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Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
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Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
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Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
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Houses and Water
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Growing Up Along Water
Goose Island

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Goose Island Residents and Residences

Many early residents of Goose Island were Irish squatters. Later in the nineteenth century, Polish immigrants also joined the small Goose Island population. Most worked as workers, skilled or unskilled, at industrial sites both on the island and in the adjoining neighborhoods. Early Goose Island residents had few urban amenities--no running water or sewers, no sidewalks or gas light. Like their neighbors off the island, most kept chickens and cows. German immigrant Gustave Fricke remembers caring for his family's two cows during the 1850s on land near Grand and the river. Every day a cow herder would come and pick up his cows and those of neighbors and drove them north along the river a short distance to where "the grass was as high as my head." Cash wages were augmented by gardens and farm animals, and everyday life fell somewhere between urban and rural. Nonetheless, over the course of more than a century, popular representations of Goose Island residents were consistently demeaning. They were presented in newspapers and books as uncouth, uncivilized, and given to unbecoming behavior. As late as the 1930s Charles Winslow described the inhabitants as somehow less than modern: "Most of the women, wives of the squatters, were short and thick, with an abundance of red hair and flesh, also with broomsticks in their hands. They were barefooted and clad in tattered dresses . . . The shanties, almost boardless, were usually divided into three apartments. In the parlor were the cow and the pig. In the dining room roosted the geese and the chickens, secure from prowling marauders. The kitchen contained from 10 to a dozen dirty and ragged children. Surrounding the shanties were small patches of cabbages and potatoes."

Stereotypical Images of Early Residents 1954



All of the Goose Island residents portrayed in this 1885 line drawing represented racist stereotypes: the ruddy cheeked, barefoot young lady; the barefoot and foot stomping drinker; and the gang of workers (seemingly returned from their jobs digging ditches). The ramshackle shanties, unpaved streets, and geese flying overhead complete the scene.

See also: Racism, Ethnicity and White Identity; Irish; Housing, Self-Built; Goose Island

A Neighbor’s Description, 1850s


Harriet Rosa, whose family lived near Kinzie and Ohio in the 1850s, watched a squatter settlement grow up around her. In a condescending tone, she described her neighbors, their shanties, and their farm animals.

See also: Racism, Ethnicity and White Identity; Raising Street Grades; Street Life

An Island without Churches


Early squatters at Goose Island helped to found Immaculate Conception Church. Just east of Goose Island on North Park, the parish was organized in 1859 to serve English-speaking Catholics. Local residents, mainly Irish, raised the funds to build a church. A number of these parishioners were from Goose Island. We don't have a letter or reminiscence noting the central role which religion played in the lives of these residents, but the church and school of Immaculate Conception can in some ways be read as a first-hand account of the Irish shanty-dwellers on Goose Island. Steady, church and school supporting workers inhabit this picture. Even though they had little, they gave much to the construction of their church. During the 1871 Chicago Fire, which destroyed the church and school, the parish nuns took refuge with parish families on Goose Island.

See Also: Parish Life; Convents; Roman Catholics; Fire of 1871

View of Goose Island , 1891


Against a backdrop of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad and the smokestacks of local industries, Goose Island residents still appeared to live in small, one-room shanties and to raise geese and goats. By this point, evidence points to more familiar Chicago cottages and two-flats on Hickory, North Branch, and Cherry Streets.

See also: Housing, Self-Built; Built Environment of Chicago; Goose Island; Housing Types

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