Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1911
By Stanley R. Osborn
THE equator hasn’t anything on Madison street, Chicago.
The equator divides the earth into north and south sides, and all its years, and all its pride and glory, never saw such a ten miles of earth’s crust as belongs to Madison street.
Madison street runs straight from the heart of Chicago to the heart of the golden west. It is the Golden Gate street. The spring sun, a ball of crimson fire, goes down every night between the last two houses on Madison street in Maywood. Its last level may glide every block of pavement in ten miles of thoroughfare; it shines straight through every street car on the way, thus single parting flash, and turns the western windows of the loop to fire.
Madison street is ever reaching for the frontier. It has chased the city’s edge from the Chicago river to the du Page county line. Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City are on its way. Where once the Indian stood upon the western bank of the “Portage” branch to stare at the teeming settlement of Fort Dearborn the commercial travelers will soon swarm about the greatest railway terminals in the city. Where the farmers once drove and sold their cattle in the first Chicago market a seven story bank building now stands. Where the farmers of the ’60s fattened these same cattle and had their own homes, the asphalt is reaching out and out and the mason is busy raising walls to shelter the thousands that are crowding into the new built homes of the far west side.
Growth Into a New Life.
From one end to the other the air of the street is filled with change. In all its miles Madison street is growing into a new life. It has come upon its renaissance, its revolution, its new found spirit of pride and independence.
From Fortieth avenue1 to Forty-eighth2, where the real estate agent once raised his lonely trumpet call amidst his new laid lots upon the prairie the highway now sees its greatest development. Shops are filling in between daylight and dark. The hinterlands to north and south are being peopled with surprising speed, and these new residents have set up a cry for shops.
In the middle sections of the street, where once languished, new blood is also felt. The industrial development of the west side is having its effect upon the street. The thousands of industrial employees are finding homes close to their work in the heretofore neglected districts. They are crowding out of the old, shiftless, vicious element; they have more money in their pockets every week, and they are spending it with the merchants of their leading street.
In the older reaches of Madison, from its gateway at the river bridge westward for perhaps a mile, the situation is more complex. While here are to be found the largest retail establishments upon the street—one of them, locally called the largest exclusive household furnishing establishment in the world, it also boasts one of the largest piano establishments—the daily pottering of small trade has fallen off. The manufacturing and jobbing houses are pressing in close to right and left. They have taken the place of the tenements. They have crowded out the old element of the notorious levee, now soon to vanish forever.
Adam Schaaf Pianos
700-702 Madison, Corner Union
Wholesale Houses the Invaders.
Through the loss of small shop trade the front footage values in Madison street have gone steadily upward. The average is at least $500 a foot. For it appears to be only a question of time when the wholesale houses will seize upon the street itself and the old shacks now standing in many places will way to sedate six story walls.
As a first step at the portals of the street, if Madison bridge may be referred to in such poetic language, a great center of railway passenger business is under construction. The old union station is to be replaced by a splendid structure touching on Madison street at the north. Across the the street the new Northwestern station, three blocks by one in area, and built of handsome granite, is nearing completion. When these two depots are in use, Madison street and its bridge will swarm with traffic.
The transfer of the South Water street market to the west side will add materially to Madison street business. The new west side tunnels have bettered its transportation. The new through routes, Madison-Halsted, from Grace street and Evanston avenue, and Ogden-Wells, from Lincoln park, are giving through service from the north side, and bringing many new faces to Madison street. Much is expected from the Madison-State route, which is to connect through the loop district with Thirty-ninth street.
Madison’s Cry “Get Together.”
All that is good in the new Madison street is due to the merchants themselves. If the voice of the city, the cry of Chicago is “I will!” Madison street within the last eighteen months has been fairly shouting, “Get together!” Just a year ago was organized the West Madison Business Man’s association. This was the first association in the city to take in an entire street. It banished the ugly garbage cans, it did away with rickety signs, it reformed the alleys, it started competitions among property owners and children for the cleaning and beautification of waste places. Some of its members give free flowers seeds as premiums to children. It has succeeded as far west as Forty-eighth avenue in adding hundreds of electric lights to the street illumination.
It inaugurated last fall a carnival during which the street for five miles was one stretch of bunting and incandescent arches. It has now 500 members and a clubroom just west of Robey street that is open every afternoon and evening. It even issues a weekly paper called the West Side Reporter.
Last Monday officers were installed for the coming year; T. J. Poodle, first vice president; M. E. Brady, second vice president; Fred L. Johnson, secretary; F. A. Richards, treasurer; Charles N. French, attorney; Fred J. Rojahn, sergeant-at-arms. Directors: E. Woltersdorf, Harlo R. Grant, B. Woodworth, Geo. L. Robertson, Matt Wangler, William Smale, F. W. Grant, J. D. Decker, A. Walzer. The retiring officers include Ben Woodworth, president; Harlo R. Grant, and J. T. Counsell, vice presidents; H. J. Bourne, secretary, and J. A. Wendell, treasurer.
Harmony In Effort Sought.
“We are trying ti educate our people to improve their own neighborhoods,” said Mr. Bourne. “We are getting our members put in better stocks, to educate their customers, and to give them better service. If the street is to grow we must get together and work as neighbors. We must push for improvements in our own locality. When the big stores were built in the loop some years ago, the Madison street merchants threw up their hands. ‘What’s the use?’ they said. But now its different. We are working together and we are getting results. Local business is increasing. The street is entering on an era of prosperity and of the greatest promise.”
As a result of the awakening of Madison street real estate values are becoming higher, rents are going up. Within the last eighteen months rentals have advanced from 10 to 26 per cent. The change in real estate values has been 25 to 30 per cent in five years. The following figures are illuminative:
Now Will You Believe?
Halsted street crossing—two of these corners that would have been considered high a few years ago at $500 a front foot would now, since the building of the bank, new theaters, etc., be regarded as worth $2,500 a foot.
Ogden avenue crossing—southwest corner, an advance of $50,000 within two years has been refused.
Paulina street crossing—southeast corner, could have been bought within last six years for $35,000 offer of $75,000 recently refused. For 110 feet east of Paulina on north side of Madison, $57,000 has been offered, whereas within seven years the property found no takers at $30,000.
No. 2112-22 Madison street, recently sold for a $52,000, could have been bought four years ago for $40,000.
Nos. 2334-6-8 Madison street, bought last October for $35,000 (income of property only $2,500), sold this March for $37,500.
Western avenue crossing—northwest corner, fifty feet, considered high within last seven years at from $500 to $700 a foot, could be sold now if vacant (according to R. W. Watkins and other appraisers) for $2,500 a foot.
Kedzie avenue crossing—southeast and northeast corner not on market. Have been held by original purchaser without buildings for years. Could be sold for a big profit if offered.
Fortieth avenue crossing—southeast corner, if on market ten years ago, would have been considered as not worth more than $60 a foot. Now the corner fifty feet is appraised at $1,000 a foot.
Frivolous Only on Surface.
While all this change is going on away down in its heart, West Madison street upon the surface is rather a frivolous thoroughfare. It does not take its commercial destiny with any seriousness. It prefers to daily with flippancy and ay burlesque. It says:
Yes, we are becoming a great street. West Madison formerly stopped at the river. Now it goes right down to State. Since the renumbering we have annexed the loop. Some street—yes?
Centering about Madison and Halsted—the busiest crossing, day and night, in the whole west side, is the livelihood amusement center to be found in many a block.Within a few feet of the intersection are to be found the Haymarket, the Star and Garter, the Academy, the Virginia, the Lyric, the Sangamon, Wonderland, and the Empire. Farther along are new theaters near Western avenue, Hamlin avenue, and Kedzie. Madison street means to mix pleasure with business.
For all its present greatness, Madison street was not designed by the mind of man to be a great highway. It was destiny rather than city councils that made it. Lake street was to have been to main road west. When in 1828 Jim Kinzie, son of the historic John, built the Wolf Point tavern, he turned his back upon Madison street and built at the fork of the river branches. His famous tavern and the wolf killed therein gave a name to the new city of Chicago—all that was not included in Fort Dearborn. Gen. Winfield Scott in 1832 made his headquarters there, still scorning the claims of Madison street.
Destiny Shows Its Hand.
The first ferry crossed at Lake, not Madison. Madison street was but the southern boundary of the original town as it was plated. But destiny was at work. When the first bridge was built, not Lake but Randolph street got it—one block nearer to Madison. The first schoolhouse went not to Lake but to Canal and Washington, only one block off Madison.
In 1847 Madison street secured one of the three bridges, Randolph and Carroll having the others. In 1856 the first west side fire engine house went up only a block away, at the northwest corner of Clinton and Washington. Its engine answered to the pet name of “Island Queen.” And when, in the same year, the first baseball ground was established in what is now Union park, it was seen by all that Madison street was coming into its manifest destiny. The building of the Lake street “L” and the change of the numbering base from Lake to Madison were only completing steps in the crushing of all competition.
Madison street, early began to go like a streak of lightning with a pedigree. Like all the other great highways of the early days, it became a plank road. Milwaukee avenue was the northwestern plank road, Madison was the western plank road. The Madison street plank road was carried out westward from the city to the brands of the Desplaines river at Robinson’s. This work was done in 1850 and 1851. The road was soon built west to the DuPage county line, making seventeen miles in all. The Elgin and Genoa company then carried the plank work westward through DuPage county for twenty-eight miles, making a total plank highway to the west of fifty miles.
Southern Best Plank Road.
The Southern Plank road3 was carried out ten miles to Kile’s tavern. This is said to have been the best plank road leading out of the city. It was kept in better repair and was more popular than any of the others. It led to Riverside and La Grange. Another famous old road that branched out of Madison street was what is now Colorado avenue4. In 1854 and fior many years afterward it was known as Barry Point road, because it led to the Widow Barry’s farm.
Many interesting associations cling about the interaction of Madison street and Ogden avenue, where the plank roads joined. Here was situated the famous Bull’s Head Inn and the first Chicago cattle market. This cattle yard began business in a small way in 1848, just southeast of the intersection of the plank roads. There was nothing west of Ashland avenue, known as Reuben street, at that time. Farmers from all over that section beyond Ann street used to drive their herds into this market; wild, uncouth men from the wilderness, some of them coming in from as far as Oak Park. Cattle were not slaughtered at the Bull’s Head yards; it was merely a market.
The Bull’s Head tavern, which stood on the south side of Madison just where Ogden strikes in, was the most famous west side hostelry of its time. It was the first “balloon frame” structure built in Chicago, a form of architecture evolved by George W. Snow, a local carpenter. Mathew Laflin, inventir of Laflin street, was the first owner of the Bull’s Head tavern.
Union Park House New Center.
In 1861 the Union Park house, just down the street, usurped the position of leading center of west side culture. Here the Madison and Randolph street buses used to draw up with a flourish. The hotel was the best place in all the west side to water a horse. The Madison street horse car line, the first on the west side, also ended in front of the Union Park house. This was in 1862. The Randolph street line also swung over to serve this great center of western refinement.
Union Park in those days was the only west side park. In 1856 the first baseball ground was established about a block north of Madison and within the present boundaries of the park. In 1856 a great muckraking scandal was crafted when the papers denounced the plan of Samuel J. Walker to sell to the city two part blocks of land between Madison street and Union Park for the enlargement of the latter. Walker named $100,000 as the price, and there was a great cry of graft. Union Park does nit contain the bronze equestrian statue of Gen. Sheridan presented to the city by Charles T. Yerkes. Mr. Yerkes never presented such a statue, but at one point in the franchise negotiations it looked as if nothing could restrain him from such an scorning of the park. But later, he and everybody else forgot about the statue.
Connected with this old market is a scene which perhaps better than anything else illustrates the change and growth of Madison street. Here in 1857 William Jackson was hanged for the murder of Ronan Morris of Libertyville. The day of the execution was a carnival—the first Madison street carnival. Pink lemonade stands lined the sidewalk. A great throng of merrymakers filled the streets. Presently up Madison came the murderer, seated on his coffin in a market wagon, trotting merrily to the scaffold. The hanging in the cattle market was a grand free show for all.
Two other famous murders are associated with this neighborhood. One of these was the killing of Amos J. Snell an aged millionaire, on Feb. 7 1888. This was in Washington street near Ada about two blocks from the location of the Bull’s Head tavern. One Willie Tascott was suspected of the crime and an offer of $50,000 reward was made, but Tascott was never found.
The second murder was on Ashland avenue, which bounds Union park on the west. This was the killing of Carter H. Harrison, the elder, on Oct. 28, 1893, by Joseph Prendergast, a disappointed office-seeker.
Another famous “frontier gun fight” and criminal orgy in Madison street was the raid of the notorious Garfield park racetrack. The police descended upon this gambling resort in September 1892 when the Hankins brothers were at the height of their glory. In the general gun work which followed a man named Brown was killed and several others were wounded. The racetrack was then closed.
This track was west of the south part of the present Garfield park, the largest and most prestigious park on the west side, which is cut in two by Madison street. This south half of the park, by the way, was a famous racecourse itself in the ’90s, when it contained the best bicycle track in the United States.
Robinson’s Fire Map
Garfield park itself was improved in 1869, and rapidly took away the honors of Union park. It has been developed until it now has the largest green house, fernery, and flower display of any of the city’s public domains. The park was such an attraction that it led to the upbuilding of the street at an early day, and the extension to Crawford avenue, just west of the park, of the original Madison street cable line.
The most famous criminal event connected with Madison street and the west side, however, is the Haymarket riot. A statue commemorating it now stands in Union park. This is locally believed to be the only statue in America in honor of a policeman. Patrolman Thomas Birmingham posed for the figure. The riot occurred on May 4, 1886. The bomb was thrown on Desplaines street, two blocks north of Madison. When the smoke cleared away the street was filled with injured policemen. Seven were killed and fifty-nine wounded. The anarchists were hanged in 1888.
The old Bull’s Head corner, with its executions and conviviality, has been succeeded by a proper atmosphere. The Third Presbyterian church, Union Park Congregational, Chicago Theological seminary, and Zion Temple cluster round, and the Washington school sat at the northwest corner of what is now Canal and Washington streets, just enough off Madison to allow the pupils room for Indian shooting and other healthful games.
An unexpected boost for culture on the west side came from Billy Caldwell, “Saganash,” the great half breed Indian chief. Billy, either in an earnest desire to help uplift movement, or because he knew he was perfectly safe in doing so, offered to pay for the books and tuition of all the Indian children who could be induced to attend, and he threw in a set of clothes with every first reader.
The first regular school was built in 1837 in Canal street, three blocks north of Madison, and school district No. 5 was organized. The most accomplished traveler among all west side schoolhouses was built in 1855 at Madison and Wood streets. Three years later this new schoolhouse was moved to make room for a still newer one (the first in Chicago to have steam heat). Before it finally finished its travels the old frame building visited the Twelfth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth wards and finally returned to the Twelfth.
Old Scammon School
School for Many Old Timers.
The first institution of higher learning on the west side was St. Patrick’s commercial academy, built in 1856 in Desplaines street a block and a half north of Madison. This old institution was the school of many of Chicago’s well known citizens.
The first really nontransient west side school was the Scammon school, built in 1846 on the south side of Madison and Desplaines streets. Part of the John M. Smythe store now stands in the old school yard. School place was named for the old building. The English high school and manual training school is now on the opposite side of the place from the old school site, a half block from Madison to the south. The Scammon school itself was moved to Monroe and Morgan streets when the Madison street location became too valuable for school purposes.
Chicago Theological seminary was founded in 1859 in Warren avenue and Ashland, one half block north of Madison. Western Theological seminary one block north of Madison, near California avenue, is the principal western training school for Episcopal ministers. Lewis Institute (polytechnic) is a famous school at Madison and Robey streets.
But the most interesting educational group tapped by Madison street is the group of institutions constituting the greatest center of medical learning in the world. This great center of healing, which is south of Madison street, was founded when the county hospital was built there after the destruction of the first hospital by the Chicago fire. Rush medical college, founded in 1844, had also been destroyed by the fire, and followed the county institution.
Group of Medical Institutes.
There are now a close group the county building these institutions:
Rush Medical college
Chicago Post Graduate Medical college
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Chicago Homeopathic Medical college
Chicago College of Dental Surgery
Chicago Opthalmic college
Bennett Medical college
Northwestern University Women’s Medical school
Illinois Training School for Women Nurses
West Side hospital
Chicago Hospital for Women and Children
Vhicaho Homeopathic hospital
But it is not its interesting history, its lively midnight crowds, or its school houses that give Madison street its claim to future greatness. It is business, simply business. On the dollars that it now collects, it is great enough. And on the dollars that it expects to roll along its ten miles of length in future days it should become one of the real empire streets of the world.
“Madison street is the direct highway through Chicago,” say the Madison street routers. “Madison street is the shortest and best route from where you are to what you want. The city has got to come to us. It is coming now. In a few years the west side will be the heart of Chicago, and Madison street will be the heart of the west side.”
For six miles already the stores extend in a line that is broken but rarely by vacant lots or residence property. Twelve miles of shops. Every day one or more building permits are taken out for business places, small or large. Already Madison street has one of the largest furniture houses in the world, one of the largest houses which manufacture pianos in Chicago, one of the largest cigar factories, the west side distributing point for all the packing houses, and almost 3,000 merchants, representing every every line of retail trade. With the growth in population the change in the class of that population, the new transportation facilities, and new industries going in, the most valiant pessimist will have a hard time to show anything but a brilliant future for the street.
John M. Smyth Block
CHICAGO RAILWAYS CO. LINES. West Division, 1909
17 MADISON STREET LINE. Route— Franklin, Washington, State street loop to Madison street, west on Madison to Sixtieth avenue (Clty Limlts).
1 40th Avenue has been changed in later years to Crawford Avenue and is currently Pulaski Road.
2 48th Avenue is now Cicero Avenue.
3 Southern Plank Road is probably Southwestern Plank Road, which is now Ogden Avenue.
4 Colorado avenue is called West 5th Avenue today.