Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dearborn Street Station
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Dearborn Street Station (1885) Cyrus L.W. Eiditz / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If you traveled in or out Chicago's Midway or O'Hare airports in 2013, you were one of 86,874,713 passengers who passed through their terminals, landing or taking-off on one of the 1,135,126 aircraft that used the airports' runways. It also makes you part of a transportaton hub system whose history dates back over 135 years.

  [Dearborn Street Station, 47 W. Polk Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

From the time the Galena & Chicago Union's first rail car pulled out of the station on its way to suburban Oak Park on October 25,1848, Chicago's movers and shakers never looked back. After the Civil War ended in 1865 a determined group of the city's business leaders and boosters worked relentlessly to connect Chicago to an ever expanding national rail network, and as a result of their effort, by the 1880s, more trains and their passengers passed through Chicago than anywhere else in the world. And unlike today's airports which are generally owned and operated by government agencies, in the 1880s, train terminals were owned, constructed and operated by the railroads themselves.

  [Dearborn Street Station, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad had first chugged into the city in the 1850s where it joined a number of other emerging rail lines establishing acre-gobbling rail yard presence south of the downtown business district. They purchased a large piece of land that extended from Van Buren Street all the way down to Taylor Street, between Fourth (today's Federal Street) and Third (today's Plymouth Court). They then constructed a small passenger terminal on Fourth Avenue,  just east of the two-block long depot of the Rock Island and Southern Michigan railroads. Then in 1882, at a March meeting of the Chicago City Council, alderman passed a bill authorizing the extension of Dearborn Street from Jackson Boulevard south to Taylor, which would run right through the middle of the railroad's property. Needless to say, the C & W.I. wasn't happy about it.

  [Dearborn Street Station, Printer's Row, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The city set aside a sum of money to compensate property owners for the 80-foot-wide street, but the owners of the Chicago & Western Indiana weren't interested in selling. After losing their battle in court, Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr. worked out a compromise with the railroad: if the C & W.I. would sell their land from Van Buren to Polk Street, then the city would not extend Dearborn all the way to Taylor. A deal was reached, and in 1884 with cash-in-hand, the railroad got to work on building a train station which would sit prominently at the foot of the newly extended Dearborn Street. The rail road hired New York City architect Cyrus L.W. Eiditz to design their new terminal, who drew-up plans that included an eye-catching clock tower that sat right in the middle the the block-wide building, and dominated the newly created intersection. The Dearborn Street Station, home to the Chicago & Western Indiana and five other rail lines, opened for business on May 31, 1885.

  [Dearborn Street Station, South Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Dearborn Street Station was one of six passenger train terminals that surrounded Chicago's downtown Loop district. Four of them were within easy walking distance of one another at the southern end of the Loop, which for decades virtually halted the expansion of the business district southward as the city grew in population and prominence on the world stage. But the train traffic entering and exiting those six terminals put Chicago on the map as the busisest transportation hub in the world, a title Chicago proudly proclaimed for decades, even after passenger train traffic had been replaced by air travel. Thirty-five years after Dearborn Station's opening, plans were afoot to move the lines using the terminal into a new central station. One proposal called for a massive passenger terminal at State & 12th Street, consolidating the lines that fed into the La Salle Street, Grand Central, Union and Dearborn Street stations. In December 1922, after a fire completely destroyed the roof of the Dearborn Street depot, it seemed like consolidating move was imminent. But then the insurers of the badly burnt station paid for the loss, the railroad repaired the damage, and the station continued to serve pasengers until rail passenger service in the United States had declined to such an extent that the federal government created Amtrak to try and save the industry from complete obliteration. Developers, with the help of the city, purchased the now defunct depot known as the Polk Street Station and the acres of rail lines extending from it, and today the Dearborn Park residential development sits where tracks once sat, and the station serves as an entry portal to an office and shopping arcade. It is the oldest serving remnant of Chicago's heyday as the world's busiest passenger rail hub.

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