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
Growing up along the Water

Recollecting Childhood Experiences along Chicago Waterways

Stories of time spent along waterways abound in both reminiscences and fictional accounts of growing up in the Chicago region. Accounts from the mid-nineteenth century remind us of the ways in which commerce, industry, and pleasure all shared the same waterways. By the twentieth century, ethnic, racial, and class differences shaped the water-based experiences of Chicagoans, young and old, especially along the Lake Michigan beaches.

Caroline Iverson Sullivan and “My Chicago River”

Caroline Iverson Sullivan, born in 1862, lived for more than twenty years along the Chicago River. In 1924, Caroline McIlvaine, of the Chicago Historical Society, asked Sullivan to write about her life. Sullivan wrote about her twenty years growing up along the Chicago River in a manuscript she called “My Chicago River.” Sullivan recalled happy spring and summer outings on a small boat up the North Branch of the Chicago River from Grand Avenue with the banks "just covered with cowslips and yellow lilies.” She also remembered that "our river gave us a great skating place in winter. Oh what a wonderful time everybody had, there was the Clark St. bunch, Wells Street bunch and the different bridges and localities would have their own crowds and the river was alive with skaters."

See also: Chicago River; Swimming; Near North Side; Leisure

Studs Lonigan, Lake Michigan, 1935

James T. Farrell created the Studs Lonigan character from his own experiences growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Lonigan was the main character in a trilogy published in 1935. Farrell’s tough youngster had a memorable trip to Lake Michigan, excerpted here.

See also: South Side; Waterfront

Carl Sandburg, The Chicago Race Riots, July 1919

While Illinois did not segregate the races in public accommodations (as southern states did into the 1960s), public beaches in Chicago were clearly segregated. The most tragic result of this segregation was an incident that set off the 1919 Race Riot in Chicago, five days of rioting in which 23 African Americans and 15 whites were killed. On July 27, 1919 a black teenager named Eugene Williams and a few of his friends traveled to Lake Michigan to swim on a hot summer day. They took out a raft between the black beach at 29th street and the white beach at 26th street. A white man threw rocks at the raft, injuring Williams, who could not swim. A police officer at the 26th Street Beach was unwilling to either arrest the man or help Williams, who later died. Carl Sandburg, a reporter at the time for the Chicago Daily News, chronicled the ensuing race riot in The Chicago Race Riot (1919), an excerpt of which is provided here.

See also: Race Riots; Douglas; South Side; Leisure