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Only 0.7 percent of federal transportation funds are spent on improving pedestrian facilities.

Bloomingdale Trail rolls ahead while looking back

We’re getting more and more excited about the Bloomingdale Trail, especially with the recent announcement that the Trust for Public Land has acquired land for a sixth neighborhood park connected to the trail.

The more than four-acre park will be located at the current site of the Magid Glove factory (1800 N. Ridgeway Ave.), adjacent to the Bloomingdale Trail’s western trailhead.

The past month also brought the news that the trail’s completion date will be June 2015, rather than this fall, thanks to our cold and interminable winter.

Still, the trail is nearly halfway complete, and construction is continuing at full speed.

Speaking of construction, on Saturday, July 19, Damen Ave. from Churchill Ave. to Willow St. will be closed to traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. so that crews can work on the Bloomingdale Trail bridge over Damen.

You can keep up-to-date with trail construction on the 606 website.

And if you’re eager for more information about the trail, check out this hour-long presentation on the history of the rail line from a 606 event on July 8.

The presentation, given by School of the Art Institute historic preservation expert Jim Peters, covers the trail’s relationship with Chicago manufacturing going all the way back to 1851.

No time to watch the video? Here are some highlights:

  • The Chicago & Pacific Railroad (later, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad) originally built the Bloomingdale Rail Line in 1872. Its main purpose was as a freight line, transporting goods from the industries along the Chicago River. The line terminated at the great Montgomery Ward warehouse, where goods ordered from the Montgomery Ward catalogue were sent out across the country. The interior of the warehouse had railroad freight docks accommodating 24 trains!
  • Goose Islanders protested the building of the Bloomingdale Rail Line tracks by tearing them up, thereby hindering construction. The railroad’s solution? To build all of the tracks on a Saturday night while neighborhood residents were out partying.
  • The railroad tracks were originally built at ground level. In 1893, someone did a study of all of Chicago’s ground-level train crossings and found that these crossings caused 1,700 deaths in five years. Busier train lines in the Loop were soon elevated; the Bloomingdale Line only got its turn in 1913.
  • At least 10 coal yards and six lumber yards were located along the trail. The available lumber also ensured that there were many furniture makers along the trail (later, these buildings were converted into lofts, which are still standing).
  • Another use for all that lumber: musical instrument manufacturing shops. The Harmony Company along the trail was the world’s largest manufacturer of ukuleles.
  • Other items manufactured along the rail line: adding machines, toys, yeast, wholesale milk, beer, ice, snuff and motorcycles. 

Image courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation.