Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age

Tours of Chicagoland

Six tours of Chicago and suburbs from
Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age
by Ann Durkin Keating

Central Area Tour
Map for the Central Area Tour
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Chicagoland began with a look at the distinctive landscape of the city center. Skyscrapers like the Monadnock Building (1891) (C1) and large rail terminals like the Dearborn Street Station (1885) (C2) distinguished the Loop from other places in the region. But the central city also offers examples of the common structures found across Chicagoland from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Into the mid-nineteenth century, the central city served both as a unique and powerful regional core and as part of the common landscapes found across the region. Indeed, there remain a few structures representative of common regional landscapes.

South from downtown at 18th Street, in the Prairie Avenue Historic District, are the Glessner House (1887) and the Henry and Caroline Clarke House (1836) (C3). The Clarke House was moved several times before landing at its current location (although its initial location was not distant). The Greek Revival style is clearly visible, with colonnades, windows that open onto the front veranda, and a central hall plan. Henry Clarke made his fortune in an early hardware business, but it was his widow, Caroline Clarke, who lived in the house for decades. The Clarke House is among a group of houses standing from the 1830s and early 1840s that includes the Noble-Crippen-Seymour House (1833; NW1) in the Norwood Park neighborhood; the Murray house (1842) on the Naper Settlement Grounds; the Bailly Homestead (early 1830s; S12) in Chesterton, Indiana; the Canal Commissioners’ House (1836) in Lockport; and the Peck Homestead (1837; W6) in Lombard. All were built with ready access to area roads by the generation of new settlers who poured into this region at the end of Native American settlement.

Early industries in Chicagoland processed the farm produce from a rich agricultural hinterland. Mills and breweries were among the earliest enterprises in Chicagoland.

The Peter Schoenhofen Brewing Company (1903) (C4) at 18th and Canalport Avenue was established at this site in Pilsen in 1886. Peter Schoenhofen was among a group of brewers in Chicago who transformed production methods. By 1900, there were sixty breweries in Chicago that together produced over 100 million gallons of beer a year. The Schoenhofen brewery building withstood prohibition and competition from national brands, and is still used for bottling beverages (but no longer beer). Breweries, pickle and cheese factories, and stockyards dotted Chicagoland by the mid-nineteenth century; the Schoenhofen Brewery was typical in this region, although many enterprises were located not in the city center, but along the new rail lines which converged there.

Institutions anchored new neighborhoods and suburbs. Schools, churches, and courthouses spread out across the region along the same rail lines as industries. For instance, St. Ignatius College Prep (1867-1869) (C5), founded as St. Ignatius College, shares much with other college buildings across the region, including Hauptgebaude (1879; W4), Elmhurst College; Old Main (1871; SW11), North Central College, Naperville; University Hall (1869; N3), Northwestern University, Evanston; and Blanchard Hall (1853; W8), Wheaton College. However, at walking distance from downtown rail stations, St. Ignatius did not provide a retreat from the congestion of the city as did remote locations along the railroad lines.

Other new settlement types came to dominate the landscape with the arrival of the railroad. Charles J. Hull, a successful businessman, chose to build his house walking distance from downtown. The Hull House (1856) (C6) was quickly overrun by dense growth out from the city center. Other affluent Chicagoans began to congregate around railroad stations, building houses at a distance from the city center. The Willard House (1865; N4) in Evanston; the Haines House (1843; N10) in Waukegan; and the the Grove (1856; N2) in Glenview are all residences built in the same era as Hull House but near to outlying stations.

Old St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (1852) (C7) first served the largely unskilled Irish immigrants who worked on the docks along the South Branch of the Chicago River, on railroad construction, and in new industries. The church served as an anchor in the burgeoning immigrant neighborhood to the west of downtown. As the canal and railroad drew industry out from the city center, new settlements developed at some distance. For instance, St. James at Sag (1852; SW14) in Lemont and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Lockport served immigrant workers along the new transportation lines out from the city center.

By the late nineteenth century, industry in Chicago had expanded well beyond food processing. Clothing, shoes, furniture, and a myriad of other products were manufactured in small and large plants across the metropolitan area. While whole districts were dedicated to industry, neighborhoods and suburbs also evolved which integrated factories and other enterprises into already established residential and commercial areas. The Western Wheel Works (1889-1891) (C8) manufactured bicycles in its first decade of existence. The very latest production methods were employed, but the company failed. For much of the twentieth century, a shoe factory operated from this space. In the late twentieth century, manufacturing was abandoned and the space was renovated as a residential/commercial development known as Cobbler Square. Across the metropolitan area stand similar structures, most near to rail lines, which have been converted to residential or commercial use: the Selze Shoe Factory (1891; NW8) (now housing) in Elgin; 5th Avenue Station (former Kroehler Furniture Company) in Naperville; the former Ovaltine Factory (1917; W5) (now housing) in Villa Park; and the Straube Piano Factory (1904; S9) in Hammond.

One of the most recognizable historic landmarks in Chicago, the Water Tower (1869) (C9) on N. Michigan Avenue, was built of a local limestone found in contemporaneous government buildings, colleges, and churches across the region. Over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, water towers also appeared in villages and cities in many parts of Chicagoland, from Winnetka to Riverside (SW6) to Pullman. Thus through its age, architectural style, and building material, the Water Tower connects us to regional patterns. Although the tower stands for many Chicagoans (and visitors) as a monument to the 1871 fire, which it survived, the building also tells other stories. Like the Monadnock Building, the Water Tower reminds us of the dense development of the nineteenth-century core in Chicago, including the amazing water system (with a tunnel one mile out into Lake Michigan) already under construction by midcentury to protect the valuable property of the city core. It also stands as a monument to the hubris of Chicagoans who thought that such a water system could save their city from a disastrous fire.

Book details:

Ann Durkin Keating
Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age
©2005, 296 pages, 132 halftones, 23 maps. 8½ x 9¼
Cloth $65.00 ISBN: 0-226-42879-6
Paper $25.00 ISBN: 0-226-42882-6

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age.

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