Chicago Tribune, March 26, 1911
By Stanley R. Osborn.
THE Chicago man who knows nothing of his city beyond the stretch of street between his apartment and the “L” station, and the few squares of loop surrounding his office would be surprised if his Persian rug, as is the occasional habit or Persian rugs, should pick him up some Saturday afternoon, fly away with him, and land him in Milwaukee avenue.
He would be surprised at the behavior of his square of carpet, and he would be almost equally surprised at the aspect of Milwaukee avenue. For such methodical men do not keep in touch with the growth of the city. They know that a new flat is going up across the street from their own apartment; that a new skyscraper is building around the corner from the office. But of the miles of business streets in between they know nothing—their eyes are always burled in their papers as they travel back and forth from home to office.
Such a street as Milwaukee avenue, the highway of the great northwest side, would, therefore, be a surprise to such a man. Only those who know their city well would be prepared for the rows of substantial buildings, the crowded pavements, the throngs that come end go by day and night. For these are a development of the last few years. They are the beginnings of a business home rule spirit in the outside which, eventually, may bring them to a point of serious rivalry with the loop.
Street Loses No Chance.
The street owes much of its present tIm- portance to some Columbus of the citY council who built a bridge across the railway tracks from Lake and Canal streets to Klnzie and Desplaines, apparently on the theory that he could discover the northwest passage to Dunning. His vIaduct gave the street direct and open access to the loop across Lake street bridge, and the street immediately took advantage of It to become the great highway of this section.
Running diagonally it cuts across the map of the city from its heart to the northwest corner at Norwood Park. It crosses and is the main street of the Eighteenth, Seventeenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-eighth, and Twenty-seventh wards. Where it goes after leaving Norwood Park nobody knows, for the map is cut off there. But the plethora of fur mittens offered for sale at one point or another along the way appears to indicate that the avenue goes on and on in the general direction of Wisconsin, and Manitoba, and Chilkoot pass.
If the voice of the city is “I will!” the voice of Milwaukee avenue whiskers in your ear: “Did you know we have here the greatest retail center in the city outside the loop?”
Just to show that it is at the head of things which mean business the avenue has just organized a chamber of commerce. It has invited all the northwest side to rally round It. The new organization has offices and a paid secretary and archives, and all the other stylish things, an such as has been tried before by any other street.
Milwaukee avenue from Chicago avenue.
Warning to City Council.
When there is anything wrong with the avenue and the northwest aide the avenue will come down to Chicago and unfold from its wrappings a modish No. 11 size malled mitten and lay it on the council table and say: “We want better communications with the north side. We already have the largest retail center in the city outside the loop and if we can get our rights, and a few more streets cut through and some bridges built and a few more life size street cars put on, we can get all the north side trade. Now don’t let us have to bother about it again.”
All this in spite of the fact that five trunk lines now patrol the street—Milwaukee avenue, Armitage avenue, Division street, Chicago avenue, and Elston avenue—there are sixteen transferpoints—Halsted street, Grand avenue, Chicago avenue, Elston avenue, Noble street, Division street, Ashland avenue, Robey street, North avenue, Western avenue, Armitage avenue, California avenue, Fullerton avenue, Belmont avenue, Irving Park boulevard, and Lawrence avenue. Besides these are the Humboldt Park and the Logan Square elevated lines and the Milwaukee steam roads. But Milwaukee avenue wants a standard “pay-us-you-enter” car crossing from the north side every four blocks with a three minute headway.
With all these street cars standing round and getting in the way of each other It is a mystery why as many persons walk. At certain hours of day and night the sidewalks are crowded. When the industrial plants which hedge the avenue round on every side close down at evening a mob of artisans appears and walks to the northwest-ward. These men use the avenue because cutting cross lots, it is the shortest way. This evening parade gave Milwaukee at one time the name “Dinner Pail avenue.”
Marquette the first Visitor.
No street outside the old Fort Dearborn neighborhood has more history than Milwaukee avenue or has changed more. The Rev. Mr. Marquette. who was the first white man to use the streets, would not recognize it now. Marquette went out Milwaukee avenue in 1673, it may be to have his palm read or to look over a few choice corner lots before the paving went in. He visited the great Indian village at the intersection of the avenue and Irving Park boulevard.
The Illinois tribe at that time had 9,000 people in two villages on the north river. They selected the intersection of Milwaukee avenue and Irving Park boulevard as the logical location for the city because of the deep waterway. The portage between the Chicagoux or Chekagua and the Deeplaines was convenient. In dry weather the Indians only rolled their trousers up; at other times they had the deep waterway so domesticated that it wandered round the village. The surface of the town of Jefferson in those days never was dry except on the morning after a prairie fire.
Tourists visiting the sight of the old Indian city may be disappointed today. The only Indians left there now are In the Thirty-sixth precinct police station. tihe old Jefferson town hall, which stands on the ashes of the council fires. Across Milwaukee avenue at the spot where the chieftains gathered to welcome the first pale face is a spot where the “extra pale” is welcomed. Opposite is a classie Greek confectionery. Excitement comes only at long intervals when among the modern wigwams a little Irving Park car lopes away into the distance llke a scared rabbit.
Cars Last of Indian Days.
The great trail from the Indian city, led down Milwaukee avenue to the loop district. But for some reason the Indians preferred to travel part way on Elston avenue. The cars they used may be seen now and then in the loop just as they were in the old days. The name “trollers” by they are known comes down to us direct from the time of the Indian trail.
The Indian highway entered the city near the old depot of the Galena and Chicago Union railroad that was to become a marvel of civilization and progress with its ten miles of track and its great modern nine-ton locomotive. But long before this, Milwaukee Avenue had become the greatest and muddiest thoroughfare in the world—that is, of course, outside the loop. By 1830 it was a famous wagon trail. Five years before this John Kinsie Clark had become the first white colonist on the street In Jefferson. Elijah Wentworth followed with an up-to-date two room log tavern that was much admired.
During the Black Hawk war, In 1832, the entire population of upper Milwaukee avenue came into Fort Dearborn for safety, the only time a Milwvaukee avenue man ever acknowledged the superiority of the loop on any point But this was only a momentary weakness. and Abram Gale soon built the first frame house in Jefferson, and In 1841 Chester Dickinson found traffic so important that he the Dickinson Inn or Milwaukee road house on the street near Irving Park boulevard. where it still stands.
Deep Sea Voyage to Chicago.
Meanwhile Milwaukee avenue was still muddy. The time required for a deep sea voyage from Northfield to the old Chicago postoffice and back was four days during a drought and eight days after a good fall of dew. In the spring time the Northfleld people did not come to Chicago. The first attempt to improve the road had brought it directly by the Green Tree tavern. According to history (kindly refer all libel suits to Alfred Bull. a historian of the northwest-side), the tavern keeper was able to prove to the surveyors that the magnetic pole was In the tavern bar, with the result that they ran the road past his door. Whether this had anything to do with the four and eight day journeys history does not make clear.
Meanwhile, the city had put on its rubber boots and had waded out northwestward as far as Chicago avenue. A map printed In 1847 shows that the most adventurous real estate speculator had not then dared plat an addition beyond that point. Some picturesque frontier atmosphere still lingers about this section of the street.
A map, dated 1849, shows Milwaukee avenue serving a rich and bounteous farm country. At the northwest corner of Chicago and Milwaukee avenues D. Elston had a splendid sixty acres, with good improvements. all under cultivation and fence. PassIng along, Milwaukee avenue touched the farms of M. C. Beers at Divislon street, forty acres; D. S. Lee, W. M. Lytle, and Asahel Pierce, forty acres each, at Center street; and farther on, the lovely homes of G. N. Powell, J. P. Chapin, and J. B. Weir.
Rees & Rucker Map of Chicago and Vicinity, 1849
Plank Road First Paving.
In the same year the avenue became bottomless and the first of its many pavings was put in. It became the Northwestern plank road. The mud was disguised with corduroy and plank and other subterfuges and toll gates put in at Fullerton avenue, Belmont, Elston avenue, Graceland avenue, Jefferson, Niles, Dptchman s Point, and Wheeling, the last, at the northern edge of the county and, the end of the road. In time the avenue became such a thoroughfare that the average daily takings of all the gates was $400, and the Fullerton avenue gate is credited on a single Sunday with $790 tolls.
So great a thankfulness bad been created by this first effort to pave the street that the populace continued to contribute at the gates until the unbelievably recent date of 1889. Then there was a rebellion and the remaining gates at Jefferson Park avenue. Belmont avenue, and Fullerton avenue were destroyed amidst bloodshed and that reads like a Central American revolution.
But the globe trotters should not trot out to these places in search of monuments. There Is not a bronze tablet in sight. A pale, peaceful three story brick store with groceries and drugs occupies the site of the old gatehouse at Fullerton. and at Belmont the forgetful public makes merry in a make- merry yard with an orchestrion and waiters. It has never a thought for the toll gate and the patriots of 1880.
1875 Holland’s Milwaukee Avenue Directory
Fire Blessing in Disguise.
It was the Chicago fire In 1871 ihat gave Milwaukee avenue the first idea it had ever had of turning the loop into a suburb. The Galena steam cars had begun running parallel to the avenue In 1848 and Jefferson village -had been platted In 1855 by D. L. Roberts. But it was not until the fire that the city of Chicago in general took of Milwaukee avenue. Lots had been sold at $10 a front foot before that, but not afterward. It came to be the proper thing to buy the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter of something or other for $100 and to sell it afterward at $4,000 or $5,000 an acre.
Holland’s first Milwaukee avenue directory in 1875, has a flattering report of conditions. It says:
The general public are probably not aware that a large proportion of the store-keepers on Milwaukee avenue own their stores and buildings and in this way having no rent to pay are enabled to sell goods at a lower price than is charged downtown or by the merchants on any other street in the city.
The directory also compliments the business men on the splendid new paving of Nicolson block that had been put in to Robey street1 and North avenue and which “begins a new era.”
The directory takes an awful blow at the “niggardly street car company which seldom runs a car clear through. but always charges full fare,” and the citizens omnibus line which had twenty-six splendid buses, 200 horses, and the best service in the city.
The old Turnpike Gate at Milwaukee Avenue and Fullerton Avenue, the morning after its destruction by a fire in 1889.
According to the Directory.
In the next paragraph, for the benefit of en advertiser some up Qhe street, the directory lauds. highly the West Division Street railway, which had a track as far as North avenue and double tracks south Of Division street, so that “no one need hesitate who has business in that quarter.” In this year work was begun to cut the street through from Kinzle to the Lake street bridge. The avenue also at this time presented “almost an unbroken front as far as North avenue.”
All of the foregoing preamble and prologue is to put the reader in possession of the facts so that he can now answer the question:
Why do women on Milwaukee avenue buy so many cloaks and bonnets?”
This is not a conundrum. It is a fact that requires explanation. In two short blocks on Milwaukee Avenue between Ashland avenue and Ellen street there are fourteen cloak and fifteen millinery shops. In the next block north there are three more of each. South from this center are six more cloak shops and eight milliners. In two places there are four in a row, running independent businesses.
Now, this seems abnormal. The women of MIilwaukee avenue often go bareheaded. And no one of them ever wears more than one hat at a time. Two headed women are not to be seen in the neighborhood The styles do not change here more often than elsewhere. Then why such a mass of millinery? “It is because we have a market,” says the avenue, swelling out its chest. “We have the largest retail section In the city—that is, of course, outside the loop. The bonnet and cloak people have established a reputation for a certain line of trade—women come here for their specialties from all over the city.”
The largest retail center in the city—that is, to repeat, outside the loop—is at its best between Division street and North avenue. The Pottawattamie council fires may have burned on Norih avenue just west of Milwaukee, but fire sales do not glow on the avenue now. There are three other retail centers on the street, the section between Halsted and Noble streets, between Armitage avenue and Fullerton, and between Logan boulevard and Belmont avenue. There are numerous vaudeville and picture theaters, centering near Lincoln avenue in particular. With the theater crowds and the night time shoppers who take advantage of the fact that the stores are open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings, the avenue, when the arcs are a-light, does a realistic reproduction of “paying expenses.”
“On Sunday mornings, too. the street is lively, really more busy than town streets, for the clothing and furniture houses keep open. The Polish Daily News published at the intersection of the avenue with Division street, is a lively local newspaper. Four or five business colleges on or just around the of the avenue, recruIting -youngsters who are to fill in the gaps and keep the “largest retaIl center” from flagging in its fight against the loop.
Census Source of Satisfaction.
The avenue is “Dinner Pail avenue” no longer. It has a department store which is the largest in the city outside the loop and which has a floor space of 250,000 square feet. The avenue sends its delivery wagons to Evanston and to Oak Park. By day it is full of street cars and traffic. At night and all night, the sleepy procession of the market gardeners grinds slowly down to South water. The Division Street Y.M.C.A.. dedicated Dec. 15, 1910, is a thing the avenue takes you round to see, “it costs $300,000,” says the avenue, and her rooms for 300 men.”
The avenue also regards the census with satisfaction.. The block bounded by Noble, Cornelia. Augusta. and Holt streets house 2,000 souls, mostly customers. The school census of 1910 indIcates a population for the Twenty-seventh ward of 141,134. The same authority in 1890 credited the ward with only 11,368. The avenue has reached a point where, even far out as Waveland avenue, it con secure improvements such as the Carl Schurz High opened last September, on roil that had been formed eighteen months before.
The leaders in this great retail center points out that Milwaukee avenue and its sister streets are coming into their own. Twenty years ago they were flourishing in a smaller way. Ten ago the loop reached out and smothered them with advertIsing and had sway their trade. But within the last years they have been “coming back” stronger and better than ever before. and sees before them a time when even State street will have its lonesome moments.
CHICAGO RAILWAYS CO. LINES. West Division, 1909
18 MILWAUKEE AVENUE LINE. Route— Washington, State. Madison street loop to Fifth avenue, north on Fifth avenue to Washington west to Despiaines, north to Mllwaukee avenue, northwest to one block north of Lawrence avenue (Jefferson Park) .
1 Robey street has been renamed Damen Avenue.