Thursday, April 26, 2018

South Water Street, Chicago, early 1830s.

This is a rare view looking west on South Water Street possibly in the early 1830s. Hogan’s store was at South Water and Market Streets, while Wolf Point Tavern can be seen in the distance. (from a painting owned by the Chicago History Museum.)
The very first street Chicago ever had was a muddy, narrow trail running east and west along the south bank of the Chicago River. Its name described it as South Water Street. Along this street the first markets and general stores were built, which eventually became a gigantic produce market, only to be replaced by what is known today as West and East Wacker Drive. 

In 1833, when Chicago received its charter as a village, Lake Street was the main street of the town; in this same year, the first Tremont House was erected at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Lake streets. The first store building on Lake Street, a two-story frame structure, was built by Thomas Church. The first Court House followed in 1835 and the City Hotel, later the Sherman House, in 1837. From 1837 to 1842 the first City Hall was located in the Saloon building, a three-story structure at the southeast corner of Clark and Lake streets.

One of the country roads that came into the old Fort Dearborn settlement from the northwest was an Indian trail that was planked by the early settlers of the area to hold their wagons up from the bottomless mud. It was called the Northwest Plank Road. The original Indian trail name was the Milwaukee Trace, which is known now as Milwaukee Avenue.

The first road, crossing the “dismal Nine-mile Swamp”, went west on Madison St. to Whiskey Point (Western Ave. ), thence southwesterly on the Barry Point Trail to Laughton’s Tavern where it forded the DesPlaines River and went southwest to Walker’s Grove, now Plainfield. Portions of it still exist as Fifth Ave. in Chicago, Riverside Drive and Longcommon Road in Berwyn and Riverside, Barry Point Road in Lyons, and Plainfield Road from Ogden Ave. to Plainfield.

There is a dispute about the route taken from Chicago to Widow Brown’s house in the woods on the north branch of Hickory Creek (east of Mokena). One historian asserts that it went southwest (on Archer Ave. to Justice Park), thence southerly through the Palos forests and across the Sag valley to about 151st St., and thence southwest on what later became the Bloomington State Road. Others assert that it went southward on State St. and Vincennes Ave. on the road to Blue Island, and thence southwesterly on what is now the Southwest Highway. These and other dirt roads were superseded or improved by the makeshift construction of plank roads which, although temporary, contributed much toward the growth of infant Chicago.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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