Wacker Improvement Plan
Chicago Tribune August 30, 1925
BY GENEVIEVE FOEBES HERRICK
Old South Water Street, full of years and memories, died at noon yesterday.
For all her four score years and more, the old lady did a mighty lot of work up to her very last hour, for the really thought she’d have to give up. “Way back in 1871, directly after the Chicago fire had made a clean sweep pf all her belongings, she had received death threats. But she laughed them off.
“There can never be another South Water street,” she had challenged.
Later, when the new mart at Jackson boulevard and Wells street was abandoned after a three months’ trial, she had added, “And there never will be another.”
Sees End Coming.
Along about 1915 the talk of civic improvement and the Chicago Plan commission gave her a bad half hour., but she clung fast to her throne. For the last month or two, however, she has felt the end coming. So everything was in readiness yesterday noon for the big move over to the new South Water market, located in the six blocks bounded by 14th place, the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago terminal tracks, South Morgan street, and South Racine avenue.
The old lane, half a mile long and fifty feet wide, jammed with sweating peddlers pushing their feverish way between scraping wagon wheels, crates of apples, and the hoofs of straining horses, may not have had the refrigeration pipes and the gray tile that the new $17,000,000 city of iced lettuce, sweet corn, and cackling geese has, but the old area smells and all, had a history that will be hard ti beat, old-timers on “the street” reflected yesterday.
Last Day of South Water Street
August 27, 1925
Had Start in Early Forties.
The famous street, whose recent annual business has been estimated between $300,000,000 and $500,000,000, welcomed its first produce market in the early forties, when a small group of commission merchants centered about South Water street between Wells and Dearborn streets.
As early as the first years of the nineteenth century, there was an informal trading post at the Chicago river where Indians and settlers bartered what they had foe what have you. A few years later, Mark Beaubien’s famous tavern on Lake street was a meeting place for the earliest commission merchants.
Another gathering place was the Chicago Board of Trade, organized in 1848, with C. H. Dryer its first president, and Dearborn and South Water street its first location. About the time the civil war it moved to the corner of “the street” and La Salle street. All the leading merchants, regardless of their line of business, were members of the board. A noon luncheon of cheese and crackers was served each day.
To make way for a complete transformation of the waterfront, the Water Street Market was relocated to a spot south of 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) between Morgan Street and Racine Avenue. It continued to operate there as the South Water Market through 2001, when it moved on again, even further from the city center.
Old Days Recalled.
William Bartels, on “the street for fifty years,” recalls the old days:
In 1861 the buildings on the south side of the street were much the same as they are today, from the outside appearance at least. On the north side, on the river, it was irregularly built. The Chicago Board of Trade was between Wells and La Salle, with a 150 foot frontage and 75 foot depth, an entrance at both ends of the building. At the northeast corner of Wells and the street was the Latham salt yard.
At the northeast corner, at La Salle, was a lake transportation dock, extending some 200 feet east of La Salle. The northeast corner, at Clark, was the site of the offices, sumptuous for those days of the Julian S. Rumsey grain firm. Mr. Rumsey was at one time mayor of Chicago.
Among the grain and floor merchants who later occupied important places on the Board of Trade, Mr. Bartels lists the following:
A.M. Wright & Co.
Charles Pape & Co.
George J. Brine
Culver & Co.
Raymond & Co.
South Water Street Vendor
No Tickers, No Telephones.
In those early days there were no tickers, no telephones. It was not until the end of 1865 that the first cable advices were received from England or the continent. Merchants awaited the arrivals of steamers at New York to ascertain what the English markets were. But “business was fine,” Mr. Bartels recalls.
The street level was from four to eight feet below the sidewalks and all that was necessary in making a load was for the driver, casually enough, to back his wagon up to the sidewalk and haul his quota of butter and eggs and hide and chickens on in a truck.
In winter the pioneer commission merchant doubled as a purveyor of hogs. Farmers within a radius of 100 miles killed the hogs and toted them into the market on bobsleds up to South Water street, near Clark and Wells.
South Water Street Scene
Super-Versatile Dealer Passes.
The super-versatile commission merchant who sells hay and hides, butter and eggs, pieplant and flour, disappeared long ago. Thomas S. Smith, apple dealer, who has been located at 29 West South Water street, pointed out yesterday.
“The modern technology, on ‘the street’ as well as in other fields of business,” Mr. Smith said, “is toward specialization.”
In the early days Chicago’s lumber market was located at Franklin and South Water streets. The Chicago river, at this point, was frequently clogged with sailboats and steamers of the schooner type, from Clark street to the Lake street bridges. And an agile adventurer, could he have made the one big jump in the middle where a passage for traveling boats was opened, could have crossed from one side of the river to the other, so closely packed were the boats.
With an exhaustion of timber on both shores of Lake Michigan, the lumber cargo market virtually went out of existence in 1905, and is now supplanted by railroad shipments in carloads.
After the big fire promoters endeavored to change the commission market to Wells street and Jackson boulevard, extending north on Wells. New buildings were erected. More than one prominent firm made the change. But the old mart had too good a hold on trade. After a bit the majority of Wells street pioneers were back on “the street.”
And everybody said, “There never can be another South Water street.”
The first link of the new Wacker drive, the piece between Franklin and Market streets, will be opened to traffic tomorrow at noon. President John J. Sloan of the board of local improvements announced yesterday. At the same time wreckers will start demolishing buildings on the north side of South Water street east of La Sale street,
Showing South Water Street as it was in 1917, congested with market wagons and handling a business which the plan commission says it has long outgrown.
Men loading peaches at Water Street Market.
South Water Street intersection.
South Water Street
Robinson Fire Maps
Volume 3, Plate 1
From Chicago Illustrated, August 1866
This is looking west toward Franklin Street. On the left (SW corner of Clark and So Water) is the Horatio G. Loomis Block. and directly across is the Dole Building.
Cor Clark & S Water Sts
Artist: Louis Kurz
Publisher: Jevne & Almini
Location: From South Water Street, east of Clark, looking west
Published: August 1866
The scene presented in this picture of one of the central business points of the city, is by no means exaggerated. The view is taken from South Water Street, east of Clark, looking west. It exhibits the southern approach to Clark Street bridge being open and travel suspended. The block west of the approach to the bridge is devoted to commercial business, and is occupied by insurance agencies, forwarding and commission merchants, brokers and others. The view extends westwardly to Franklin Street.
One of the greatest obstructions to business in the streets of Chicago, is the suspension of trade between the several Divisions, occasioned by the opening of the bridges to permit vessels to pass to and fro on the river. This inconvenience, which in the season of navigation is very great, will, in a few years be remedied by the construction of tunnels under the river and its branches. The first of these tunnels is now in course of construction, and will be finished in 1868. If it is successful, the others will follow immediately.
James W. Sheahan