Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Traveling with History: Chicago

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Do you like to travel?  Do you like History?  Do you like combining both?  One of the places to visit with an eye towards history is Chicago—the city built on the railroads and slaughterhouses, the birthplace of the Ferris Wheel at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, the home to the world’s first skyscraper, the city that suffered a Great Fire but was rebuilt. Yes, Chicago is one of our largest cities and has a myriad of things to see, but it is also a great city built on a wonderful historical foundation.  So, you can head for the Sears Tower (Willis Tower) for a photo op, or see the Water Tower, or even sit and eat a famous Chicago Hotdog.  However, I recommend seeing a few of the historical happenings that Chicago has to offer.

Chicago History Museum—at the museum you can explore both Chicago and American history, but with an emphasis on the development of the city. Learn about Chicago's rise from a desolate frontier outpost to the bustling city that hosted the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Also, be prepared to learn all about the Great Chicago fire.

Haymarket Square—take a walking tour of the area made famous by the labor demonstration that turned deadly when police were murdered by anarchists in the crowd.  Start your tour at the sculpture by Mary Brogger marking the precise location where the historic events occurred.  Walk around the area to learn about the struggle between Labor and the Police and afterwards head down to the Haymarket Pub & Brewery.

Riverside—tour this suburb of Chicago to see what is considered to be one of the first planned communities in the United States.  Built on the railroad line it was designed in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted.  The main area still boasts the local water tower, community railroad, and prominent Victorian homes. 

Oak Park—another Chicago suburb and best known for its architecture, thanks to prominent resident Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright lived in Oak Park and many of the local houses were designed by him.  Many of the homes are in what would become his Prairie style. 

Also, in Oak Park is Ernest Hemingway's birthplace home, boyhood home, and the Ernest Hemingway Museum.  I must admit I have never been an architectural buff or fan of Hemingway.  However, touring Oak Park and the Wright home gave me a new appreciation and insight. 

Chicago Historical Boat Tour—when in Chicago be sure to indulge in an historical boat tour. Tours will take you out onto Lake Michigan and down the Chicago River. Tour guides will point out dozens of buildings and describe the evolution of Chicago architecture throughout the 20thcentury. 

Downtown Architectural Walking Tour—if you take a boat tour, be sure to also take one of the walking tours of Chicago from the Architecture Foundation.  Tour guides will be able to define the skyline and the evolution of the downtown area.  It is rather amazing that so much of this city had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire.  The city skyline was built by architects like Jenney, Root, Burnham and Sullivan. 

Hull House—Chicago's first social settlement house was started by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr.  The museum is comprised of two of the settlement complex's original thirteen buildings.  Sadly, all the rest of what was once the Hull House complex were destroyed to make way for the University of Illinois Chicago.  The same university that now runs the museum.

Wrigley Field—hard to imagine being in Chicago and not seeing Wrigley Field.  The baseball park was built in 1914 and has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916.  At Wrigley Field you can watch a baseball game at the historic stadium or simply take one of the tours or both. 

Finally, you can head to the Jackson Park, where the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was located.  However, be warned that it is hard to imagine the Great White City when it is now a soccer field.  One of the remnants that does remain today is the Japanese area. 

Also know, any historic tour of Chicago will include every tour guide quoting Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.  So, I do suggest you read this awesome book before you begin your Chicago history tour.

These are just some of my Chicago historical highlights.  What would you include in your historical tour of Chicago?

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