Ghost Streets

Chicago has a number of diagonal streets overlaying the grid.  Most of them follow the routes of old trails.  The diagonals can be useful shortcuts—except when you run into backups at triple intersections.

Perhaps these streets seem eccentric to rigid bureaucratic minds.  For whatever reason, portions of several diagonals have been abandoned over the years.  Let’s look at five of them.

We lead off with Vincennes Avenue.  The street originally started at 35th and Cottage Grove, running southwest from there.  It was a major highway for travelers heading downstate.

During the 1870s, Washington Park was laid out.  Meanwhile, just to the south, rail yards were being established.  Vincennes Avenue passed through the area, and portions of the street were abandoned.

Today, most savvy Chicagoans know Vincennes Avenue as an arterial street going from 69th Street to the city limits at 119th Street, and beyond. Yet there’s still a remnant of the old highway north of the park—Vincennes Avenue the local street, from 3600 to 5100 south.

Ghost Street--Cottage Grove Avenue at 25th (1937)

Ghost Street–Cottage Grove Avenue @ 25th (1937)

Cottage Grove Avenue began at 22nd and Indiana, angling southeast to 39th Street.  From there the route continued due south for seven miles to 95th Street, where it again went diagonal.

In 1955, as part of a renewal project, the city chopped up Cottage Grove between 26th and 33rd streets.  A decade later, another stretch was abandoned during construction of the Stevenson Expressway.  A few blocks of the old diagonal remained north of the expressway into the 1990s, when they were also built over.

Ghost Street--Blue Island Avenue @ Harrison-Halsted (1948)

Ghost Street–Blue Island Avenue @ Harrison-Halsted (1948)

Blue Island Avenue follows the first few miles of an old trail from Chicago to the town of Blue Island.  The street began at the Harrison-Halsted intersection and ran southwest to 26th-Western.  South of there, the trail became part of Western Avenue.

Two sections of Blue Island have been vacated in the cause of education.  The section between Harrison and Roosevelt was abandoned in 1962, when construction began on the UIC campus.  In 1973 one more block was cleared between 21st Street and Cermak Road to accommodate the new Juarez High School.

Ghost Street--Milwaukee Avenue viaduct @ Kinzie-Des Plaines (1955)

Ghost Street–Milwaukee Avenue viaduct @ Kinzie-Des Plaines (1955)

Milwaukee Avenue originally ran northwest from a starting point at Lake and Canal.  Just up the street, from Fulton to Kinzie, a long viaduct carried Milwaukee over some busy railroad tracks.

In the 1980s the city reconfigured the area.  The Milwaukee Avenue viaduct was torn down, and traffic diverted onto a new Des Plaines Street viaduct.  In 2015 a single block of “old” Milwaukee Avenue still exists between Lake and Fulton.

Ghost Street--Ogden Avenue looking southwest from Clark-Armitage (1960)

Ghost Street–Ogden Avenue looking southwest from Clark-Armitage (1968)

Ogden Avenue was an old diagonal highway to the west, starting at Union Park.  As early as the 1880s, planners were talking about pushing the street northeast to Lincoln Park.  After twelve years of land clearance and construction, the Ogden Avenue extension was completed in 1934.

The extension didn’t last.  Traffic on Ogden declined sharply once the expressway system was built.  Between 1969 and 1993, nearly two-thirds of that expensive new street was abandoned.  Today, north of Fry Street, the only Ogden remnant is an isolated block off Clybourn Avenue.


15 Responses to “Ghost Streets”

  1. 1 Garry April 6, 2015 at 9:42 am

    You left out Caldwell.
    When the Edens was built, they cut off Caldwell at Peterson, but a half mile stretch of it exists as a side street off of Cicero, a block south of Peterson.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt April 6, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      I also left out Fifth Avenue for the same reason I left out Caldwell–they are both diagonal streets that were chopped up because of expressway construction. Vincennes, Blue Island, Cottage Grove, and Ogden lost much more substantial portions. Although Milwaukee Avenue lost only a short section, I decided to include it because it’s near downtown–and because I had a great picture of the old viaduct.

  2. 3 Ad Dawg April 6, 2015 at 9:50 am

    I used to live on one, 5th Avenue, intersecting at Kedzie and Adams St. Marshall High School set on the corner. Really glad I found your site. Can you dig up anything on the EL that ran above Madison Street starting at Western and Madison? I recall this structure when I was relocated to Chicago in Feb., 1957.

    Oh, yeah. Harrison and Fifth Avenue, and Vincennes, Blue Island…memories good and bad.

    • 4 J.R. Schmidt April 6, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      There’s never been an ‘L’ line running over Madison Street. You’re probably confusing it with the Lake Street ‘L’–which is still there–or the Garfield Park ‘L’, which was further south, near the present Eisenhower Expressway.

      • 5 Chris Alix February 3, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        The Market Street Spur of the Lake Street ‘L’ began over the intersection of Madison and Market and ran north along Market, turning west at Lake. The Market Street Spur was demolished in 1948 and Market Street became the double-decker North-South section of Wacker Drive.

      • 6 J.R. Schmidt February 4, 2016 at 11:03 am

        I don’t count Market Street as a “Ghost Street” because it wasn’t abandoned or built over—as you note, it was actually improved and renamed. If you haven’t already done so, check out my earlier post “Then and Now, Wacker-Jackson” under CHICAGO’S CHANGINMG SCENE.

  3. 7 Rich M October 29, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    The old Ogden section has always fascinated me, more so now because I bet it would be used a lot more today.

  4. 8 Cooler Near the Lake June 18, 2016 at 1:10 am

    The date (1960) on the Ogden Street photo is wrong, as the tall building under construction (1960 N. Lincoln Park West) was being built until 1966-67. Maybe you confused the date with that buildings street address?

  5. 12 Arvid October 2, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    What about Clark St. I was told it was originally a native American trail. True?

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