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Chicago City

Cook County, Illinois

Photo: Chicago skyline at sunrise. Photographed by User:Renelibrary (own work), 2009, [cc-by-4.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August, 2014.

Chicago City Photo

Chicago City Hall is located at 121 North Lasalle Street, Chicago IL 60602.
Phone: 312‑744‑2400.


Beginnings [1]

The settlement history of early Chicago is marked by land speculation fueled by the Illinois and Michigan Canal and later the railroads. This made Chicago an investor's dream, which was heightened further by its future as a transportation hub. The taste for sudden wealth and high living attracted an unequaled stream of Eastern capital and Eastern investors. They moved to the town and formed land companies that purchased tracks of land, subdivided them and sold them to investors. Subdivided lots were the currency of the speculators' economy.

The earliest maps of Chicago show a grid pattern of perpendicular streets and lots beginning west of the lake's edge and marching in an unrelenting grid across the main branch of the Chicago River and its two branches. The grid's pattern would have remained unrelieved but for several influences. The early 19th century plan to expand New York City's original town was influential. The expansion set aside entire blocks reserved as open space. Additionally, by the mid-19th century, Andrew Jackson Downing was proposing that open spaces be reserved as parks. In a responsive gesture, the canal commissioners, when reserving land for the canal route, created Chicago's first two open areas. They reserved portions of the lake front and created Dearborn Park. Private land companies soon followed their example and created land subdivisions with set-aside parks. These parks were to remain forever available to the public. They functioned as neighborhood amenities and, in turn, boosted land values. Fashionable districts developed around the parks. Washington Square is the earliest example of a set-aside park.

  1. Peters, Linda, Ph.D., Isaac N. Maynard Rowhouses, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.