Ghost Trolleys of the West Loop

Cobblestones and trolley tracks underneath Madison Street

Cobblestones and trolley tracks underneath Madison Street

The resurfacing project that’s going to eventually put a nice, smooth layer of asphalt on Madison Street from Michigan Avenue to Kingdom Come has uncovered a nice little history lesson.

At a number of points along the street, the asphalt scraping machine that removed the previous layers of road has unveiled the street’s historic character: cobblestones and trolley tracks.

These patches are most easily found in the West Loop, which at one time was lousy with trolley tracks. To illustrate the point, check out this snippet of an historic map from the Library of Congress.  It shows the same area where the photograph above was taken.

Historic map showing a portion of the West Loop

As you can see (click to make it larger), there were two trolley tracks running down Madison Street in the 1800’s.  According to people I’ve spoken with at the Chicago Public Library, when the trolley routes finally succumbed to the popularity of the automobile, the rails weren’t sold for scrap, like so many L lines were in the 50’s.  Instead, they were simply paved over.


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. Two years ago they were resurfacing W. Harrison at the 1400 block, and the scraper unearthed streetcar tracks there. It was interesting to see how the tracks came closer to the sidewalk for a stop to pick up riders.

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    • Editor

      Very cool. I sometimes wonder if the overlays had a preserving effect, or a damaging effect in the sense that — could the tracks be re-used at some point in the future?

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