Chicago Gang History

Washington Heights

NameWashington Heights
Location89th Street to 91st Street on the north, 103rd Street to 107th Street on the south, the tracks just east of Robichaux Park and Wendell Smith Park to Halsted Street on the east, Hermitage Avenue to South Beverly Boulevard to South Vincennes Avenue on the west
Settled1830s
FounderN/A
Year annexed1890, 1891

 

This area was settled in the 1830s decade by Irish and German farmers and the area remained rural until the 1860s when railroad workers settled here between 1864 and 1865 which added more residents to this rural area. 

In the year 1866 Willis M. Hitt and Laurin P. Hilliard bought a large portion of this land from the rural farmers in the area between present day 103rd and 107th Streets and Loomis to Racine with the purpose of subdividing the land for development into a community. 

In the year 1869 the Blue Island Land and Building Company bought more of the farmland from 99th Street to 107th Street, in the same year a post office named “Washington Heights” opened in the community.  The area was still dominated by German and Irish residents and continued to grow into the 1870s and by 1874 the area was now known as “Washington Heights.” 

In 1883 another subdivision was platted and built up called “Fernwood,” around the same time “Brainerd” was built up between 87th Street to 91st Street. 

In the year 1890 much of the neighborhood and Brainerd were annexed into the city of Chicago, then in 1891 the rest of the neighborhood was annexed along with Fernwood creating the “Washington Heights” neighborhood. 

In the 1900s decade a part of the Washington Heights neighborhood was developed as an upper class neighborhood for the wealthy that became known as “The Heights,” this community was eventually annexed as its own neighborhood that we know today as “Beverly.”

By the 1930s Irish, German and Swedish Chicagoans from Englewood and Greater Grand Crossing began migrating to this neighborhood as those communities were becoming shabbier and Washington Heights was an escape from it. 

In the year 1948 restrictive covenants were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed African Americans to move to all-white communities in Chicago and one of them was Washington Heights; however, this neighborhood did not react violently and redlining and disinvestment did not occur here allowing African Americans to move in with ease throughout the 1950s.  The value of the neighborhood was retained as a result of this smooth transition and only middle class African Americans could afford to move in on the east side of the neighborhood which was desirable for the community.

There was also an influx of impoverished African Americans that moved into the community in 1951 in the very southern part of the community along Racine Avenue between 106th and 107th Streets, these residents were brought here by the Chicago Housing Authority as they built the Racine Courts projects, which was a smaller project compared to the others built in other communities. 

In the 1960s real estate blockbusting tactics became a major issue in this community as the real estate agents showed white residents that they needed to sell fast or lose out on value like other neighborhoods because the blacks were moving in, the tactic worked and many white residents fled in high volumes to the point where 75% of the white population fled by 1970 as the neighborhood was now 75% black, the rest would leave in the 1980s.  Although this became an all-black community redlining and poverty depreciation did not conquer this community instead it remained a black middle class community staying well above the poverty line.  This neighborhood was also not full of apartments and other renting spaces that would attract underclasses. 

African American street gangs still made their way into this community like the Gangster Disciples and Black P Stones.  There has also been a consistently higher than average crime rate in the neighborhood and also violent crime is quite a bit higher than average. 

Gangster Disciples and Black P Stones have always been quite active in this neighborhood; however, they do not have complete control of this community because the many middle classes have neighborhood watches, regardless, this neighborhood is considered one of the harder neighborhoods in Chicago.

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