Monday, November 21, 2016

South Water Street, Chicago. "The Busiest Street in the World" from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

As early as the first years of the nineteenth century, there was an informal trading post at the Chicago river where Indians and settlers bartered what they had for what have you. A few years later, Mark Beaubien's famous tavern on Lake Street was a meeting place for the earliest commission merchants.
South Water Street, Chicago, Illinois. "The busiest street in the world." (1899)
In its early years, the South Water Street Market flourished along the south bank of the South Branch of the Chicago River on what is now mostly West Wacker Drive. The wholesale produce market grew up with the city and thrived.
Notice the booking office for the South Haven Line, the company that owned the ill-fated steamship SS Eastland.
Jammed all day long with oxcarts, wagons, horse-drawn carriages, weather-beaten men with rough hands, stained aprons, and filled with the din of a cryptic language that few outsiders understood, the area between Wells and Dearborn streets was a focal point of the city's commercial life.
South Water Street market (circa 1913). People, automobiles, and Horses coexist at a busy South Water Street intersection.
City planners decided that its congestion and odors no longer belonged in the central business district and was shutdown on August 27, 1925.
South Water Street market in 1917
South Water Street market. circa 1918
Men loading peaches at Water Street Market.
To make way for a complete transformation of the waterfront, the Water Street Market was relocated to a spot South of 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) between Morgan Street and Racine Avenue. It continued to operate there as the South Water Market through 2001, when it moved on again, even further from the city center.
South Water Street market's last day. August 27, 1925
Today, the Chicago International Produce Market (CIPM) is a state-of-the-art terminal produce market[1] and one of the few terminal produce markets left in America. Bounded by Ashland Avenue on the East, Blue Island Avenue on the North, Damen Avenue on the West and the south branch of the Chicago River on the South.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] A Terminal Market is a central site that serves as an assembly and trading place for commodities; an organized market in a city into which large quantities of agricultural products are shipped for distribution and sale.


  1. Thanks for posting these photos and the history behind them! They mean a lot to me!

  2. I enjoy your posts. Although I lived in Chicago all my life, I never was aware of these interesting facts.


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