Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dr. Nels T. Quales house at 1951 West Schiller


The Nels T. Quales house at 1951 W. Schiller (JWB, 2011)

Just south of Wicker Park sits a home of red brick with a cyclone fence around it.  Clearly 1951 West Schiller has seen better days.  Completed just two years after the Chicago Fire of 1871 and enlarged in 1890, this was in its early days the home of Nels T. Quales, a Norwegian who came to Chicago in 1856, a man who accomplished enough to fill three lifetimes and whose work left an impression on the city that remains to this day.

Quales was born on January 17 of 1831, the next-to-youngest of six children.  His father, Tangiles, was a farmer of modest means near Hardanger in the fjord country of southern Norway.  By the age of 26 the young Quales had entered the Royal Veterinary College of Copenhagen, where he spent nearly four years securing a degree in veterinary science.

In 1859 Quales made his way to the United States, arriving in Chicago on July 6th of that year.  He went to work for a railway company in the city, taking English language classes at night.  In August of 1861 he enlisted in Company B of the First Illinois artillery.

Quales house entrance (JWB, 2011)
Now, why would a Norwegian veterinarian, in the country for less than two years, enlist in a war brought about solely by the institution of slavery?  To answer that question, we have to put aside everything that we today take for granted and imagine how important the concept of freedom was to those who came to this country, a nation not even 80 years old at the time.

Remember that the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s great gift to the country on behalf of the people of France, has Lady Liberty stepping out of a set of broken chains. Those broken chains, the movement from powerlessness to freedom, were significant.  The United States government and its great experiment in democracy was a shining beacon to all those who yearned for liberty.  No doubt Quales was brought to enlist because he felt that call in the core of his being.

The rest of his life bears out that idea.

By 1863 Quales was detached for service in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s headquarters.  He was placed in charge of a large veterinary hospital in Nashville, working in the post hospital at the same time.  In 1864 he was discharged, at which point he returned to Chicago and entered Rush Meical College, graduating in 1867.  After a competitive examination he was appointed house physician and surgeon of Cook Country Hospital.

Dr, Quales's home sat just across Schiller from Wicker Park (JWB, 2011)
At that point things began to move quickly.  The new doctor became involved with the North Side Free Dispensary and in 1868 he was appointed City Physician, holding that position for three years, adopting a series of methods that allowed the city to control a fairly serious outbreak of smallpox during that time.

It’s apparent that Quales never forgot his own early attempts to find a place in a foreign land.  He served as physician to the Scandinavian Immigrant Aid Society, served as a surgeon at the United States Marine Hospital until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, and after the fire was one of the physicians appointed by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society to help relieve the suffering that took place after that horrific event.  This was a huge operation; the society attended to the needs of some 157,000 individuals in the fire’s aftermath.

There are at least three important institutions that still remain which are directly attributable to the leadership of Dr. Quales. 

Wicker Park Lutheran Church (google images)
First, the Wicker Park Evangelical Lutheran Church was formed in 1879 with Dr. Quales acting as a principal guiding force.  Started in an unfinished church building at 2112 West LeMoyne, the congregation worshipped in English.  In 1906 a larger structure, built of stone, was begun.  This church still stands in that location.

In 1896 the doctor led the move to form the Norwegian Old Peoples’ Home Society in an effort to create a residence for elderly Norwegians.  A four-acre site was chosen in Norwood Park, just across from the railroad station.  The old hotel on that site became the Norwood Park Home.  Today the Norwood Park Home is Norwood Crossing, a facility of over 200 residents that is open to all ethnic groups.

Groundbreaking for the Lutheran Deaconess Hospital 
Finally, Dr. Quales was the principal leader in the formation of the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital, built on four lots at Haddon Avenue and Leavitt Street, just south of Division and about five blocks south of the church.  Dedication for the hospital was held on May 24, 1903.  By 1910 a new wing brought the hospital’s capacity to 100 beds.

In the early 1950’s the Lutheran Church, recognizing that the physical plant at the hospital was aging, purchased land in northwest Park Ridge, where today’s Lutheran General Hospital stands.  Both hospitals operated until 1968 when the Chicago site was closed.  Today Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has 645 beds, sees over 1,000 people a week in its emergency rooms, and maintains the only children’s hospital in the north and northwest suburbs.

Dr. Nels T. Quales, veterinarian, Civil War enlistee, doctor, and founder of three institutions that still stand today.  A Chicagoan, through and through.

It’s too bad his former home couldn’t break the chains of that fence and tell the story of the amazing man who made 1951 West Schiller his home.

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