South Chicago, Chicago

South Chicago, formerly known as Ainsworth, is one of the 77 well-defined community areas of the city of Chicago, Illinois.

This chevron-shaped community is one of Chicago's 16 lakefront neighborhoods near the southern rim of Lake Michigan 10 miles south of downtown. A working-class neighborhood, it is bordered by East 79th Street on the north, South Chicago Avenue (the Chicago Skyway) on the southwest, a small stretch of East 95th Street on the south. With the Calumet River on the community's southeast side, South Chicago can be considered the literal gateway to the Calumet Region and the first among the four Chicago neighborhoods (East Side, Hegewisch and South Deering) that are considered by the locals as Chicago's Southeast Side. Particularly because most of it's streets run off the citywide grid. It also shares the unique Alphabet Avenues with the other three. Yet the Southeast Side is a description that, although true, the city itself continues to resist, but rather includes them all with Chicago's South Side communities.


Once a separate community, South Chicago began as a series of scattered Native American settlements before becoming a village. First occupied by a chief named Askhum, considered 'lord' of the vast Callimink (Calumet) Valley and leader of the Pottawatomie people. They and other Native peoples used South Chicago and the shallow Calumet River area as portages, for seasonal settlements, hunting and fishing thousands of years before White settlers arrived to the "New World". The post-Civil War era brought with it great industrial innovation. Developer James H. Bowen, the "Father of South Chicago," and others in a massive land grab wrested the land from its former existence and founded "Ainsworth" among other communities. This community was formed out of wetland prairie to provide residence for the labor force of European immigrants coming to work at the Joseph H. Brown Mill, founded in 1875. It became the South Works of the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company in 1881. Only fractions of the original topography and habitat remain as is the case with most of urban Chicago. With the entire Chicago Lakefront built on miles of landfill and slag there still remains a small stretch of semi-secluded beachfront just north of the Southworks Site.This bit of lakefront, once a seasonal settlement for the Pottawatomie, was left alone due to an umovable and deeply embedded bedrock of granite, which defied the development techniques of the time. It is the only natural beach frontage left and virtually unknown on the entire Chicago coastline. This beachfront and the massive outcrop of the Southworks table slag to the south and the water treatment plant to the north is a perfect demonstration of the vigorous advancement of the steel industry and 20th century development.

The four communities of Ainsworth; the Bush, Millgate Cheltemham/South Chicago and Calumet quickly developed into one village referred to collectively as South Chicago during the wave of annexation in 1883. The predominately woodframed architecture of the Bush, Millgate and eastern Cheltemham are a lesson in Victoriana with the 'sunken yards' and bridge-like walk ups from street like Houston, Baltimore and Brandon attesting to the degree infrastructure built up from the original topography of that time. It also demonstrates how South Chicago was not immediately effected by the housing ordinances restricting the use of lumber for home building after The Great Fire of 1871. Most of the neighborhood north of East 83rd Street and west of South Manistee Avenue was developed after WWII and contain mostly brick homes, but under the ordinance brick homes began being build throughout the newly annexed neighborhood after 1883.

South Chicago was bustling with waves of immigrants as the popularity of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the prospect of a better life grew. The steel mill became U.S. Steel South Works in 1901, continuing to attract immigrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Italy. During the 1950s many residents called the northeast section of South Chicago *"The Bush" and worked in the local massive steel mill, US Steel. Others worked in neighboring steel mills such as Youngstown Steel, Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel, and LaSalle Steel. At its zenith, South Chicago helped make the Chicago metropolitan area the leading producer of steel products in the nation. The Sears Tower and the Hancock Building were built from South Chicago steel. The embers, (graphite) from the smokestacks would cause the cars and sidewalks to sparkle and created a golden glow throughout the night. Softball and bowling were popular pastimes. Large Polish weddings on Saturdays were also a common sight.

Throughout the early 1910s, Mexicans from a variety of regions within Mexico began to settle in communities throughout Chicago including South Chicago. South Chicago became one of the first growing Mexican communities in Chicago. The community faced many challenges including many racist attacks by the more assimilated groups. The early Mexican community began to band together and worked to help build Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as they were not welcomed in other churches throughout the area. South Chicago's Mexican Patriotic Club's Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16th) Parade was the first such parade in Chicago also celebrated with a carnival of rides and booths.

Current life

While South Chicago has a sizable African American population, existing ethnic groups continue to have strong community ties in the area. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the oldest parish founded by Mexicans in the City of Chicago. Immaculate Conception, St. Michael's, two churches built in the so-called 'Polish Cathedral style' and later Saint Bronislava have served South Chicago's Polish residents for over 80 years and now have significant Latino populations as well. The first Catholic parish established in South Chicago was St. Patrick, which was founded by Irish Catholics.

Much of the business and shopping is done along Commercial Avenue. Several privately owned businesses such as clothing stores, furniture and retail, and beauty salons, can be found along Commercial Avenue. Restaurants from Nigerian to Italian cuisine are found in South Chicago. Despite the slow economy, more "Mom and Pop" stores flourish throughout South Chicago's residential areas, than in any other neighborhood. East 83rd Street, East 87th Street and south along the revitalized Commercial Avenue to East 95th Street have attracted corporations, businesses and new banks into the community. Commercial Avenue is also home to many non-profit organizations including Healthy South Chicago, the Alianza Leadership Institute, Centro Comunitario Juan Diego, El Valor, and SEDCOM.

Parks and infrastructure

Wedged between East 89th Street, South Muskegon Avenue and the sycamore tree-lined South Chicago Avenue is the historic triangular Bessemer Park, named after English inventor Henry Bessemer, whose iron ore refining process revolutionized steel production. The park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers of the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead of New York's Central Park, as well as Chicago landmarks Washington Park and Jackson Park, built for the World Columbian Exposition of 1891. Their work on the park started in early 1904 and finished late in 1905. The fieldhouse, only modestly upgraded, retains much of its original charm. The Bessemer Park Nature and Wildlife Garden is among Chicago's 23 noted natural "preserves" of native fauna and wildlife habitat. Bessemer Park and Russell Square Park on the corner of Bond Avenue and East 83rd Street (*the Bush), are among their last commissions, Bessemer Park is one of the largest parks on the South Side. Eckersall Playground Park and Stadium is centrally located in South Chicago at the corner of East 83rd Street and South Yates Avenue. Other new greenspaces are planned throughout the community including what is current called "Park No. 503" at 8900 South Green Bay Avenue in the Millgate community. Designated bike paths from East 83rd Street, South Shore Drive/Mackinaw Avenue and South Chicago Avenue connect directly to the Burnham Greenway Trail which links to a comprehensive system of Chicagoland Greeways throughout the Calumet Region.

Since the de-industrialization of South Chicago's once inaccessible shoreline from the late 1970s on, East 87th Street has been extended to Lake Michigan with the look and feel of a landscaped boulevard. The former Southworks site Brownfield, an area larger than the Loop, is a cleared and remediated table of slag and concrete, currently being transformed into Chicago's newest lakefront park with the feel of wide open prairie land. The purchase of the property from notable world-class developers, has put South Chicago at the center of the city's, and the Nation's largest lakefront redevelopment effort in the 21st Century. Mixed residential, retail and lake recreation are quietly planned. The new lakefront park, as yet nameless (which is nearing completion), was the missing link effectively closing the century old gap between Chicago's world-class chain of parks between South Shore's Rainbow Beach Park in South Shore and Calumet Park in East Side neighborhoods, fulfilled the dreams of noted Chicago planner and architect, Daniel Burnham and business mogal and philanthropist Montgomery Ward, for a free and clear lakefront.Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright had also once designed a comprehensive plan for the shoreline before it became hyper-industrialized.


Located as far as 3300 east of the CTA Red Line in some areas, South Chicago is not connected to the Chicago L rapid transit system. The neighborhood does, however, contain 4 newly-rebuilt Metra Electric South Chicago Branch stations: Cheltenham E. 79th St., East 83rd Street, 87th Street, and 93rd Street/South Chicago, which terminates in the heart of the neighborhood's business district along South Baltimore Avenue, and is the community's most accessible commuter rail service to downtown Chicago. Although Metra is mainly a suburban service, the outbound South Chicago Branch, which terminates within Chicago's city limits is the only Metra line to do so.

South Chicago is also served by a number of Chicago Transit Authority bus routes, services which enable commuters to make relatively easy connections to downtown and other Chicago neighborhoods. The buses that serve South Chicago are:
* N5 - South Shore Night Bus
* 6 - Jackson Park Express (terminates at the southeast corner of South Chicago)
* 14 - Jeffery Express
* 15 - Jeffery Local
* 26 - South Shore Express
* 30 - South Chicago
* 71 - 71st/South Shore
* 79 - 79th
* N79 - 79th Night Bus
* 87 - 87th
* 95E - 93rd-95th

ee also

* Polish Americans
* Polish Cathedral style

External links

* [ Official City of Chicago South Chicago Community Map]

Geographic Location 2
Center = South Chicago, Chicago
ENE = Lake Michigan
Southeast = East Side, Chicago
Southwest = South Deering, Chicago
WSW = Calumet Heights, Chicago
WNW = Avalon Park, Chicago
Northwest = South Shore, Chicago

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