Thursday, February 25, 2010

General Background on Chicago, 1911

The following is excerpted from a major British encyclopedia published in 1911

CHICAGO, a city, a port of entry and the county-seat of Cook county, Illinois, U.S.A., the second city of the United States in population, commerce and manufactures; pop. (1900) 1,698,575; and (1910) 2,185,283. It is situated at the south-west corner of Lake Michigan (lat. 41° 50′, long. 87° 38′ W.), about 913 m. distant by railway from New York, 912 m. from New Orleans, 2265 m. from Los Angeles, and 2330 m. from Seattle. The climate is very changeable and is much affected by the lake; changes of more than thirty degrees in temperature within 24 hours are not at all rare, and changes of twenty are common. The city is the greatest railway centre of the United States, and was for several decades practically the only commercial outlet of the great agricultural region of the northern Mississippi Valley. Trunk lines reach E. to Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore (the nearest point on the Atlantic coast, 854 m.); S. to Charleston, Savannah, Florida, Mobile, New Orleans, Port Arthur and Galveston; W. to the Pacific at Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, and to most of these by a variety of routes. In 1905 about 14% of the world’s railway mileage centred in Chicago.

With its suburbs Chicago stretches along the shore of Lake Michigan about 40 m. (the city proper 26.5), and the city in 1910 had a total area of 191.4 sq.m.1 It spreads loosely and irregularly backward from the lake over a shallow alluvial basin, which is rimmed to the W. by a low moraine water-parting2 that separates the drainage of the lake from that of the Mississippi Valley. The city site has been built up out of the “Lake Chicago” of glacial times, which exceeded in size Lake Michigan. Three lakes—Calumet, 3122 acres; Hyde; and part of Wolf—with a water-surface of some 4100 acres, lie within the municipal limits. The original elevation of what is now the business heart of the city was only about 7 ft. above the lake, but the level was greatly raised—in some places more than 10 ft.—over a large area, between 1855 and 1860. The West Side, especially in the north-west near Humboldt Park, is much higher (extreme 75 ft.). A narrow inlet from the lake, the Chicago river, runs W. from its shore about a mile, dividing then into a north and a south branch, which run respectively to the N.W. and the S.W., thus cutting the city into three divisions known as the North, the West and the South “Sides,” which are united by three car-tunnels beneath the river as well as by the bridges across it.3 The river no longer empties into Lake Michigan since the completion of the drainage canal. Its commercial importance is very great: indeed it is probably the most important non-tidal stream of its length in the world, or if it be regarded as a harbour, one of the greatest; the tonnage of its yearly commerce far exceeds that of the Suez Canal and almost equals the tonnage of the foreign trade (the domestic excluded) of the Thames or the Mersey. The increase in size of the newer freighters that ply on the Great Lakes4 has proved one serious difficulty, and the bridges and the river tunnels, which hinder the deeper cutting of the channel, are others. The improvement of the outer harbour by the national government was begun in 1833. Great breakwaters protect the river mouth from the silting shore currents of the lake and afford secure shelter in an outer roadstead from its storms, and there is a smaller inner-basin (about 450 acres, 16 ft. depth) as well. But the river itself which has about 15 m. of navigable channel, in part lined with docks, is the most important part of the harbour. Its channel has been repeatedly deepened, and in rectnt years—especially since 1896, after its control as a navigable stream passed (1890) to the federal government—widened and straightened by the removal of jutting building constructions along its shores. Grain elevators of enormous size, coal yards, lumber yards and grimy warehouses or factories crowd close upon it. The shipping facilities on the river are not so good in some ways, however, as on the Calumet in southeastern (or South) Chicago, whither there has been a strong movement of manufactures and heavy commerce.

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