Charles Cleaver-son was born in London, England on Thursday, July 21, 1814. When he was 18 years old, he left England behind forever and sailed for America. Cleaver landed in New York City on Wednesday, March 13, 1833, but it was not his final destination. Later that year, he traveled west and arrived in Chicago on October 23.
As one of Chicago's earliest settlers, Cleaver was well-positioned to leave his mark on the area. In 1851, Cleaver bought about 22 acres of land from Samuel Ellis, who operated a tavern near 35th Street and Lake Avenue. At that time, very few people lived in the area, apart from a handful of woodsmen and fishermen.
Cleaver, however, used the land, which stretched between 37th and 39th Streets, to build a successful soap and rendering works. And those who have read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle understand what is involved in rendering for soap.
Charles Cleaver didn't stop there. He bought more land and began building his own company town, which he dubbed Cleaverville. As he built houses and planned roads, he also assumed the responsibility for naming the streets in his new community.
Part of the old Chicago-Detroit Trail, as it passed through Cleaverville, was renamed Cottage Grove Avenue for the simple reason that there happened to be a cottage located in a stand of trees in the area. Sources are unclear about whether the cottage actually belonged to Cleaver, or whether it was a pre-existing structure belonging to some forgotten woodsman. In any case, the name of street had fairly literal origins.
Other streets in Cleaverville were given similarly prosaic names. Brook Street, now part of 40th Street, was named for a nearby brook. Oakwood Avenue was inspired not only by the local trees, but also from the name Cleaver gave to his own estate on the land, Oakwood Hall. Streets named Cedar and Elm also existed for awhile in the community.
After building Cleaverville, Cleaver's most brilliant move was paying the Illinois Central Railroad $3,800 a year to provide train service to his community, thereby transforming Cleaverville into one of Chicago's first commuter suburbs.
The area represented by Cleaverville was annexed to Chicago by 1889, and today forms part of Chicago's Oakland neighborhood. And although the cottage and the grove may be long gone, the memory of that landscape remains in Chicago's streets.