EDGEWATER — Artist and teacher Joe Mills never lived in Edgewater or Andersonville, but it didn't take long for him to figure out what made the area so special after residents asked him to feature their Far North Side communities in his maps collection.
"I played with the notion of separating the Andersonville one, but as I looked more at Edgewater and the history of it, I like the combination of the different things going on in Edgewater," Mill said. "The Bryn Mawr Historic District, the Swedish history along Andersonville, and even including Edgewater Glen and Loyola, every time I start a new map I'm always surprised by all the things I don't know about Chicago."
Down to about 85 from an original batch of 100, the $30 Edgewater maps are moving, he said.
Neighborhoods with "sentimental value" were among his first maps, but after getting feedback from residents across the city, he said Edgewater and Andersonville stuck out.
He began his research process, carefully combing through data, historical information and other maps to get a feel for the layout. Then he made trips to the city to document buildings and special sites by taking photos before finally compiling them together in a cohesive design.
Map of Edgewater and Andersonville by Joe Mills. [Facebook/Joe Mills]
He said one of the only criticisms he generally gets about his maps are that they lack treasured local restaurants and shops, but Mills says it's all purposeful.
He likes to stay away from the contemporary he said, because even neighborhood institutions (like Hot Doug's) can someday close.
One historic building from Edgewater that didn't make the cut was the famed Edgewater Beach Hotel that was demolished in the late 1960s. The pink co-op apartment building, however, stands tall and sturdy as part of the map's rendition of the Bryn Mawr Historic District.
By tracing back the neighborhood's historical and architectural roots, Mills said he gets a much better idea of what a community's fingerprint really looks like.
A few modern moments made it in subtly, he said, like a fish to represent Simon's Tavern in Andersonville and a food-slinging pig to pay homage to Hamburger Mary's.
But in neighborhoods so defined by their cultural heritage and less by modern day additions, it takes only a cursory glance to notice many of the communities' favorite things: the iconic Andersonville water tower, tall detailed churches, gingerbread men fresh from the Swedish bakery and the perfectly lined single-family homes that dot Edgewater's residential streets. They're all places Mills said he's now come to know and appreciate.
He said he doubts if he'll ever move on to other big cities or even Chicago suburbs, but would rather find another way to keep preserving his ties to the big city he so loves.
"I was a longtime Chicagoan and now that I've left, I feel like I have learned more about it through this than I ever did as a resident. It's just a different way to stay connected without actually living there," Mills said. "I'm sometimes embarrassed even to tell people I no longer live there because my whole business right now is Chicago stuff. But at the same time, it's home for me, I guess you could say."
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