Monday, November 28, 2016

Downtown Chicago's 'Cow Path' from 1844 is still protected by law.

One of the oddest pieces of real estate in Chicago's Loop belongs to Cows. Much of the Loop we know today was once part of the Willard Jones farm.

As the city expanded from its roots around Fort Dearborn (today at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive) Jones sold off patches of his property to developers. Though this could have made him Chicago's first real estate mogul, he remained a farmer and needed to make sure his cows have a place to graze.

In 1844 Jones sold the southern half of his property to Royal Barnes. However, Barnes got only an 80-foot-wide lot. Jones retaining title to a small strip of his land at the west end. The contract included an easement for cattle to pass from his farmstead to a pasture land just to the south, where the Board of Trade now stands.

Two years after the Barnes sale, Jones sold the northern half of his original property to Abner Henderson. Written into the property deed was a provision that Henderson would have access to Monroe Street via that 10-foot wide corridor west of the Barnes land to be used to take his cows from stable to pasture.

Decades passed. In 1927 the owners of the old Barnes property were ready to erect a 22-story office building at Monroe and Clark. By then they’d acquired title to the 10-foot-corridor. But the owners of the Henderson plot to the north still had that right-of-way guarantee and refused to surrender it.
November 26, 1932 - This photo shows the cow named Northwood Susan Sixth being milked on her arrival at the end of the historic cow path which can be seen behind her.
The courts ruled that work could go ahead on the Barnes property, but only if the access corridor were retained. So architect Frank Chase redrew his plans. In the end, the 100 West Monroe Building was constructed with an 18-foot-high tunnel through its western edge, big enough for any farm animals or hay wagons that might be passing through the Loop.

It was a story that a politician couldn’t resist. In 1937 Mayor Ed Kelly affixed a bronze historic marker on the side of the building, proclaiming the tunnel was “reserved forever as a cow path.”

Well, not quite. In 1969 the First National Bank of Chicago built an annex north of the 100 West Monroe Building. The new building blocked off the northern part of the old cow path, diverting traffic into an alley. 

According to a 1979 Tribune article, both Chicago Title & Trust and the Chicago Historical Society declared that the action was legal, and there don’t seem to have been any court challenges to it.
When Hyatt began converting the 100 West Monroe Building into a hotel, connoisseurs of Chicago trivia feared that the cow path would be totally obliterated. Happily, hotel management has a sense of history and has preserved it. 
You can still use the bovine tunnel as a shortcut through to LaSalle Street if that’s your pleasure.

And Hyatt also has a sense of whimsy. One of the hotel’s conference rooms is named for Willard Jones. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the cow path is a public easement. Under the law a public easement cannot be abandoned or taken away. Thus, this easement still exists for the full length of the cow path, which means that if someone wanted to to herd cows through the path and through the annex they are legally entitled to. I used to have a law school professor who offered to pay the legal fees of any student brave enough to do so. I would have done it, but I didn't have a cow.


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