Highland Park linked to the Reformation movement

Roger Williams, the English Protestant theologian who founded Rhode Island, is depicted in the Wall of Reformation carved in the fortifications of Geneva, Switzerland's 16th century city walls. Unveiled in 1909, the monument celebrated the 400th anniversary of John Calvin's birth and the 350th anniversary of the University of Geneva founded by Calvin.

Williams, who also established the first Baptist congregation in colonial North America, was an advocate of Calvin's "liberty of conscience" philosophy as well as Martin Luther's "walls of separation" doctrine that laid the groundwork for the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

He also advocated tolerance. As governor of Rhode Island, he welcomed Quakers and Jews who were not wanted in other English colonies.

Frank Hawkins, Highland Park's first mayor (1869-1870) and one of the Highland Park Building Co.'s founders (1867) also advocated what today might be called diversity, sponsoring new churches and welcoming visitors and new residents of different faiths.

Other early government and Building Co. officials promulgated similar ideas.

An early editorial of the locally printed Sheridan Road Newsletter stated, "We will welcome the Hebrews here."

Other neighborhoods and new towns were less welcoming.

Hawkins proudly counted Williams as an influence, in addition to being his ancestor.

However, it was not Hawkins who named the streets in the village directly south of the Highland Park train depot.

Developer and Baptist Sunday school teacher Benjamin Franklin Jacobs envisioned a Baptist village or summer resort in Ravinia and mapped the streets' appellations.

The Dec. 31, 1876, Chicago Tribune noted, "Forty Baptist gentlemen now own lots at Ravinia."

The Baptist community did not thrive as expected. However, the picturesque village of Ravinia was annexed to Highland Park in 1899.

Roger Williams Avenue remains the main thoroughfare of the Ravinia Business District, crossing the Metra railroad tracks and bridges over ravines until it reaches Lake Michigan.

Julius Rosenwald bought a home on Roger Williams Avenue overlooking the lake in 1911.

Local teacher and principal Jesse Lowe Smith photographed multiple sections of Geneva's Wall of Reformation and created lantern slides as teaching aids illustrating the role of Roger Williams in world history for Elm Place School in Highland Park.

Webster is the archivist at the Highland Park Historical Society. This article was written using resources in the society's Archives and Research Collections, funded in part by Henry X Arenberg Archives Preservation Fund. Go to highlandparkhistory.com for more information.

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