Monday, November 28, 2016

Downtown Chicago's "Cow Path" from 1844 is still Protected by Law.

Mz. Udders

To get the history of how this "Cow Path" came to be, one must go back to 1833, when Chicago was incorporated as a town on August 12, with a population of about 350 inhabitants. 

After working as a carpenter on the Erie Canal, Willard Jones, an early settler who migrated from New York, decided to make this town his home. For $200 ($8,225 in 2024), Willard purchased several plots of land in today's Chicago Loop business district.

The area of Clark Street on the east, LaSalle Street on the west, Monroe Street on the south, and Washington Street on the north in Chicago equals 33 acres.

The average cost for Willard Jones property today (2025) would cost $10.3 Million per acre, or $340 Million for 33 acres of land without any improvements.

Willard built a farmhouse and some outbuildings in the 1830s and successfully worked the land while building a dairy barn. The terrain remained unchanged for many years.

Chicago was incorporated as a city on March 4, 1837. As the population started to grow and early industry emerged, real estate began to gain in value as early developers looked for ways to utilize land in ways more profitable than agriculture. In response to this phenomenon, Jones started selling off parcels of his land in 1844 in the surrounding vicinity of what today encompasses Clark Street on the east, LaSalle Street on the west, Monroe Street on the south, and Washington Street on the north. Some of the original commercial properties in downtown Chicago were eventually erected on this land, which ultimately planted the seeds for the birth of the Loop business district.

Jones sold the southern portion of his property to Royal Barnes in 1844, and Jones continued to operate a smaller version of his farm near the present-day intersection of Clark and Monroe. Jones sold the northern half of his original property to Abner Henderson two years after the Barnes sale. Written into the property deed was a provision that Jones would have access to Monroe Street via a 10-foot wide corridor west of the Barnes land to take his cattle from farm to pasture, just to the south, where the Board of Trade now stands. 

No construction was permitted which would obstruct this cow path in any way. As downtown Chicago began to develop over the upcoming decades, the easement was legally binding by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1925.

The cow path is a public easement which is a legal right that allows the public to use a property for a specific purpose. Once a public easement is created, it cannot be abandoned or taken away. Therefore, the cow path is still a public easement, and anyone is legally entitled to use it to herd cows, even if it passes through private property.

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. However, the owners of the Henderson plot to the north still had that right-of-way guarantee and refused to surrender it. The courts ruled that work could proceed on the Barnes property only if the access corridor was retained. So, architect Frank Chase redrew his plans. Ultimately, 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 passing through the Loop.
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.
To celebrate this unique attribute, Mayor Edward Kelly affixed a bronze plaque on this portion of the building proclaiming the tunnel was "reserved forever as a cow path" in 1937. 

The Plaque Reads:
Historic Cow Path: This areaway 10 x 177 x 18 feet is reserved forever as a cow path by the terms of the deed of Willard Jones in 1844 when he sold portions of the surrounding property. Erected by Chicago’s Charter Jubilee and Authenticated by the Chicago Historical Society, 1937.
While the plaque is long gone and unaccounted for, this unique bit of Chicago history still exists today. However, in 1969, when the Two First National Plaza Building was erected at 20 South Clark, it blocked off the northern end of the cow path.

According to a 1979 Tribune article, both Chicago Title & Trust and the Chicago Historical Society declared that "the action was legal, and there doesn't seem to have been any court challenges to it."
When the Hyatt Corporation began converting the 100 West Monroe building into a hotel, Chicago historians feared the cow path would be obliterated. Happily, hotel management has a sense of history preserving it. Hyatt also has a sense of whimsy; one of the hotel's conference rooms is named WILLARD JONES
You can still use the cow path tunnel as a shortcut to LaSalle Street.

Chicago held a "Cows on Parade" public art project  in 1999, following Zurich, Switzerland which held the first  public "Cows on Parade" exhibit in 1998.  Over 300 life-size fiberglass cows were decorated by local artists and placed throughout the city. The cows were on display for several months and then auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting local charities. The project was a huge success, attracting millions of visitors and raising over $3 million for charity.

The project has been held in over 80 cities worldwide since Chicago began this art form  and fund raising trend in 1999. 

Some of the other U.S. cities were: New York City, New York (2000), Stamford, Connecticut (2000), Kansas City, Missouri (2001), Houston, Texas (2001), Portland, Oregon (2002), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (2004), Denver, Colorado (2006), and San Diego, California (2009). 

Chicago's idea caught on Internationally; Manchester, England, UK (2004), Edinburgh, Scotland (2006), Toulouse, France (2012), Perth, Western Australia (2014), Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (2021), and Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2022)

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


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