Sheffield Historic District tour with docent Nancy Sims
Walking in the Sheffield Historic District brings back childhood memories. It’s now where I give tours as a docent. The neighborhood is often considered “West Lincoln Park,” but it didn’t begin very ritzy, like its neighbor to the east.
by Nancy Sims, CAC docent, class of 2015
Sheffield began as an immigrant working-class neighborhood after the Great Chicago Fire, where workers lived in brick row houses and narrow two- or three- flats. Empty lots and gangways served as play areas, and front porches were used for socializing. These early immigrants—who mostly worked along the north branch of the Chicago River and in manufacturing plants along Fullerton Avenue—created a neighborhood with schools, churches, social services and stores.
As a kid, I visited my grandma at St. Augustine, a nursing home built in 1885 at the southwest corner of Sheffield and Fullerton. The home was founded by Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who cared for the poor and elderly. At the invitation of President Lincoln, the nuns came to America from France to aid displaced Southerners and establish foundations in New York and Chicago.
Land for St. Augustine was purchased in 1883 and a five-story red brick building that could house 300 residents was built. In 1975, the nuns were forced to leave due to code violations and the building remained vacant for years. DePaul University eventually acquired the building and through adaptive reuse, converted it into student housing.
After World War II, urban renewal and change came as more flats and large homes were converted to rooming houses for post-war housing. Eventually the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home relocated west of Racine Avenue. Beginning in the 1970s, many of the remaining early residential buildings were lovingly restored.
Today, the neighborhood contains three Chicago landmarked row house districts along Chalmers Place, Fremont Street and Bissell Street. Each is filled with historic homes, many converted into single-family dwellings that preserved their 1890s architectural charm. We invite you to walk through this flourishing urban neighborhood that has retained its architecture and vibrancy.