South Water Street

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Landmark Images:
Corner of Clark and Water Streets; Louis Kurz for Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1866-67 (ichi-62077)

Corner of Clark and Water Streets; Louis Kurz for Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1866-67 (ichi-62077)

In the center right of the print, the Clark Street Bridge is turned to allow the passage of boats, which creates a back-up of wagons, carts, carriages, and pedestrians headed for the North Division.  Delays caused by the opening of bridges was a major source of public complaint by businesses and citizens generally.  During the years preceding the fire, commercial activity was heavily concentrated along the banks of the Chicago River, and most business was conducted in the blocks just south of the river's Main Branch.  Here were commission merchants, insurance companies, and brokers of all kinds. 

After the fire many offices that had once been near the river moved farther south into the expanding commercial downtown, and South Water Street became home to the city’s central produce market.  By the turn of the century, reformers and planners, over the objections of some Chicagoans, urged that the gritty and heavily trafficked area be cleared out as an unsightly intrusion on the downtown that created unnecessary congestion in the heart of Chicago and blocked access to the river.  In addition, the market had become too cramped for a city of Chicago’s size. 

As part of the building of bi-level Wacker Drive in the mid-1920s, and the accompanying construction of a walkway along the riverfront, the city leveled the buildings in this area and moved the wholesale produce business to the new South Water Market, which was located a few blocks southeast of the intersection of Halsted Street and Roosevelt Road.  By the turn of the twenty-first century, this facility was itself outdated, and its land was in demand for the development of the retail businesses and residences that were part of the redevelopment of the Maxwell Street neighborhood.  Much of the wholesale produce business has moved farther to the south and west, to the new Chicago International Produce Market, which is near the Damen Avenue exit of the Stevenson Expressway (I-55).