As we continue to be restricted to any travel the ‘virtual travel’ series is continuing with some history. This posting will detail the history of Chicago through maps and photographs, and take a look at what it looks like now.
In 1840 when New York City already had over 300,000 people, Chicago was just starting as a town with just a few thousand. By 1860 is was in the top 10 with over 100,000, and just 30 years later there was 1.1 million people and Chicago was ‘The Second City’, doubling in population from 1880 to 1890.
Celebrating Chicago through World’s Fairs
It was around this time that Chicago decided to make it’s presence known on the world stage by hosting a World’s Fair. Local leaders lobbied hard to land the right to host this fair with the federal government, winning out over New York, Washington and St Louis.
The site chosen, Jackson Park, provided the 600 acres required. The lead architect was the famed Daniel Burnham, who was a proponent of the ‘City Beautiful’ movement.
While most of the buildings were designed and built to be temporary, there are a few that remain to this day.
With all of the buildings built in a neo-classical design and painted the same color, it became known as The White City.
Getting to the Fair
With the incredible growth of the city from the end of the Civil War to 1890, Chicago’s transit struggled to keep up. Initially private companies had built horse drawn trolleys downtown. In 1892 the first of the famed El’s was completed from 39th Street (Pershing Road) to the Loop. The next year the Chicago and South Side Elevated Railway extended this to the fair site at Jackson Park.
The map below dates from the 1930s but clearly shows the line going south before turning left towards the lake, ending at Jackson Park. (Red Lines denote the El). This company failed not long after the fair ended because there was not enough ridership to maintain financial stability, being sold under foreclosure.
Of note this line was originally not electrified, the coaches were pulled by an engine.
The Chicago History Center has one of the original cars on display.
Green Line Train today
Also note the Midway Plaisance connecting Washington Park and Jackson Park (Green strip on map between the parks). This area was the Entertainment section of the park (more on this below).
Today the Green Line takes a very similar route, although the spur towards the lake only goes to Cottage Grove Avenue, and the southernmost branch is gone.
As noted in the photo description this is the entrance at the Midway Plaisance.
The map detail shows some of the highlights of this area, including the famed Ferris Wheel. While there had been a wooden wheel built in Atlantic City in 1891, but it burned down the next year.
Ferris’s wheel was to be Chicago’s answer to Paris’s Eiffel Tower. It was massive – 264 feet high, with a capacity of 2,160 passengers. So renown was this feature that for many years Ferris Wheel’s were known as ‘Chicago Wheels’
Today Chicago’s Navy Pier has one that, while impressive, is shorter than the original.
The Midway Plaisance today serves as a park area next to the University of Chicago. There are a few reminders of the fair.
The grounds and buildings were magnificent.
The Palace of Fine Arts was one of the few buildings built to remain after the fair.
It serves today as the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
The Statue of the Republic Was the Centerpiece of the Basin.
While no longer surrounded by water it is one of the few remaining structures from the fair.
But Chicago had a second chance at a World’s Fair just 40 years later, when they hosted the Century of Progress, which ran from May 1933 until October 1934, taking the winter off.
But the city, and world, has had significant change since 1893.
The Auto Club sponsored ‘Routes’ with fair themed names for automobile travelers to come to the city. In addition they sponsored ‘Motor Villages’, campgrounds and motels on the outskirts of town,.
Despite the introduction of the automobile, train travel was still the primary way to get to Chicago.
This Conoco map shows an Illinois Central Railway Station at the entrance to the fair.
In addition to the station at the fairgrounds entrance, there were another 6 train stations downtown, including the commuter rail stations.
Today there are 3, two for the commuter rail and Union Station, and even that station is just a portion of what it was.
Union Station is still very nice, but this grand space above was torn down in 1969.
Once you were in town the El or streetcar network would take you to where you needed to go.
Including directly to the Fair.
Welcome to the Century of Progress World’s Fair entrance.
The skyride took passengers from the main entrance on Columbus Drive to the lake shore. In this photo the Field Museum and the skyline of downtown is clearly visible.
One of the features of the 1933 fair compared to 1893’s is that it was essentially downtown, whereas the Columbian Exposition was a couple of miles south of downtown.
The 1930s was the height of the Art Deco movement (a favorite of mine), and the advertising for the fair highlighted this.
The industrialists of the day had major exhibits. GM even built an assembly line.
You could see the homes of tomorrow.
After the fair an investor purchased the homes and moved them by barge to nearby Indiana, and placed them along the lake shore as an attraction to the community he was building.
Time was tough on the homes, but over the last 20 years or so the state of Indiana has sponsored a program where you can lease them for $1 with the stipulation you fix them up (which costs $1m +). The results are fantastic.
Many Chicago landmarks were part of the fair including Adler Planetarium
as well as the Field Museum and Soldier Field.
Chicago has always used their lake shore for the public’s enjoyment, never more so than during the two World’s Fairs. Part 2 of this series in a few days will focus more on the development of the transportation in the city.