In Search of Chippewa Avenue

I grew up on the Northwest Side in the 1960s.  The street names in my neighborhood were boring—most of them started with the letter ‘M’.  Go east, and there were L-streets, then K-streets.  Go west, N-streets, followed by O-streets.  This was supposed to make it easier to find your way around the city.

South Side street names seemed exotic—Stony Island, Hoxie, Escanaba, Green Bay, Yates, and all the rest.  You could never get bored with names like those!  I didn’t bother to consider that all the east-west streets there were numbers.

As I poured over Grandpa’s Rand McNally city map, I was particularly intrigued with the area just east of Lake Calumet.  One group of streets was fronted by Chippewa Avenue, a curved thoroughfare that skirted the edge of the lake.  To the south, another group was clustered around a river channel, near the Chicago border with Calumet City.  Most interesting of all was a tiny, two-square-block group on the lake’s northeast corner.  The streets there were totally isolated from any other streets.

I finally got a car and could get around on my own.  Now I could play all the public golf courses that had been too far to reach on the bus.  After one visit to the Burnham Woods Golf Course in Burnham,  I decided to check out those three subdivisions.

All three were totally vacant.  There weren’t any streets to be seen.  Just  empty, undeveloped land.

My dad suggested that the streets in these areas were paper streets.  Paper streets were officially-dedicated thoroughfares that the city planned to build someday, but hadn’t yet gotten around to.  In the meantime, the politicians could charge higher property taxes on the land.  Dad was not a lawyer, and his interpretation might not have been valid.  But it did seem like something that would happen in Chicago.

Years later, I learned about trap towns.  Those were fake towns that map-makers would intentionally put on their maps.  That way, if a rival map later came out with the fake town on it, the original map-maker could prove plagiarism.  Were these streets Rand McNally’s version of trap streets?

I don’t know which of these explanations was correct.  Maybe there’s a third explanation that has not been mentioned.  But sixty years after I first discovered  those three subdivisions on Grandpa’s map, there’s still nothing like that network of streets in any of them.  Some of the land has now been converted into Big Marsh Park.

Meanwhile, Chippewa Avenue is still listed as an official Chicago street.  But unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t seem to extend any further north than 138th Place, in Burnham.




2 Responses to “In Search of Chippewa Avenue”

  1. 1 Garry April 6, 2020 at 9:01 am

    What’s just as odd is that Chippewa isn’t a street name in Sauganash.
    There’s a Loleta & a Lightfoot. The mayor should move to Lightfoot!

  2. 2 David E.B. Smith April 7, 2020 at 1:14 am

    If you go to the City map website and zoom way in until the property lot lines appear, you can see where many of these streets were intended to be, and where a few buildings were built. You can toggle the aerial photo maps on and off to see what’s really there.

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