The history of South Chicago began as
early as 1800. Many of the stories told about South Chicago are visits
of first generation pioneers and immigrants. The region now called
South Chicago was first settled by Askhum, an Indian chief for the Pottawatomies
and 'lord' of the Callimink Valley. His name meant 'more and more'
and his land, the Callimink, was renamed Calumet by the white man.
After the Civil War, industrial
development began to occur in earnest. James H. Bowen, the "Father
of South Chicago" and other developers led the way. The opportunities
offered by the vacant land and the transportation access offered by the
Calumet River and Lake Michigan were the drawing card. Improvements
in the Calumet River were directly related to the opening of the first
major mill in the area, the Joseph H Brown Mill, which opened in 1875.
Other mills followed the Brown Mill into the area and were the magnet which
drew people seeking work into the area.
South Chicago soon was "taken over"
by the Eastern Europeans who provided steel with labor. In
1881 the South Works of the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company was opened.
This was a steel plant that would successfully make the South Chicago area
one of the world's leading steel producing areas. In 1883 the Illinois
Central railroad began service. By now South Chicago was rapidly
built up and extensively developed.
Three neighborhoods began to emerge around
1890. One was the Bush , bounded by U.S. Steel on the east and South
Shore Drive on the west, between 83rd Street and 86th street . It
was called the Bush because in the early days it had nothing but a strip
of sandy beach with some shrubbery . The second was the Millgate,
south of the Bush area between the mills and is the oldest section of South
Chicago. It was called this because all the main entrances to South
Works steel mill could be approached from there. South Chicago was
the main residential and shopping district that grew up east and west of
Commercial Avenue. By 1920 South Chicago was an established community
filled with working-class people living in single family homes. two and
three flats, and apartment buildings. Each succeeding nationality
became a part of the South Chicago community, but each group of newcomers
was treated as " different" from previous groups. The Mexicans arrived
in the 1920's to work as strike- breakers for the Illinois Steel
Company and the largest number of African Americans arrived after World
War II, although there was a small African American community near the
mill around 89th Street. The newest residents always got the worst
housing and lived closest to the southeast corner known as the Millgate.
But the African Americans took over this area in more recent times.
Now, there are a lot of new buildings and
centers. There are social and recreational agencies such as the South
Chicago Community Services Association, the South Chicago Community Center,
the South Chicago Community Center Nursery School, the South Chicago Neighborhood
Resource Center , the South Chicago Neighborhood House and the YMCA.
Many of the local institutions serve very important purposes in the South
Chicago area. One is the South Chicago Community Hospital, now named
Trinity Hospital though technically not even located in South Chicago.
The main way to get an important
point across to the people of South Chicago was through the Daily Calumet,
formerly the most important local newspaper of this area. This newspaper
was originally named the " South Chicago Independent " and was a rival
paper to the "Dollar Weekly Sun." It was the first "The South Chicago
Daily Calumet." Then it was changed to "The Daily Calumet" and later,
" The Chicago Daily Calumet." It was bought out by a company who
currently publishes the Daily Southtown.
The first public high school in South Chicago
was located on 93rd Street and Houston Avenue. This was and still
is Bowen High School. Another school in this area was Phil Sheridan
School. This school was originally called the 93rd St. School but named
Phil Sheridan on Jan. 24, 1912. Phil Sheridan school is now named
after Arnold Mireles, a community activist who was murdered in the South
Chicago area. One other school in this area was J.N. Thorp,
originally called 89th St. School . The name was changed to James
Newton Thorp School, in accordance with the Board of Education. There
is also an important monument in South Chicago, the Columbus Circle .
This monument was created by R.H. Park, an American sculptor. It
was presented to the City of Chicago by John B. Drake in 1892 and is also
known as Drake Fountain. After trying to knock it down and failing,
the rededication of the monument took place on Oct. 12, 1908. This
monument stands at the outskirts of South Chicago's center of activity.
There are also parks such as Russell Square Park and Bessemer Park in this
area. It can be said that South Chicago barely resembles its past
as an industrial giant.
The area has undergone some major economic
changes with the closing of area steel mills and especially the closing
of United States Steel South Works in 1992. The former site of
South Works is up for sale at present and the 576 acre site may hold the
key to the future of South Chicago.
Click on the links at the left to tour
Chicago's South Chicago Community.