The native American Indians were familiar with the area, which was the eastern end of the portaging route that was called Portage de Checagou (or Portage des Chenes) by early French explorers. Jacquez Marquette and Louis Jolliet passed through the portage in 1673. Marquette returned the next season and spent the winter here -- this spot is thought to be near present-day Damen and what was at one time the West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago river (now the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal). The portage was under French Jurisdiction until 1763; although after 1720 northern Illinois country (not of course a state yet) was controlled by Indian tribes. From 1763 to 1783, the Portage of Chicago was in British hands, who continued to dominate Great Lakes military and trading routes until 1795 and were active in trade even after then, being based in Canada. All during this time Indian, French, and French-Indian fur traders conducted their trade through the portage, but to what extent is unknown, as they operated independently. Americans entered the picture in 1803 with the founding of Fort Dearborn.
The first American settlements that arose were farmer dwellings connected with the Charles Lee and Russell farm shortly after the establishment of Fort Dearborn (Charles Lee himself lived nearer the lake). At the farm lived tenant farmers, housed in cabins. Their names were Liberty White, John B. Cardin, a soldier named John Kelso (or Kelson), and one other not described. Farm products such as livestock and hay were known to be produced here.
The Lee farm, or "Lee's Place" as it was called by locals, was the site of an Indian raid in April of 1812. This was the precursor to the Fort Dearborn Massacre later that summer. John Kelso and a young lad there at the time managed to escape. The two remaining at the farm were shot, stabbed, mutilated and scalped. The event has been recorded by Julliet Kinzie:
The farm at Lee's Place was occupied by a Mr. White and three persons employed by him in the care of the farm.
In the afternoon of the day [7th of April, 1812] on which our narrative commences, a party of ten or twelve Indians, dressed and painted, arrived at the house, and, according to the custom among savages, entered and seated themselves without ceremony.
Something in their appearance and manner excited the suspicions of one of the family, a Frenchman, who remarked, "I do not like the appearance of these Indians--they are none of our folks. I know by their dress and paint that they are not Pottowattamies."
Another of the family, a discharged soldier, then said to the boy who was present, "If that is the case, we had better get away from them if we can. Say nothing; but do as you see me do."
As the afternoon was far advanced, the soldier walked leisurely towards the canoes, of which there were two tied near the bank. Some of the Indians inquired where he was going. He pointed to the cattle which were standing among the haystacks on the opposite [right/south] bank, and made signs that they must go and fodder them, and then they should return and get their supper.
He got into one canoe, and the boy into the other. The stream was narrow, and they were soon across. When they had gained the opposite side, they pulled some hay for the cattle--made a show of collecting them--and when they had gradually made a circuit, so that their movements were concealed by the haystacks, they took to the woods, which were close at hand, and made for the fort.
They had run about a quarter of a mile, when they heard the discharge of two guns successively, which they supposed to have been levelled at the companions they had left behind.    [note 1]
Like Chicago itself, The Lee farm was abandoned following the Fort Dearborn massacre in August of 1812. While fur traders were thought to have still traversed the area, American activity did not resume until after federal troops returned (4th of July, 1816) to rebuild Fort Dearborn. See the maps below for a general idea of how Chicago and Lee's Place were laid out in 1812.    [note 2]
|Chicago in 1812|
|Map of Chicago in 1812||Map of Lee's Place in 1812|
...Mrs. John H. Kinzie in her book, 'Waubun,' correctly describes the location as 'Lee's Place.' Mack & Conant, extensive merchants at Detroit, in the Indian trade, became the owners of this property about the year 1816. They sent Mr. John Craft with a large supply of Indian goods to take possession of it, and establish a branch of their house there, the principle object being to sell goods to such traders as they could residing throughout this country, without interfering with the interests of those traders who purchased goods from him.Chief Alexander Robinson owned a cabin at Hardscrabble, and several members of the La Framboise family, who were French-Indian, lived there. Robinson had put up the Galloway family at his cabin when they were coldly received by agents of the American Fur Company at Chicago in 1826. One of the girls of the family later became the wife of Archibald Clyborne. She recalled five or six cabins of the several persons living nearby.
Mr Craft repaired the dilapidated building, adding thereto, and erecting others necessary for the convenience of business. He, I think, named it 'Hard Scrabble;' whether he or some one else, it bore that name in 1818.    [note 3]
The area was surveyed in 1821 as part of the federal land survey of
Illinois. The land along the canal corridor was among the earliest land
surveyed in northern Illinois, since the anticipated canal would
presumably prompt land sales nearby before other areas were accessible.
The federal land surveys typically took brief note of the conditions of
the land that was being surveyed. These surveys are the first accurate and
reasonably standard descriptions of the northern Illinois country.
Another early settler was Russell Heacock. He took up land on the South
Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago river near what is today
Thirty-fifth street. Heacock was staunchly independent, which is probably
the reason he had moved to the Hardscrabble area in the first place. He
found it necessary to move closer to Chicago so that his children could
attend school, himself becoming one of Chicago's early school teachers. In
spite of moving to Chicago, he retained his property on the South Fork.
Heacock is notable for two other reasons. First, he was the sole dissenter
when a vote was called to incorporate the Town of Chicago (1832). The
second thing he was noted for was his promotion of the Illinois and
Michigan Canal. Because funds to build the canal were scarce, a plan was
devised to make it less expensive by reducing the intended depth of the
canal. Russell Heacock was perhaps the most vocal proponent of the plan --
which earned him the nickname of Shallow-Cut. Maybe he hated the
nick name, but the shallow cut plan was ultimately successful. See the map
section below get an idea of the area in 1830.
Even before the canal construction was begun, Hardscrabble became the
site of a quarry, which was opened in 1833 in order to cut stone needed to
improve Chicago harbor. And because of the relentless pounding of Lake
Michigan waters, the harbor improvement project dragged on for many years.
Later the stone quarry became known as Stearns' Quarry. The opening of the
it and the construction of the canal mark the transition from the frontier
outpost of Hardscrabble to the Bridgeport that we know today.
(Federal) Survey of 1821 Enlargement of 1821 Survey
Close up of southern fork
Chicago in 1830
The beginnings of modern Bridgeport
What came to be known as the town of Bridgeport was platted by the canal
commissioners in 1836; although it was not yet going by the name of
Bridgeport.   [note 4]    Canalport or (Canal
Port) was platted by private interests in 1835 in one of the even-numbered
sections not controlled by the canal commissioners. The beginnings of the
settlement are somewhat obscure, since it is so old and because many of
the records pertaining to that period, such as those kept by the county,
burned in the Chicago Fire of 1871. The origin of the name Bridgeport is
shrouded in myth, purportedly owing to a low bridge spanning one of the
waterways which forced a transfer of cargo from larger to smaller vessels.
Some sources say this bridge was "at Ashland avenue," others say "near
Ashland avenue." It should be noted that here was no bridge at Ashland
avenue, nor was there an 'Ashland avenue' per se.
Another early settler was Russell Heacock. He took up land on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago river near what is today Thirty-fifth street. Heacock was staunchly independent, which is probably the reason he had moved to the Hardscrabble area in the first place. He found it necessary to move closer to Chicago so that his children could attend school, himself becoming one of Chicago's early school teachers. In spite of moving to Chicago, he retained his property on the South Fork. Heacock is notable for two other reasons. First, he was the sole dissenter when a vote was called to incorporate the Town of Chicago (1832). The second thing he was noted for was his promotion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Because funds to build the canal were scarce, a plan was devised to make it less expensive by reducing the intended depth of the canal. Russell Heacock was perhaps the most vocal proponent of the plan -- which earned him the nickname of Shallow-Cut. Maybe he hated the nick name, but the shallow cut plan was ultimately successful. See the map section below get an idea of the area in 1830.
Even before the canal construction was begun, Hardscrabble became the site of a quarry, which was opened in 1833 in order to cut stone needed to improve Chicago harbor. And because of the relentless pounding of Lake Michigan waters, the harbor improvement project dragged on for many years. Later the stone quarry became known as Stearns' Quarry. The opening of the it and the construction of the canal mark the transition from the frontier outpost of Hardscrabble to the Bridgeport that we know today.
However other problems with this oft repeated explanation persist. The nearby named Canalport would also indicate that the site was foreseen as a cargo transfer point. The forks had already been marked as the 'Head of Navigation' in the 1821 survey. The bridge in question was presumably the bridge at the lock, located just to the east of future Ashland avenue (also known early as Lisle or Reuben street north of the river). Aside from the bridge altogether, the narrow width of the canal lock made cargo transfer necessary. A very low bridge would have at the most compounded this fact, and if it were built low enough to impede traffic, the canal commissioners probably did so by design. The reason is simple; being that the commissioners held the land in the odd-numbered sections (here Section Twenty-nine), they naturally would prefer that the highest valued lots fall on canal lands rather than to those (like Canalport in Section Thirty) promoted by private speculators. According to Michael Conzen, this is what the commissioners were doing in places like Lockport (vying with Joliet) and La Salle (in competition with Peru).  [note 5] The naming of Bridgeport probably had as much to do with the commissioners efforts to distinguish their platting from Canalport as it had with any physical bridge. Moreover, 1840 federal census information in A. T. Andreas' History of Cook County (1884) mentions the Bridgeport precinct of Cook county. There was no water in the canal at the time. In any event, whoever named it, Bridgeport became the real town, while Canalport remained a paper dream. A street by that name is the only remnant left of the "town."
In the northeastern section of current Bridgeport/Armour Square, on the river bend, the South Branch Addition was also platted in 1836. It was located on both banks of the South Branch of the Chicago river between current Stewart and Halsted streets in Section Twenty-eight. Like Canalport, this area had been U. S. Public Land (rather than Canal Land) bought by private interests looking for a piece of the action that the canal was supposed to usher in.
Another important item in Bridgeport history which preceded the canal's opening was the establishment of the South Chicago school district by the state legislature in 1847. The district, a sort of township, held two schools -- one in Cottage Grove near the lake, and the other in Bridgeport. The establishment dates of the individual schools are not known, but they were most likely established soon after the district had been organized. The Bridgeport school, as it was called, was located on a triangular lot at Bridge (now Fuller) street and Archer Road. The South Chicago school district existed until 1863 when Bridgeport was incorporated into the City of Chicago and the school was made part of the Chicago public school system.
Canalport and Bridgeport have sometimes been used synonymously, and sometimes Bridgeport has loosely been referred to as including the left bank (north side) of the South Branch of the river. Today Bridgeport is bounded by the South Branch and South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago river on the north and west sides, Pershing road (formerly Thirty-ninth street, and earlier Egan avenue) on the south, and the Conrail tracks (former Pennsylvania and Chicago and Western Indiana railroads) on the east (with some minor deviations, especially in the northeast part), giving Bridgeport a shape resembling the state of Wisconsin. Thus when writers have mentioned Bridgeport, they may have been referring to a larger or smaller area than is presently understood. We have tended to a somewhat loose interpretation of the boundaries, as we do not know, for example, when the eastern and southern parts of current Bridgeport started to be called Bridgeport. And we have tended to call the area between Ashland and the South Fork (or "Bubbly creek") Bridgeport for simplicity and because it was considered Bridgeport for decades, even though that area is now in McKinley Park. See the map sections below for a general orientation to the area.
|Bridgeport vicinity||Bridgeport (community area)|