The Story of Lincoln Square
Two green, metal archways emblazoned with “Lincoln Square” bookend a popular strip of Lincoln Avenue from Leland to Lawrence avenues right off the Western Brown Line stop. In this neighborhood, people can find everything from European-style pastries and books to authentic German beerhalls and brats. Though many Chicagoans think of it as a small neighborhood, Lincoln Square is the name of a large community area made up of smaller neighborhoods, including Ravenswood, a portion of Ravenswood Manor, Budlong Woods, and Bowmanville.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Swiss, German, and English farmers settled what was then mostly prairie, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. They mass-produced flowers and pickles and declared the area the celery capital of America. But by the turn of the century, electric streetcars and the Ravenswood elevated train began operating in the community. This allowed people to move outside the city center. According to the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce, the neighborhood’s proximity to the trains allowed the community to grow quickly. The Ravenswood line eventually became the CTA Brown Line, with stops at Montrose, Damen, Western, and Rockwell.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Old Town School of Folk Music
Despite its name, the Old Town School of Folk Music relocated to its Lincoln Square home in 1998. According to its website, this Chicago institution offers a variety of music, dance, theater, and visual arts classes to people of all ages.
After its beginnings in an Oak Park living room, the school opened its doors to the folk-musically inclined in 1957 on North Avenue in Old Town. Founded by musicians Win Stracke, Frank Hamilton, and Dawn Greening, the school offered guitar and banjo lessons, as well as folk dancing and concerts. Some of its early performers included Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson, and Jimmy Driftwood, among many others. It continued to grow and moved to a new building on Armitage Avenue in the ’60s. According to the school’s history, enrollment declined in the late 1970s, and it struggled to make ends meet. But it staged a comeback a decade later.
Since moving to its Lincoln Square location, attendance at the School has waxed and waned. But in 2012, the school once again got too big for its walls and opened a new building across the street on Lincoln Avenue. Today, the Old Town School of Folk Music has approximately 6,600 students, nearly 40 percent of whom are children. The school has expanded its offerings, now including world music and musical theater in its repertoire. Everyone from toddlers shaking small instruments in “Wiggleworms” classes to seasoned musicians with decades of experience under their belt fill the school with music.
Things to Do
Shop for a wide variety of sausages and other food at Gene’s Sausage Shop and Delicatessen, which has roots in homemade Polish specialties. The shop opens its rooftop for beers and brats in the warmer months. Catch a movie at the restored Davis Theater.