Chicago Gang History

Riverdale

NameRiverdale
Location115th Street on the north, 138th Street on the south, Bishop Ford Expressway or Doty Avenue on the east, railroad tracks and South Indiana Avenue on the west.
Settled1835
FounderDavid Perriam
Year annexed1889

This area was first settled by David Perriam in the year 1835 as he set up a small community to operate a toll bridge at the Little Calumet River.  Perriam called his little community “Wildwood” which was north of the river.  In the year 1840 George Dolton and Levi Osterhoudt moved just south of the river and created the community of “Riverdale Crossing” as Osterhoudt opened a tavern at 133rd and Thornton, from here residents began referring to the area as “Riverdale.”  In 1849 John Ton purchased land here and used his farm to hide runaway slaves within the Underground Railroad.  In the year 1852 the northern part of this area became a part of the town of Kensington near 115th Street.  This area was annexed into Hyde Park Township in the year 1861. By the 1870s James H. Bowen purchased a tract of land and built himself a marvelous summer home to escape the city and during the 1870s and 1880s decades many upper classes came to this summer home for parties and events Bowen held.  In the year 1877 the Riverdale Distilling Company opened its doors which became the first industry in the Riverdale community. In the year 1880 George M. Pullman opened his Pullman Car Factory in the nearby Pullman neighborhood which brought more employment to the area.  This area thrived more when the Pullman sewer farm that took the sewage waste from the car factory and used it to process farm fertilizer.  In 1888 F. A. Reich Company lumber yard opened its doors bringing in many more jobs to Riverdale.  The 1880s also saw more industries appear such as: Swift and Knickerbocker ice house, cattle fattening pens, planning mills and a cooperage.  C. B. Flinn and Company also opened a lumber yard during this decade and the lumber yards and the distillery were the main sources of employment at the end of the century.  Another larger source of employment was the Calumet Paint Company that opened in 1888 inside of an abandoned church. In the year 1889 this area was annexed into the city of Chicago making this area a Chicago hot spot for employment.  In the year 1891 Frederick Schmidt built a shopping district in the community near 137th Street and Indiana Avenue.  In the year 1892 the “Riverdale” name was official. In the 1900s decade more industry came to Riverdale as Sherwin Williams purchased the paint factory from Calumet Paint Company and the facility greatly expanded employing several people.  In 1905 Chicago Drop Forge opened up to employing hundreds, then in 1918 Acme Steel brought tons of jobs to the area.  The area continued to thrive all through the Great Depression years of the 1930s.  In the year 1943 a plan was announced by the Chicago Housing Authority to build a very large public housing project in the community between 130th and 134th Streets and from Doty Avenue to Langley Avenue that was to be assigned as an all-African American project complex.  Riverdale and the neighboring communities of Pullman, West Pullman and Roseland protested the building of the projects that would be known as the Altgeld Gardens; however, construction still began in 1944 and was completed in 1945, after the war these projects were used to house African American veterans returning from the war until they could gain stability but the white community wanted nothing to do with that. In 1954 the Phillip Murray projects were added on to this area and the population of Riverdale exploded; now this was a majority black community but not because of white flight, it was because the area was barren for the most part until CHA came in and built the projects.  The population grew from around 1,500 (all white) residents to over 10,000 residents 90% of them black by the 1950s.  In the 1960s Riverdale and West Pullman began having conflicts over the use of public transportation and schools as West Pullman was a white community that did not want to integrate with blacks, this led to racial conflict and violence between the two neighborhoods and the black community was being left with no easy access to emergency care.  In the year 1968 the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church raised enough funding to develop the first black owned, operated and rented community in the city and one of the first in the entire country known as Eden Green which was just west of the Altgeld projects.  In the late 1970s factories began closing down and others began mass layoffs in the area which economically devastated Riverdale, and by the year 1980 Sherwin Williams closed down their factory and a year later Pullman Car Factory closed its doors which resulted in thousands of layoffs in Riverdale as the neighborhood sunk into an economic depression, then to add insult to injury the closed down Sherwin Williams plant was left with pollution run off from the paint chemicals that poisoned Riverdale which led to a law suit in 1993.  Toxic pollution along with extreme poverty made the area a community of disinvestment and despair and this brought about a very violent breed of African American street gangs from other neighborhoods that went to war over the drug trade in this neighborhood as they conquered the housing projects that fell into neglect from the CHA and the police.  Black P Stones, Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples and Vice Lords landed here in the 1980s and have since made Riverdale their home as vicious and bloody gang wars have erupted over the years.  The Riverdale neighborhood has been voted many times to be in the top 10 or even top 5 most dangerous and murderous neighborhoods in Chicago.  Riverdale is also a part of the “Wild 100s” which is an area that encompassed three other neighboring communities. The Altgeld projects have been renovated in recent years. Riverdale still struggles with high unemployment, poverty, gang violence and deterioration and are one of the hardest neighborhoods in the city and considered one of the most dangerous communities.

Published: Updated: