And that creates a special challenge for the part of the country people feel is the flattest: the prairie states.</p><p>&ldquo;Prairie landscapes don&rsquo;t seem to hold the attention of people like white sand beaches and rocky mountains do,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Campbell says if people feel prairie states are the most boring places on Earth, how do you convince people to move there, or travel there? Especially when it comes to Illinois, <a href="http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/illinois/state-nickname/prairie-state" target="_blank"><em>the </em>Prairie State</a>?</p><p>He&rsquo;s not too surprised to hear about all the height-inspired names of Chicago suburbs. He says names like Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect make sense, in a way.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the best evidence I&rsquo;ve seen that people correlate flat with boring,&rdquo; he laughs. &ldquo;You&rsquo;d name these suburbs anything &mdash; you&rsquo;d tell a lie and call it a Mount &mdash; to differentiate it.&rdquo;</p><p>And a &ldquo;Mount&rdquo; just sounds like a more exciting place to be than a field full of cows, no?</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory two: Impact of historic scenic imagery</span></p><p>Just look at this painting.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" among="" class="image-original_image" nevada="" sierra="" source:="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/maxresdefault_0.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 620px;" the="" title="Albert Bierstadt's 1868 painting, " /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Does this look like flat to you? No.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the mid-19th century, there&rsquo;s a broad, cultural awakening of romantic, dramatic landscape, says Chicago historian Ann Durkin Keating. Flatlands, she says, just didn&rsquo;t make the cut.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">For evidence, she points to countless paintings of settlers on horseback traversing mountain ranges, tourists gazing at waterfalls at sunset, or people standing before the bluffs of the Colorado River.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Keating says artists, poets, and writers from the East Coast or from Europe had decided what &ldquo;scenic&rdquo; meant. Midwestern farmers didn&rsquo;t play as much a part in defining the newfound cultural infatuation with scenery, much less creating art depicting it.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">And be honest: The last time you took a road trip, wasn&rsquo;t Kansas the state you slept through?</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Bringing this back to Chicago suburb names, flatness just wasn&rsquo;t fashionable in the 19th century media market. It was unlikely you&rsquo;d want to look &mdash; much less live &mdash; in a place that evoked flatlandia.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size:24px;">Theory three: Local practicality</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Keating says in 19th century, Chicago&rsquo;s city center was ridden with filth and contagious diseases like Cholera and Typhoid. Those diseases were often transmitted through contaminated water, and the more low-lying, still water there was around, the easier these diseases could spread.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In the 1870s, the northwest railroad&rsquo;s commuter line gained popularity and provided an easy, accessible route to the slightly more elevated suburbs. Many wealthy Chicagoans moved out of the city and into the highlands.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Simply put: Higher places meant healthier places, and they were marketed as such.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">There you have it, three theories that led to the oh-so-flat Chicago area having a plethora of names indicating elevation. To recap:</div><blockquote><div class="image-insert-image ">1. Flatness is generally boring (people notice and like topographic features)</div><div class="image-insert-image ">2. Flatness isn&rsquo;t worth looking at (19th century prairies and grain fields weren&rsquo;t scenic, apparently)</div><div class="image-insert-image ">3. Flatness is where the diseases are (screw Typhoid, people, let&rsquo;s stay out of low-lying Chicago)</div></blockquote><div class="image-insert-image ">If you put these trends together, it makes sense that if a Chicago-area town could be anything other than flat, it would aspire to be that other thing. And when it came to marketing and selling land in the early Chicago suburbs, many residents and realtors took that to heart.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 24px;">A tale of two neighbors</span></div><p>Chicago suburbs end up with names that imply elevation in these two ways: crowd-sourced rebranding and straight-up marketing.</p><p>In the crowd-sourcing camp, we have Arlington Heights, one of the first &ldquo;successful&rdquo; suburbs that sat along the northwest railroad line out of Chicago. It didn&rsquo;t always have that namesake, however. About 20 miles out of the city, and mostly made up of German farmers and the occasional small business or trading post, the place was actually named Dunton, after founder William Dunton. (Go figure.)</p><p>When William Dunton died in the 1870s, residents saw an opportunity to rebrand.</p><p>&ldquo;The people who are living there are saying, &lsquo;Hey, we don&rsquo;t want to be known as Dunton for rest of time. We want a more progressive name,&rsquo;&rdquo; says Keating. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re looking out and saying &lsquo;What will look good to encourage people to come buy land here and settle here?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>After a bit of soul searching, they came up with (drumroll, please!) Arlington Heights.</p><p>Why the Arlington? Keating says no one knows for sure. But the Heights? It wasn&rsquo;t just inspired by the tiny bit of elevation.</p><p>According to Keating, the name switch allowed the community to change its image &mdash; and its reputation &mdash; &nbsp;from a place people associated with farmland to a place people associated with trade and commerce.</p><p>But what about so many other Chicago villages and towns, the ones that had elevation built into the name from the start?</p><p>For that, consider the case of Mount Prospect, which, unlike Arlington Heights, got an elevated name the first time around, before it was incorporated.</p><p>According to Jean Murphy, vice president of the Mount Prospect Historical Society, realtor Ezra Carpenter Eggleston bought a hunk of land along the railroad between Arlington Heights and Park Ridge in 1871. Hoping to make some money, Eggleston anticipated the place would prosper if he could convince the railroad to build a stop there. He named the place Mount Prospect.</p><p>&ldquo;The &lsquo;Mount&rsquo; part was because of the elevation,&rdquo; Murphy says. &ldquo;And the &lsquo;Prospect&rsquo; was because he thought the town had high prospects for the future.&rdquo;</p><p>But, Eggleston&rsquo;s own high prospects fell flat, and quickly; Eggleston failed to convince the railroad company to build a railroad station in Mount Prospect and the realtor went bankrupt from all the unsold lots. Basically, he abandoned ship (er, Mount). There&rsquo;s little known about him after that.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mtprospecttrain.jpg" style="height: 440px; width: 620px;" title="Mount Prospect Railroad Crossing, circa 1925. Not a mount in sight. (Source: Illinois Digital Archives)" /></div><p>Mount Prospect eventually got its own railroad stop in 1886, but the place didn&rsquo;t boom until after WWII.</p><p>As for the name? Murphy suspects Eggleston was trying to &ldquo;one-up&rdquo; other towns with height-related names. And Mount Prospect does sound higher than, say, Arlington Heights. Still, Murphy says Eggleston deserves some credit.</p><p>&ldquo;Back in 1874 this might have seemed like the highest point. It was all just prairie,&rdquo; Murphy says. &ldquo;But Eggleston was obviously just trying to sell lots.&rdquo;</p><p>And today, the Mount Prospect Historical Society is doing its own bit of Eggleston-inspired marketing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/prospectshirt.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Embrace the irony with a Mount Prospect Historical Society T-shirt. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Funny, right? The Society&rsquo;s self-aware shirt is a popular high school graduation gift.</div><p><span style="font-size:24px;">&lsquo;A placeless society&rsquo;</span></p><p>By the 1930s, it was possible to live in a Chicago suburb named after another Chicago suburb &mdash; or, actually, two suburbs. Example: Prospect Heights, its name being the offspring of nearby Mount Prospect and Arlington Heights.</p><p>But we can&rsquo;t end this story without taking the example of Ford Heights, just south of the city. Because if you think the whole suburb-name-marketing thing is something of a historic relic, it&rsquo;s actually quite the opposite.</p><p>Ford Heights was originally named East Chicago Heights, a spinoff of its neighbor Chicago Heights. According to Edward Callary, author of <a href="http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/33nxw6km9780252033568.html" target="_blank">Place Names of Illinois</a>, Chicago Heights was named to evoke the association of modern, city lifestyle. (Surprise! Neither Chicago Heights nor Ford Heights are much higher than Chicago&rsquo;s low-lying Loop.)</p><p>Because in 1987, East Chicago Heights decided it needed to rebrand.</p><p>According to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-03-27/news/8701230729_1_ford-heights-park-forest-south-east-chicago-heights" target="_blank">an account in the Chicago Tribune</a>, Village Clerk Edna Mason said: ``We just felt we needed a change in the image. It sounds better. I thought it would be a nice name.``</p><div class="image-insert-image ">The reason? Callary suspects the move was to publicly woo the Ford Motor Co. plant, which sat on an unincorporated piece of land outside of the village boundaries, into annexation. Speaking on the name change, a surprised Ford spokesperson said it was &ldquo;flattering,&rdquo; but that&rsquo;s all.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.dunakin.com/projects/suburb-generator/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/evergreen%20hills.PNG" style="height: 240px; width: 620px; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid;" title="Think you know where Evergreen Hills is? It doesn't exist. Click to take the Chicago Suburbs Name Generator for a spin, though. " /></a></div></div><p>One-hundred years ago we named places very differently, Callary says. Places were named after a town founder, or family member, or after something that indicated the place&rsquo;s actual, physical presence in the world. Today, it&rsquo;s more common to name a place after what you want it to be, rather than what&rsquo;s actually there.</p><p>&ldquo;When we talk about community naming it&rsquo;s all image,&rdquo; Callary says. &ldquo;And that&rsquo;s why developers spend time and money into playing into what our hopes and our dreams and our desires are.&rdquo;</p><p>If you buy his argument, here&rsquo;s a question for you: Is it okay to continue naming physical places after feelings?</p><p>Keating, our Chicago historian, says yes. But she also says there&rsquo;s a downside.</p><p>&ldquo;What I see is a loss of roots. We are a mobile society, and being able to move is a critical part of being American,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;These &nbsp;generic names have to do with our caution about real estate investment. &nbsp;And really, it&rsquo;s a middle class American caution. The names of these places can&rsquo;t be so specific that it will be a bar to selling property at the end of all this.&rdquo;</p><p>That lack of specificity, Callary says, suggests people care less and less about having a sense of place at all.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re a placeless society,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The place we live can be practically anywhere.&rdquo;</p><p>And while placemaking once depended on external realities &mdash; geography, landscape, history &mdash; today, placemaking is a bit more amorphous. It&rsquo;s a hologram of words, feelings and associations. A reality without roots.</p><p>Which leads Callary to conclude, that when it comes to making places &ldquo;it&rsquo;s all in our minds.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/leahy.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Questioner John Leahy scales the heights of Mount Prospect with a newly-acquired mug that indicates otherwise. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Questioner John &ldquo;It-started-as-a-joke&rdquo; Leahy</span></p><p>John Leahy grew up in Elk Grove Village (<a href="http://www.triblocal.com/elk-grove-village/2012/04/25/elk-herd-longtime-area-residents/" target="_blank">which does actually have an elk population,but one imported in the 1920s</a>). But, he says, whenever he&rsquo;d drive with his family through Chicago&rsquo;s northwest suburbs, it was always an excursion of height jokes.</p><p>&ldquo;My dad has a very dad-like sense of humor,&rdquo; Leahy says, &ldquo;And when we&rsquo;d be heading up north and coming back we&rsquo;d say things like &lsquo;Oh, yeah, just trekked up Mount Prospect, came down Arlington Heights.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>But the joking led to a genuine curiosity about why the names didn&rsquo;t match up with the actual geography. And he suspected it wasn&rsquo;t just a coincidence.</p><p>What&rsquo;s he learned?</p><p>&ldquo;Its pretty clear at a certain point that elevation was a way to signal to people that these communities were out of the swamps, that they were healthy and they have good land,&rdquo; Leahy says. &ldquo;That people could move out there for a better life. And to some degree, it seemed like it worked.&rdquo;</p><p>But, Leahy says, knowing the answer isn&rsquo;t going to spoil the family joke: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s still really ridiculous, but it makes sense now.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is a Curious City producer. Follow her on Twitter for more of these kind of shenanigans <a href="http://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/dont-believe-height-why-chicago-suburb-names-flat-out-lie-about-their-elevation The sweet spot at the top of Chicago http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/sweet-spot-top-chicago-107897 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F99244552&amp;color=00deff&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Curious City listener Elizabeth Silk and I have been making the same joke about Chicago&rsquo;s height challenges: She lives in West Ridge, right near Warren Park and the sledding hill that people refer to as &ldquo;Mt. Warren.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We were just joking about it one day and I thought, well, maybe this is the highest point in Chicago,&rdquo; she said. It stuck with her enough that she sent Curious City this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>What is the highest point, geographically, in Chicago?</em></p><p>It turns out Elizabeth&rsquo;s guess is, well, quite a bit off. But it is so darn flat here! It feels like anywhere could qualify. I like to say it to visitors at random times when we&rsquo;re out and about.</p><p>But joking aside, there is an answer. We established one rule: Any high point in the city would have to be natural.</p><p><strong>Finding a peak on a prairie</strong></p><p>Apart from avoiding the obvious no-go Willis Tower and other buildings, this mission&rsquo;s a little tougher than you might imagine. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanwoodswalker/2934996944/">Think of a hill you&rsquo;ve seen around the Chicago area</a>. There&rsquo;s a good chance it&rsquo;s a landfill of garbage or some combo of soil, gravel and sand. The hills of Hegewisch &mdash; technically the tallest land masses within the city limits by about 100 feet &mdash; are mostly off-limits because of their toxicity.</p><p>So why is Chicago so flat? We&rsquo;re on the edge of the Great Lakes Basin, pretty much at the bottom of the bowl. The Valparaiso Moraine to the west and south funnels water down to the lake, which is our lowest point, at 577 feet above sea level. (At least we got that on cities that rest on the coasts.) This is all because 14,000 years ago, Lake Chicago rested on top of this land, formed by a retreating glacier that left the whole area pretty featureless. On average, <a href="https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=02889475e54441d8bb1cc1b2c9ae5a77&amp;extent=-180,1.0549,-41.267,70.5543">high points in the Great Lakes states</a> lie 500 miles from a lakeshore.</p><p>There&rsquo;s also the issue of geologic engineering. Chicago has been raked by glaciers, drained, burned, bulldozed, and dug up for centuries now. Who even knows what the physical land used to really look like? For example, <a href="http://chicago.straightdope.com/sdc20081225.php">Stony Island Avenue</a> was named after what was probably an island in Lake Chicago. The outcropping contained marine fossils, asphalt and the striation that captured glacial movements. However, by the 1920s, it was ripped up in the name of development, despite being recommended for reservation by the Geographic Society of Chicago in 1917.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>(Below, we lay out Molly, Matty and Logan&#39;s trip in Beverly)&nbsp;</em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img class="alwaysThinglink" src="//cdn.thinglink.me/api/image/404656246050783233/1024/10/scaletowidth#tl-404656246050783233;626328886" width="620" /><script async charset="utf-8" src="//cdn.thinglink.me/jse/embed.js"></script></p><p>To answer Elizabeth&rsquo;s question, I pulled up <a href="http://usgs01.srv.mst.edu/store3/digital_download/mapping_ap.jsp">United States Geological Survey topographic maps</a> and looked to that ancient lake&rsquo;s edge, which ran along what are now blocks in the 90s. That&rsquo;s the circuitous route this carpetbagger took to find an answer. Locals, though, would have told me to look south immediately.</p><p><strong>Beverly</strong></p><p>In <a href="http://www.beverlyrecords.com/history%20of%20beverly1926.pdf">A History of Beverly Hills, Chicago</a>, a thesis for the University of Chicago dated 1926 and held at the Ridge Historical Society, one Mrs. Walter F. Heinemann (or Cora DeGrass Heinemann, by 2013 standards) writes about 19th century Beverly: &ldquo;On the physical side the strongest elements have been topography and transportation, in the development of Beverly Hills. It is the highest land in Cook County and could be used for farming when miles of land surrounding it were little better than swamps.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/9100623125_00d96fefbf.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: right; height: 183px; width: 275px;" title="A Beverly convenience store prides itself with the neighborhood’s hilliness. " />Mrs. Heinemann also excerpted W.W. Barnard comments about the neighborhood&rsquo;s view. In 1894, he wrote that from 101st and Longwood &ldquo;you may look north over an unbroken prairie and see in the distance the smoke hanging over Chicago, which then extended no further south than 12th Street.&rdquo;</p><p>Beverly lies north on the Blue Island Ridge. Unlike Stony Island, Blue Island is a moraine, basically more glacial debris. I scoured the contour lines and identified a few hilltops that were higher than 670 feet. Now that I selected my peaks, I needed a Sherpa. I called up my friend, <a href="https://twitter.com/matty_ryan">Matty Ryan</a>. He grew up in Beverly and is a natural tour guide. Curious City producer Logan Jaffe joined the party as well, armed with cameras.</p><p>We started on Longwood Drive, which runs along the shore of Lake Chicago. You can see the sloping lawns that have smoothed out the natural ridge a little bit. Beverly is really nice. It used to be referred to as the suburbs and it sure has that feel. The streets are kind of &ldquo;protected&rdquo; by one-ways, turnarounds, and cul-de-sacs, allegedly built for safety but ask an honest resident and they&rsquo;ll tell you they continue to maintain the segregation that makes you feel like you&rsquo;re in Winnetka when Auburn Gresham is less than a mile away. &nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><div id="PictoBrowser130628192509">Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer</div><script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser/swfobject.js"></script><script type="text/javascript"> var so = new SWFObject("http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser.swf", "PictoBrowser", "500", "500", "8", "#EEEEEE"); so.addVariable("source", "sets"); so.addVariable("names", "Curious City: What is the highest natural point in Chicago?"); so.addVariable("userName", "chicagopublicmedia"); so.addVariable("userId", "33876038@N00"); so.addVariable("ids", "72157634253068834"); so.addVariable("titles", "on"); so.addVariable("displayNotes", "on"); so.addVariable("thumbAutoHide", "off"); so.addVariable("imageSize", "medium"); so.addVariable("vAlign", "mid"); so.addVariable("vertOffset", "0"); so.addVariable("colorHexVar", "EEEEEE"); so.addVariable("initialScale", "off"); so.addVariable("bgAlpha", "90"); so.write("PictoBrowser130628192509"); </script><p>&nbsp;</p><p>We wound through a few blocks and drove up Leavitt Street, to the point that my map was saying was 670 feet above sea level, or about 100 feet above our lakeshore. This is also the point named as the highest in Chicago when you use Google to get to Wikipedia. (That&rsquo;s nothing that a serious journalist would do, of course, but it turns out Wikipedia&rsquo;s right on this one.)</p><p><strong>Lookout Point</strong></p><p>Next we headed over to the Dan Ryan Woods at Leavitt and 89th Street. Making sure we knew the <em>real </em>history of the area, Matty said, &ldquo;This is also where we used to go and do bad things when we were little. Like &hellip; drink beers underage. I don&rsquo;t know if the NPR audience is ready for that kind of stuff.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/9044872478_691fb63968.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 183px; width: 275px;" title="A historic lookout point at the Dan Ryan Woods at 87th Street and Western. From here, you can see the top of the Willis tower, almost 10 miles away. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" />We were still at 660 feet here in the Dan Ryan Woods park, but we did actually have a hilltop to look down and a cool view of the Loop. To the east, there was a dubious marker in a copse of sycamores.</p><p>Nice views and shady history aside, turns out this point is only at 660 feet. This hill is not technically the highest point, but it does offer the highest natural viewpoint.</p><p><strong>The end of the rainbow</strong></p><p>We reoriented and walked down Western Avenue to the other 670-foot contour interval that begins at 91st Street. There was literally no discernable elevation gain, though there was plenty of traffic.</p><p>92nd Place and Western might have a view of a Menard&rsquo;s and neither the green hills nor the view at the Dan Ryan Woods, but the corner carries a unique, remarkable feature: <a href="http://rainbowcone.com/">Rainbow Cone</a>, a Beverly institution. For the uninitiated, the signature treat is chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House, and pistachio ice creams <em>plus </em>orange sherbet piled on a cake cone. Matty used to work there in high school.</p><p>&ldquo;It takes awhile to learn how to make a cone like that,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>A magical treat for a magical spot. Elizabeth, you should get one and then take a walk back to 87th to get the full Top of Chicago Experience.</p><p><em>Molly Adams hosts <a href="http://morningamp.tumblr.com/">The Morning AMp</a> on <a href="http://vocalo.org">Vocalo</a>. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/mollyelena">@mollyelena</a></em></p><p><em>Special thanks for research help to Edris Hoover at the <a href="http://www.ridgehistoricalsociety.org/">Ridge Historical Society</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 28 Jun 2013 11:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/sweet-spot-top-chicago-107897 Oak Park's Continental Divide http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/oak-parks-continental-divide-105662 <p><p>Most of Chicago is flat as a pancake. That&rsquo;s why the neighborhood I grew up in was special. We had a hill. I was so impressed that when I got my first camera, I went out and took a picture from the top of its dizzy heights.</p><p>Actually, our hill wasn&rsquo;t a real hill. The rise along Narragansett Avenue was a ridge. Long ago Lake Michigan was much larger, and its waters covered most of what&rsquo;s now the city of Chicago. The ridge marked one of the ancient lake&rsquo;s beach lines.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Narragansett%20Hill.jpg" title="'Narragansett Hill', 1959" /></div><p>That same Narragansett ridge stretches into Oak Park. Once I became an adult, I never paid much attention to it. Then, a few years ago, I was driving west on Chicago Avenue through Oak Park. Just as I crested the ridge I saw the historic marker on the parkway to the right.&nbsp;</p><p>The marker told the story. My childhood ridge was a continental divide.&nbsp;</p><p>The ridge separates two great watersheds. The rain that falls on the east of the ridge eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The rain that falls on the west of the ridge goes toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago was settled because of its convenient location between the two great watersheds. Think of the native peoples&mdash;or Marquette and Jolliet&mdash;paddling their canoes down Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, portaging a few miles over the ridge, then catching the Des Plaines River on the way to the Mississippi. We all learned that story in Early Chicago History 101.&nbsp;</p><p>The Oak Park markers were erected through the efforts of retired architect Bill Dring. With the help of Dennis McClendon at Chicago Cartographics, he located a 1927 map that identified the ridge as a continental divide. This particular one is known as the St. Lawrence Divide, because the east-flowing waters reach the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence River.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/03-04--Oak%20Park%20Marker.JPG" title="Oak Park's Continental Divide" /></div><p>A few spoilsports have claimed that the Oak Park ridge isn&rsquo;t an actual continental divide. Drop a bottle into the water and send it west from the ridge toward the Mississippi and the Gulf. If that bottle doesn&rsquo;t get picked up or smashed, it&rsquo;s still going to wind up in the Atlantic eventually. So what&rsquo;s the big deal?&nbsp;</p><p>I don&rsquo;t buy that argument. Over 70 percent of the earth&rsquo;s surface is water, and all of it flows together at some place or another. The continents are really nothing more than giant islands. So if you want to get hyper-technical, you have to throw out the Rocky Mountain Divide, too.&nbsp;</p><p>Most of us will never get to Four Corners, and never be able to stand in four states at once. But with very little effort, we can straddle two great watersheds. So let&rsquo;s all celebrate the Oak Park Continental Divide. &nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 05 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/oak-parks-continental-divide-105662