Transportation History

The history of Bridgeport cannot be appropriately addressed without consideration of the transportation facilities that traverse it and spell out its geographic boundaries. The initial routes of conveyance were the trails and the river (or creek as it was sometimes called). Indian trails, many of which followed bison or "buffalo" trails, laced northeastern Illinois much like the modern highway network does. Many of Chicago's early roads were built near or on top of such trails. The river was an important means of conveyance to Native American Indians, who directed Jolliet and Marquette through the portage, which, Jolliet reported to French authorities in Canada, would make an excellent route for a canal between the Great lakes and the Mississippi river, thence the Gulf. Jolliet supposed that building a canal would be a simple matter of cutting a small channel about a mile and one-half in length through the portage. Robert Cavelier Sieur de la Salle, who visited the Chicago Portage in 1682, gave a more sobering assessment. In his report to the French government in Canada, he first described the engineering difficulties that would be encountered by American canal builders a century and a half later. Firstly, Jolliet had reported on conditions during the wet season; navigation conditions were entirely different during the dry season. Secondly, the Illinois river itself was barely navigable in its upper reaches during the summer. And thirdly, the constantly shifting sandbars at the mouth of the Chicago river prevented successful navigation.


The Illinois and Michigan Canal

The vision of the canal took longer to develop than firm plans did, and those plans took longer to finalize than the actual construction required. The first concrete action taken toward the canal becoming a reality came under President Monroe when the federal government concluded the Treaty of Saint Louis (1816) with several Indian tribes. In the treaty, Indian tribes ceded a twenty-mile wide swath of land paralleling the Chicago Portage route and lower Des Plaines river valley to the Illinois river. Major Stephan H. Long made a preliminary investigation of the envisioned canal route that year. Two years later, Illinois became a state. Because it had been deemed expedient to keep the canal within one state (and also due to the fact that the town of Galena was highly valued), the northern boundary of Illinois was moved approximately 62 miles north of the original line specified by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (an east-west line touching the southern bend of Lake Michigan for the eventual states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio).   [note 1]   

The next step taken was the passage of the federal Act of 1822, authorizing the state to locate and construct a canal through U.S. public lands (i.e: through the 1816 cession). The state appointed a canal commission the next year, had the route surveyed in 1824, and incorporated a canal company in 1825, which was supposed to sell stock to investors. The canal company, however, failed to attract the necessary buyers, and the state could not afford to proceed.   [note 2]   

The next firm steps taken started with a wholly new federal act passed in 1827 (entitled: An Act to grant a quantity of land to the State of Illinois for the purpose of aiding in opening a canal to connect the waters of the Illinois river and those of Lake Michigan. Approved, 2 March 1827). Indiana and Illinois were able to get federal land donations that year, which was a mechanism for funding canal construction in both cases. The land grant in Illinois was half of the amount of five sections width on either side of the proposed canal. Then in 1829 the state of Illinois set up a second board of canal commissioners, who laid out the towns of Ottawa and Chicago in 1830. ( Cf. the James Thompson Plat of Chicago, 1830 ).

This commission, however, was abolished in 1833, as the legislature was toying with the notion of constructing a less expensive railroad line in lieu of building a canal, but that option would have required amending the federal Act of 1827. By 1835 a new legislature and governor, Joseph Duncan, were committed to building the canal. In fact, Joseph Duncan had devoted about a third of his inauguration speech to the benefits of a canal. A third canal commission was appointed (1835), consisting of General William F. Thornton, Colonel William Beatty Archer, and subsequently Jacob B. Fry. William Gooding was hired as chief engineer. The next year (1836) the canal commissioners platted the eventual towns of Bridgeport, La Salle, and Lockport.

While the excavation of the canal was attended with all manner of engineering and logistical challenges, the most difficult obstacle that had to be overcome proved to be financial; although the issue of funding became entangled with statewide public improvements. Illinois in 1837 had embarked on a program of so-called "Internal Improvements," meant to connect all parts of the state with waterways, roads, and railroads. Over ten million dollars were drawn from the treasury for such purposes, and over nine million had gone to railroads that never were built before a financial panic (which brewed into a depression) swept the country the same year.   [note 3]    In essence the state was bankrupt. In order to complete the canal, even at a shallower depth than chief engineer William Gooding had originally planned for, it was necessary to secure a loan (for about 1.6 million dollars). Governor Ford negotiated a deal, whereby the canal would be overseen by a board of trustees per a deed of trust agreement. The board was responsible for all aspects of construction and operation of the canal until the debt was retired in 1871, at which time the canal reverted to state control once again.

Ground-breaking for the canal that Jolliet had envisioned, after dozens of false starts, was commenced on the 4th of July, 1836 after a speech by Dr. William Egan at what was then called Canalport (later Bridgeport). The mere anticipation of the coming canal had a major impact upon the development of northern Illinois -- causing the most dramatic rise in population seen up to that point. The village of Chicago had less than 200 people by 1832, but the Town of Chicago had about 3820 in 1836. Land speculators went wild and so did prices for everything. Most necessities were then imported from other parts of the country. The census of 1840 counted 4470 persons -- more men than women. Ten years later, the census reported that Chicago's population had reached 29,963 persons.

The construction period had dragged on for more than a decade due to a depression, lack of funds, disease epidemics, and related impediments. The Illinois and Michigan Canal finally opened to traffic in 1848. By "finally" it is not meant 'twelve long years' of canal construction; rather it is meant that a long journey was followed after Jolliet had first proposed the idea to French authorities in 1674. Before the first practical move was made -- the 1816 Treaty of Saint Louis -- 142 years had passed. From then until construction began, 24 more years went by. Taken in this context, the construction proceeded relatively quickly. The efforts to plan, locate, and build the canal required venturing into unknown territory in every sense of the phrase. See the survey maps section below, which give some idea of both the enormity and inherent uncertainty of the task.   [note 4]   

Survey maps of the I & M Canal

It would be difficult to overstate the influence of the Illinois and Michigan canal on the growth of Chicago at a time when waterborne commerce was king, even though the railroads would shortly become more important. Before the Chicago and Rock Island railroad opened in 1854, passenger packet boats plied the canal's waters and barges carried a wide variety of goods. The range of goods narrowed as the railroad mileage grew, but bulk commodities continued to float the canal -- especially lumber and grain, along with a few odd products like sugar and molasses. Peak tonnage on the canal was not reached until the early 1880s and thereafter gradually diminished as traffic continued to shift to the railroads. The canal corridor had a bit of an economic edge over other areas, since the canal competition kept rail rates lower here. If the influence of the Illinois and Michigan canal over a wide area was significant, its role locally was paramount. Without it, Bridgeport today would have been another place entirely. By the time the debt of building the canal was retired in 1871, the City of Chicago had paid for the deepening of the canal (subsequently reimbursed by the state after the Chicago Fire). The original lock and pump station were removed that year. But by 1881, the state legislature ordered the city to reinstall the pumps to keep the water flowing, as downstate residents were complaining about the rancid condition of the water. A new pumping station and lock were completed in 1883. See the section below for the plan of the second lock and pump site. 

Bridgeport Canal Station, 1880s


Bridgeport and its first bridges

When Bridgeport was first platted (without a name) by the canal comissioners in 1836, the three bridges indicated on the plat were as follows: First, a small unknown type of bridge over the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago river, which may have been for the crossing of a road that had come before Archer Road was built. Second was the Archer Road bridge over the South Fork, and third was a bridge were Archer crossed what came to be called Healy's Slough -- just west of present-day Green (formerly Lime) street.   [note 5]    When the canal opened in 1848, the first of those three bridges was probably gone or washed out the next year. A bridge over the canal (at the lock) was washed away by the Flood of 1849 but was rebuilt. The the street leading to the lock site bridge was called Post street, eventually, which connected to Lisle (also known as Reuben) street -- later renamed Ashland avenue. There was a bridge over the West Fork at Lisle street, and there was the Bridge (now Fuller) street bridge. A railroad bridge was added in about 1856-7. And, of course, the Archer bridges remained in place. Bridgeport was the only crossing point for miles around at that time. The Halsted (then called Dyer) street bridge was the next one to be built, which was done in 1860.


The Roads

Archer Road, named after the canal commissioner, actually preceded the construction of the canal.   [note 6]    Previous to it there were three principal trails leading in/out of Chicago -- the trail along the lake, the Vincennces trail to Danville, and the trail precursor to Archer Road. There was also the Portage Road, which is shown on the plat made from the survey of 1821, but it was a road to connect to waterways rather than a wagon route. Archer was first officially built in 1831 as a county road called 'The Road to Widow Brown's' (Cf. 1830 Map). The canal commissioners rebuilt it again in 1836 as part of the Canal Road, primarily for the purpose of aiding the canal's construction. The road became an important connection to the south during the 1850s when the Blue Island Plank Road (roughly Western avenue today) was established. The angle of the Archer Road adhered roughly to the planned route of the canal, which in turn was rooted in the 1816 Treaty of Saint Louis (Indian cession) between the Illinois River and Lake Michigan, which in turn roughly paralleled the river-portage route. The existence of Archer Road was the principal reason wherefore the streets in the old northwest part of Bridgeport have a tilted grid pattern.


The tilted grid

The streets of the original town were set parallel and perpendicular to Archer Road, which became Bridgeport's center of town. The reason for this stems from the ease of surveying. A reliable reference point was needed, and a straight road suffices for this. That way the initial lot lines could be determined, while later lines would extend from the original ones. This is a common feature of a number of places in the Midwest platted before the Rectangular Survey System was fully implemented. Other towns with similar layouts include Lockport, Illinois; Mineral Point, Wisconsin; and Winona, Minnesota.

The early streets of Bridgeport were at a lower grade than they are now. Streets were raised in stages over several years. The first grade elevation in Chicago was decreed in 1847 by the canal commissioners for an area along the river in the downtown area. The city established an elevated street grade for the rest of the downtown in 1855, necessitating the raising of buildings there. (Cf. additional information on the 1855 street level change.) Street grade changes came first to Bridgeport in the late 1870s with the laying of sewer pipes. In some cases, houses were raised too, but because doing so was quite expensive (and owners had already been assessed for the "up-grade"), more often than not houses remained at the original grade and stairs made up for the difference. Longtime Bridgeport residents of today still remember the space made underneath the raised sidewalks having been used for privies and coal storage.


Railroads and streetcars

The next major transportation development that came to town after the canal was the Joliet and Chicago railroad, built circa 1855-7 to make a second connection between Chicago and Joliet, as Joliet was quickly becoming a rail hub. The Joliet and Chicago connected there with the Chicago and Mississippi (later Chicago & Alton). The whole system became commonly known as the Chicago and Alton Railroad, or simply, "The Alton," even though the Joliet and Chicago railroad was legally a separate company. The Bridgeport railroad station of this line was located west of Lock street. The Joliet & Chicago railroad had opened in 1857. Not long afterward, a railroad chartered under the name of the Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad Company opened under the new name of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railway on Christmas of 1858. The first train to the east left Chicago with a thirteen gun salute. This line passed through what is now the eastern margin of Bridgeport but had no stations between Chicago and the Rock Island junction (Englewood) in its first years. The closest station to open near Bridgeport was the South Branch bridge station in the early 1860s. A third railroad company was established south of Bridgeport in 1865 -- the Union Stock Yards & Transit Company railroad. A depot was built at the stockyards just west of Dyer (Halsted) street. Later the name of the railroad was changed to the Chicago Junction Railway, and branch lines were extended into Bridgeport on former lumber yard spur tracks that had been laid down about the early 1880s. See the railroad advertisments section below for examples of such advertisements of the 1860s. 

Early railroad advertisements

A horse car line was also built to Bridgeport early on. The Chicago City Railway Company built a line along Archer Road into Bridgeport in 1864-65, terminating at Halsted initially, then to Deering (Loomis) street, and soon afterward reaching the river. Huge horse car barns were built by the company at Archer between the South Fork of the river and Pitney street. In the 1860s the canal facilities, the horse car line terminal, the Joliet and Chicago railroad station, and Archer Road made up the heart of Bridgeport. The growth of the town, due to the street car line, was northeastward along Archer from the canal, and also along Archer in the northeast (toward the south and southwest) section by the river bend, and finally in the southern sections adjacent to Chicago Union Stock Yards.

That was not the end of the railroad building -- steam or horse car lines. First came the addition of the Halsted street horse car line. When the Dyer street bridge was built in 1860, communication was instantly easier between Bridgeport and the developing brick yards on the other side of the river (clays were being excavated for the slips of a future lumber district). The horse car line opened in 1877, providing the means to develop the area along Halsted street between Archer and the livestock yards. By 1887, there were as many grocers on Halsted street as there were on Archer avenue -- twenty-two on each street.

The trunk or steam railroads were also being expanded. Additional lines were built in the same general locations as the two original railroads; the main impact, so far as Bridgeport is concerned, was the addition of several railroad stations. The Chicago and Western Indiana railroad was put through along the (west side of) the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railway in 1879. This line came at a time when suburban trains had become popular. Stations in eastern Bridgeport were built every half-mile or less along Stewart street. Alongside the Joliet and Chicago (or Chicago and Alton), the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé railroad was built in 1888; a station was built by the Santa Fé at Halsted street. The Alton, meanwhile, had built a station at Twenty-third/Archer/Grove. A third railroad was also put through between the first two between 1888 and 1891 -- the Chicago, Madison, and Northern railroad, which was a subsidiary company of the Illinois Central railroad. More than just railroads, these rights-of-way were railnecks, as dozens and dozens of trains of several rail companies bound for points all over the country passed through here.

The Joliet and Chicago railroad coming through town had served to partially segment the community -- on the account of the tracks, the trains themselves, as well as from the industrial structures that sprang up along the right-of-way. But this was quite minor compared to the Track Elevation ordinances enacted in 1897. Just after the turn of the century the whole set of three railroads (Chicago & Alton, Santa Fé, and the Chicago Madison & Northern) was elevated well above the grade of the surrounding streets. While it made for faster and safer crossing, and no one need wait for trains anymore, the raised right-of-way was quite simply a wall with portals. Starting in 1906, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago, and the Chicago and Western Indiana tracks were raised as well. Just prior to World War I, the Chicago and Western Indiana right-of-way was widened, requiring the removal of homes, businesses and three churches. This happenstance split neighborhoods on either side of the tracks which had up to then functioned as a single community for the most part. The result was the definition of the boundary between Bridgeport and Armour Square. See the railroad maps section below for a better idea of how they were laid out.  

Historical Railroad Maps

During the 1880s a major expansion of the horse car lines took place. The Halsted street line was extended from Bridgeport to Sixty-third street in 1883-84. In 1884 the Archer line was continued over the river and onto Brighton Park. A short line was built down Ashland avenue from Archer southward to Thirty-ninth street, and in eastern Bridgeport, a line was inaugurated down Hanover (Canal) and Butler (Normal) streets between Archer and Thirty-first. During the late 1880s, east-west horse car lines were laid down on Twenty-sixth, Thirty-first, and Thirty-fifth streets. Additionally, a north-south segment was put in on Centre (Racine) avenue between Thirty-first and Thirty-fifth streets.

Beginning in 1892, the Chicago City Railway commenced electrification of some lines. By the turn of the century, street cars were running down Wallace, Laurel (Morgan) -- Main (Throop) streets as well. The Main (or Throop) street line was unique in that, due to the change in the street angles at Thirty-first street, the route left the public street for an alleyway in order to continue down Laurel (or Morgan) street south of Thirty-first. Longtime Bridgeport residents of today fondly remember this line as the "Klondike Trolley."

The turn of the century brought along with it a consummation of the Electric Age and electric interurban railways connected the city with suburban and rural towns. They were the "modernest" of modern in their time and cleaner than the steam lines. Chicago had three large interurbans (the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin; the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee; and the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend). Another long line was the Chicago & Joliet Electric railway, which picked up where the Chicago City Railway's Archer line left off. Interurbans were popular for weekend trips to the suburban and rural countryside, particularly Lemont and Lockport in the case of the Chicago & Joliet Electric. They further provided a link back to the "old neighborhood" for those who had moved to outlying areas, and, of course, enabled many to do so in the first place.


Later transportation developments

By 1920 transportation facilities in Bridgeport were at perhaps their greatest variety and extent. But times were changing. Between Bridgeport and Joliet, the Illinois and Michigan Canal closed forever in 1922; although the Sanitary Canal (opened 1900) had, for all practical purposes, replaced it by then. (See a comparison of cross-sections of the two canals.) The Chicago & Joliet Electric railway was shut down in 1933-34 after just over thirty years of operation. Motor Coach companies had depressed revenues of the railroad, and the Great Depression finished the company off. After the Chicago Transit Authority was created in 1947 and took control of the street railways, busses began to replace the street cars. Meanwhile the railroad stations on the steam railroad lines were closed as those companies discontinued passenger service. The Halsted street station remained open as a commuter stop until the 1983-4 season, when it was finally closed due to a lack of ridership.   [Note 7]   

Most of these changes affected Bridgeport little, for there were alternatives. The advent of the expressway system was another story. No single event in the latter part of this century affected Bridgeport more than the construction of the Southwest expressway, which opened in 1964 (It was renamed the Adlai E. Stevenson expressway in 1965.) The new super-highway cut right through the heart of old northwest Bridgeport on the north side of Archer avenue and at about 2500 south to the east of Senour avenue (formerly Quarry street).   [note 8]    Some homes were moved to other locations, the rest were demolished. Much of the Archer avenue business district was likewise leveled. In the census tracts that the expressway went through, 295 housing units and 890 persons were counted in 1960. By 1970, in contrast, only 122 housing units and 299 persons remained.   [note 9]    Residents living nearby today remember the changes quite vividly and, as one might expect, have little love for the expressway. Although forty percent of Bridgeport workers were getting to work by automobile in 1960, by 1990 the figure rose to sixty-six percent. (Cf. table 1 for particulars.)

A decade after the discontinuance commuter service at the Halsted street station, Bridgeport got rail service back when the Chicago Transit Authority opened the Midway (Orange) Line in October of 1993. The "El" stops are at Halsted street (near the old Santa Fé station) andat Ashland avenue (not far from the site of the old Alton station). Ridership for an average weekday at the Ashland station was 1200 for 1994 and 1995, while ridership at the Halsted station was 1400 in 1994 and 1550 during the 1995 season.   [note 10]    The opening of the line is predicted to yield long-term benefits for the viability of Bridgeport.