Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Solitary Lives along Chicago’s Lakes and Waterways

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Houseboat Residents

Over the course of the Chicago region’s history, people have lived in their ships and boats for a variety of reasons. Ship captains and their crews have often wintered in their vessels on area waterways. Other ship and boat owners have lived on their vessels due to financial troubles or simply a desire to live away from most other Chicagoans. While people have lived in boats and ships in Chicago-area rivers and streams across the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, it was during the Great Depression of the 1930s that some Chicagoans retreated to houseboats, particularly on the north branch, of the Chicago River, due to economic necessity.

Interior of Houseboat, 1903


There is little in this 1903 photograph to indicate that it is the interior of a houseboat. Doors and windows appear no different from those of most houses in Chicago at the time. The heavy dining room table seems out of place on a boat. But the owner of this boat (Judge Bradwell) sits here in the enclosed portion of his houseboat.

See also: Chicago River

Houseboat of Mrs. George Wellington Streeter, 1922


George Wellington Streeter and his family are perhaps among the most notorious families to live on a ship at Chicago. In 1886, Streeter’s small ship ran aground on a sandbar just off the shoreline on Near North Side and his family took up residence there. Over time, lake currents and garbage had created 186 acres of landfill that Streeter claimed as his own. He moved from his shipwrecked boat to a small landed structure. Streeter and his family pursued their claims in court, but were evicted from the property during World War I by Mayor Bill Thompson for selling liquor. This photograph shows Mrs. George Wellington Streeter on her houseboat in 1922, the year after her husband died. The boat is moored adjacent to the Ogden Slip, just north of the mouth of the Chicago River.

See also: Near North Side; Streeterville

Houseboats on the North Branch of the Chicago River and Riverview, 1927


Houseboats were a common site along the north branch of the Chicago River during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The Sanitary District of Chicago had by then completed its channelization project along the north branch which connected to the North Shore Channel. Seen here are houseboats on the west bank of the river at Belmont, with a roller coaster at Riverview in the background.

See also: North Center; Chicago River

Houseboats on the North Branch of Chicago River, 1927


In this photograph, taken along the north branch of the Chicago River at Western Avenue in 1927, houseboats seem a part of the residential neighborhood seen in the background. However, many houseboat owners chose to live in them to avoid real estate taxes and the permanence of neighborhood living.

See also: Avondale; North Center

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