A Project by
the Museology Class
Chicago's South Chicago Community
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South Chicago
Community History

      The history of South Chicago began as early as 1800.  Many of the stories told about South Chicago are visits of first generation pioneers and immigrants.  The region now called South Chicago was first settled by Askhum, an Indian chief for the Pottawatomies and 'lord' of the Callimink Valley.  His name meant 'more and more' and his land, the Callimink, was renamed Calumet by the white man.
       After the Civil War, industrial development began to occur in earnest.  James H. Bowen, the "Father of South Chicago" and other developers led the way.  The opportunities offered by the vacant land and the transportation access offered by the Calumet River and Lake Michigan were the drawing card.  Improvements in the Calumet River were directly related to the opening of the first major mill in the area, the Joseph H Brown Mill, which opened in 1875.  Other mills followed the Brown Mill into the area and were the magnet which drew people seeking work into the area. 
      South Chicago soon was "taken over" by the Eastern Europeans who provided steel with labor.   In 1881 the South Works of the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company was opened.  This was a steel plant that would successfully make the South Chicago area one of the world's leading steel producing areas.  In 1883 the Illinois Central railroad began service.  By now South Chicago was rapidly built up and extensively developed.
     Three neighborhoods began to emerge around 1890.  One was the Bush , bounded by U.S. Steel on the east and South Shore Drive on the west, between 83rd Street and 86th street .  It was called the Bush because in the early days it had nothing but a strip of sandy beach with some shrubbery .  The second was the Millgate, south of the Bush area between the mills and is the oldest section of South Chicago.  It was called this because all the main entrances to South Works steel mill could be approached from there.  South Chicago was the main residential and shopping district that grew up east and west of Commercial Avenue.  By 1920 South Chicago was an established community filled with working-class people living in single family homes. two and three flats, and apartment buildings.  Each succeeding nationality became a part of the South Chicago community, but each group of newcomers was treated as " different" from previous groups. The Mexicans arrived in the 1920's  to work as strike- breakers for the Illinois Steel Company and the largest number of African Americans arrived after World War II, although there was a small African American community near the mill around 89th Street.  The newest residents always got the worst housing and lived closest to the southeast corner known as the Millgate.  But the African Americans took over this area in more recent times. 
     Now, there are a lot of new buildings and centers.  There are social and recreational agencies such as the South Chicago Community Services Association, the South Chicago Community Center, the South Chicago Community Center Nursery School, the South Chicago Neighborhood Resource Center , the South Chicago Neighborhood House and the YMCA.  Many of the local institutions serve very important purposes in the South Chicago area.  One is the South Chicago Community Hospital, now named Trinity Hospital though technically not even located in South Chicago. 
       The main way to get an important point across to the people of South Chicago was through the Daily Calumet, formerly the most important local newspaper of this area.  This newspaper was originally named the " South Chicago Independent " and was a rival paper to the "Dollar Weekly Sun."  It was the first "The South Chicago Daily Calumet."  Then it was changed to "The Daily Calumet" and later, " The Chicago Daily Calumet."  It was bought out by a company who currently publishes the Daily Southtown. 
     The first public high school in South Chicago was located on 93rd Street and Houston Avenue.  This was and still is Bowen High School.  Another school in this area was Phil Sheridan School. This school was originally called the 93rd St. School but named Phil Sheridan on Jan. 24, 1912.  Phil Sheridan school is now named after Arnold Mireles, a community activist who was murdered in the South Chicago area.  One other school in this area  was J.N. Thorp, originally called 89th St. School .  The name was changed to James Newton Thorp School, in accordance with the Board of Education.  There is also an important monument in South Chicago, the Columbus Circle .  This monument was created by R.H. Park, an American sculptor.  It was presented to the City of Chicago by John B. Drake in 1892 and is also known as Drake Fountain.  After trying to knock it down and failing, the rededication of the monument took place on Oct. 12, 1908.  This monument stands at the outskirts of South Chicago's center of activity.  There are also parks such as Russell Square Park and Bessemer Park in this area.  It can be said that South Chicago barely resembles its past as an industrial giant.
      The area has undergone some major economic changes with the closing of area steel mills and especially the closing of United States Steel South Works in 1992.  The former site of  South Works is up for sale at present and the 576 acre site may hold the key to the future of South Chicago. 

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Chicago's South Chicago Community.


 
 
Chicago
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National Endowment for the Humanities
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