The Cow Path in the Loop

There’s a service door next to the main entrance of the Hyatt Centric Hotel at 100 West Monroe Street.  Step through it, and you enter a quaint bit of Chicago history.

Cowpath01 (2015)

Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833. That same year a man named Willard Jones purchased a 90-foot-wide piece of land northwest of Clark and Monroe Streets from the state of Illinois. The price was $200.

Some sources tell us that Jones was a farmer. Whatever his occupation, he could appreciate rising land values. In 1844 Jones sold the southern half of his property to Royal Barnes. However, Barnes got only an 80-foot-wide lot, with Jones retaining title to a 10-foot-wide strip at the west end.

There was pasture land just to the south, where the Board of Trade now stands. It’s presumed that Jones kept that corridor along the western edge so he could lead his cows out to graze.

Two years after the Barnes sale, Jones sold the northern half of his original property to Abner Henderson. Written into the deed was a provision that Henderson would have access to Monroe Street via that 10-foot-corridor west of the Barnes land.

Cowpath02 (2015)

Decades passed. In 1927 the owners of the old Barnes property were ready to erect a 22-story office building at Monroe and Clark. By then they’d acquired title to the 10-foot-corridor. But the owners of the Henderson plot to the north still had that right-of-way guarantee, and refused to surrender it.

The courts ruled that work could go ahead on the Barnes property, but only if the access corridor were retained. So architect Frank Chase redrew his plans. In the end, the 100 West Monroe Building was constructed with an 18-foot-high tunnel through its western edge, big enough for any farm animals or hay wagons that might be passing through the Loop.

It was a story that a politician couldn’t resist. In 1937 Mayor Ed Kelly affixed a bronze historic marker on the side of the building, proclaiming the tunnel was “reserved forever as a cow path.”

Cowpath03 (2015)

Well, not quite. In 1969 the First National Bank of Chicago built an annex north of the 100 West Monroe Building. The new building blocked off the northern part of the old cow path, diverting traffic into an alley. According to a 1979 Tribune article, both Chicago Title & Trust and the Chicago Historical Society declared that the action was legal, and there don’t seem to have been any court challenges to it.

When Hyatt began converting the 100 West Monroe Building into a hotel, connoisseurs of Chicago trivia feared that the cow path would be totally obliterated. Happily, hotel management has a sense of history, and has preserved it. You can still use the bovine tunnel as a shortcut through to LaSalle Street, if that’s your pleasure.

And Hyatt also has a sense of whimsy. One of the hotel’s conference rooms is named for Willard Jones.



1 Response to “The Cow Path in the Loop”

  1. 1 Sapi Limosin August 20, 2015 at 1:23 am

    duly to appreciate the history, even though we all know that the road will be built a luxury hotel.

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