If you want to understand why Chicago has become a beautiful city – the continent’s transportation hub, players with the country’s railroad and truck, etc. – Stand on the corner of Prospect Avenue, Tuhi Avenue and Northwest Highway in downtown Park Ridge. Right in front of the Pickwick Theater. In both directions, east and west, there is a slight uplift leading to the intersection. It is a watershed, now paved, between the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi Valley. Raindrops falling to the east migrate to the Chicago River, then to Lake Michigan. To the west, to the Des Plaines River, then to Illinois, then to the Mississippi.
Unlike Detroit, Buffalo or Cleveland, Chicago is not exactly a city on the Great Lakes. There are parts of the northwestern, western, and southwestern sides that lie outside their basin. But because Chicago lies on the border between North America’s most important waterways, it has been a valuable transportation link since the days of Native Americans and French voyageswhen canoeing was the fastest way to circumnavigate the continent. Chicago was a convenient stopover not only because the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers are so close together, but also because it was so easy to navigate between them. On the southwest side of the swamp called Mud Lake often overflowed, allowing canoeists to simply float between the two rivers instead of carrying their cargo and ships. The same thing sometimes happened on the northwest side. To control this route, the natives built a village near what is now Six Corners, so the area was named Portage Park.
“Chicago Partridge is one of the most important and neglected places in the early history of the United States,” writes Benjamin Sales in his 2021 book. The History of Chicago Portage: The Crossroads That Made Chicago and Helped Make America. “Its significance began in prehistory as the residence of the first Indians in the Midwest, and it became part of the main trade route for the North American tribes. It was actively used during the fur trade, was the center of the missionary and imperialist dreams of the French and British during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was a military concern of the British during the American Revolution. It was a gateway for the expansion of settlers to the west, and it served as a model for some of the most significant waterways established in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Chicago Portage gave the name of the city of Chicago and became its initial impetus for success.
Market and Joliet first crossed Chicago Partage in 1673 on a journey from the Mississippi River to Quebec, guided there by Cascais. After that, Joliet excitedly wrote that a short channel would allow her to sail from Canada to Florida. Illinois and Michigan finally opened in 1848, allowing water traffic to bypass transportation. The canal, the railroads and the Stevenson Expressway are all on the old carriage.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi watershed no longer plays a role in transportation, but it still exists as a geographic feature and as a line on a map. I decided to walk along it through the northwest side and northwest suburbs, to pass the once significant gap that made Chicago great. Now it is difficult to say that you are in such an important place.
From downtown Park Ridge the watershed heads south, along a street known as Ozan from the Chicago side, and Canfield from the suburbs. Given the commitment of the people of the Midwest to the direct boundaries that are governed, this is a rare boundary that follows natural features. I ask a passerby in which city I am. It’s hard to tell because I see the same combination of bungalows and McMansions on both sides of the street.
“This is Chicago,” she says, pointing east. “It’s Park Ridge. It’s so close. Edison Park Station is right there. ”
Edison Park is the same for Chicago as the Northwest Territories for Canada: a remote possession bordering a foreign land. When I have to cross Ozan to avoid a ComEd truck that blocks the sidewalk, I don’t just move from the city to the suburbs, but from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi.
(Note: all street names here begin with “O”, as it is the 15th letter of the alphabet, and it is 15 miles west of the city limits. Antoine Frédéric Ozanam was a French historian and literary critic who helped found the Church of the Holy Society of Vincent de Fields: Obviously, city planners have just opened an encyclopedia on “O”.)
In Ozanam and Devon the watershed runs past the old-fashioned Dairy Queen (“House of Cones with a Curl on Top!”) Located in the Mississippi Valley. South of Talcott Avenue, it stretches east, through the suburbs to everything but the address: two-story brick houses stand on quiet winding streets lined with Chicago network. Basketball rings are hoisted on the porches, American flags are flying from the porches, “STOCK ROCKS” signs are placed in the courtyards in honor of Frederick Stoke Elementary School, 7501 W. Birchwood Ave.
The watershed crosses Dan Ryan, east of Oriole Park, and then moves to another suburb: Harwood Heights, which became a suburb only because Chicago refused to annex it in 1947. It certainly looks like part of the Northwest Side area with more bungalows than the Belt Bungalow, many of the Polish Eagles in their windows. (Nearly 20 percent of Harwood-Haitians were born in Poland, the second-largest percentage in the United States.) At the corner of Oketa and Carmen streets, I see a small hill leading to an intersection, rare physical evidence of watersheds. (Note: according to the book Streetwise Chicago“Arkaketoh was the leader of the Otoe Indians and the namesake of Oketo, Kansas.”)
On Lawrence Avenue Harwood Heights gives way to Norwich. The watershed runs through Norridge Park and leads me to the Norridge Manor strip mall. I’ve walked four miles, so I sit down to dine at ABC Bakery & Deli, a Serbian restaurant where I’m the only diner that doesn’t speak Serbo-Croatian. From the menu of peasant dishes the cook recommends soup, then insists: “Do you want bread? It’s home. “
The chunks are thick and hearty, just what I need to keep going to the next stop: Harlem-Irving Plaza, located directly in the Great Lakes basin. I’ve always felt that traveling west through Belmont, Edison, or Irving is like traveling back through the history of Chicago, ten years in a row. Perhaps that’s why HIP is still a thriving mall with Express, Hobby Lobby, Victoria’s Secret and DSW. The surrounding neighborhood still belongs to the era of shopping malls. Right across the street is Rolling Stones Records, which is the coolest music store in Chicago not because of the large stock of CDs, but because it is located directly on the shores of the Great Lakes and Mississippi!
After five miles of walking my quadriceps muscle has become like Quikrete, so I unlock the Lyft electronic bike. This makes the bungalows run faster. The route takes me east through Dunning, then back through Harlem Avenue another suburb, Elmwood Park. On the corner of Harlem and Wellington is a three-story apartment building with those gorgeous stone accents that were so popular in the 1960s and are such a common feature of the architecture of the Northwest Side.
In Moncler, where there are some old Victorian houses that are much more chic than bungalows, the watershed borders Rutherford Sayre Park with its prairie-style field house and Mars / Wrigley plant. On Oak Park Avenue, a brown badge of honor – “Milky Way”. Smart. On the Armitage Avenue in the air smells like a bar “Three Musketeers”, broken in half.
South of North Avenue, street signs look alien again.
“Am I in Oak Park?” I shout to the landscape painter. (The fact that I see a landscape designer had to answer that question.)
Yes, he tells me. I’m in Oak Park. My fifth suburb of the day. I’m not there long. In Austin and Augustus the watershed turns sharply to the east. It runs along Iowa Avenue, through the Austin neighborhood, past neighborhoods and three-block neighborhoods with lawns too small for landscaping until it turns sharply south, near the railroad east of Kilpaty Avenue. It runs along these tracks all the way to 67th Street, north of Ford City Mall – a ten-mile-long berm. It’s over Chicago Portage National historic site, between the River Des Plaines and the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal in Lyon. This is while I will stick to the watershed. Downtown, I closed my bike near another watershed, between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. It runs along State Street. (To the north, it runs, of course, along Ridge Boulevard.) Chicago is a place where many waters meet.