Digging Up History on Congress Parkway

Chicago Architecture Blog reader Brian Kaempen sent over some photographs showing how construction on Congress Parkway in the Loop is unveiling pieces of the city’s lost infrastructure.

“On the east side, at State Street, there’s a large patch of cobblestones present over where the southern crosswalk would be. A couple blocks west, at Dearborn, there’s trolley tracks visible crossing Congress through almost the whole intersection. Even further west, Clark Street also has some tracks visible on the north side of the intersection where it’s pedestrian crosswalk would be. Once they start putting down fresh asphalt, which could be as soon as this weekend, these treasures will be sealed under again… Lastly, under the ‘L’ tracks on Wells just south of Quincy, there’s a single track that’s popping through the pavement.”

We noticed something similar last year when Madison Street was being resurfaced through the West Loop.

According to our old map of Chicago, there was no trolley service on what used to be called Congress Street.  Although State Street was extra wide in this area, it only had two tracks on it.  Harrison, Dearborn, and Clark also each had two tracks on them.  Naturally, Van Buren had none since its tracks were, and still are, elevated.

The next street west was Pacific Avenue, and then LaSalle Street, then Sherman Street, then Fifth Avenue.  Pacific Avenue no longer exists, but it’s not too hard to imagine that it gave its name to the Pacific Beer Garden after which the Pacific Gardens Mission was named when it moved to the area, before moving out a few years back to make way for the Jones College Prep High School (606 South State Street) expansion.  Sherman exists now as South Financial Place. Fifth Avenue is Wells Street.

The Quincy/Wells track shows up on our map as tracks running beneath the elevated rail structure along Wells Street with a major junction at Adams Street.  More interesting, however, is a space about a block away on Franklin, between Jackson and Van Buren.  Right at the location where today the central shaft of the massive 311 South Wacker skyscraper rises was an entrance to a trolley tunnel beneath the Chicago River.  The other side of the tunnel emerged on Canal Street, beneath an elevated rail line that crossed a long-gone bridge over the river and two a couple of 90-degree turns to link up with The Loop at its southwest corner.

Author: Editor

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

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