Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chicago Produce Terminals

A produce market is one of the few industries that is still close to downtown. But they have also migrated further from the loop as the city grew. Produce markets receive produce from growers and sell it to distributors. The distributors, in turn, sell it to grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, company cafeterias, etc.

Post Civil War: South Water Street Market

Jeff Davies posted
South Water Street Market. Chicago. 1926.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Kelleher.
South Water Street was a road along the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River. There were buildings between South Water and the river, and the buildings had back-door docks on the river. "As downtown banks and businesses moved south, produce jobbers took over the buildings along South Water from State Street west." The 1871 Chicago Fire did not displace the market. The city tried to move the market out of the loop in 1904, 14, 15, and 16 because it choked the city streets. Finally, in what seems to be a mayoral tradition (e.g. Daily digging up Meigs Field one night), they bulldozed the area and built the two story Wacker Drive. At least they did not do it in secret one night. The new market opened August 31, 1925. (ChicagoReader)

Chicago History Museum from WTTW
Leon Paa Rios posted
Chicago water market....
Found this framed at my job
Richard Pitchford posted
Water Street Market ran parallel to the river, with buildings that backed up onto the water. Notice the booking office for the South Haven Line – the company that owned the ill-fated steamship Eastland.
Patrick Stevens posted
George Coy posted
Came across some old pics of Chicago in the Library of Congress, I thought your group might enjoy them
This one is dated April 1915. Hope this is okay with your group
This is the description:
Looking west on South Water Street, Chicago, crowded with horse-drawn wagons and motor trucks filled with produce for market, Apr. 1915

Dragi S. Trajkovski posted

Dominic Rossi posted
South water market 1941?
[Some comments indicated it would be this market.]
Xavier Quintana posted
From Vintage Tribune:
South Water Street Market, circa September 1925. (Vintage Tribune)
Xavier Quintana also posted
David Utech: Wacker Drive under construction at the top of the picture.


1920's: South Water Market

Northwestern University
To quote Northwestern's caption of this picture: "When South Water Street was made over into Wacker Drive there was a wholesale exodus of the scores of commission houses. This shows the new home of the South Water Market between Fourteenth Place and Fifteenth Street from Morgan Street to Racine Avenue." This 1929 photo would be looking West. Of note is that there are still a lot more horse and wagons then trucks. When I see pictures like this, I have to wonder what do they do with all of the "road apples?"

Patrick Stevens posted
Update: Northwestern seems to have allowed their security certificate to expire. But I came across another copy of the picture on Facebook. Patrick's comment indicating 1956 is a good example of not being able to believe everything you read on the web. There were not that many horse and wagons in 1956!

I could not find rail access in a 1938 aerial photo. Later I found confirmation that it did not have rail car access.  (Update: CN&W's 1947 video indicates their Morgan Street Yard was close and dedicated to perishable freight. The video shows blowing snow ice into a car to keep it cold during warm weather and warm during really cold weather.  When the merchants were forced to move to South Water Market, the IC and Santa Fe built the Chicago Produce Terminal for them and other railroads to use. The trucks had to travel less than two miles to get to the merchant market.)

Dominic Rossi posted
Original south water market
Dominic Rossi: I worked there 88- till they closed in April 1993, my father was there for 23 years
George Dana commented on Dominic's post
My grandfather owned Jiffy Spuds and then City Wide Produce. This photo might have been before south water market. He’s in the middle with the white shirt.

Jeff Nichols posted
South Water Street Market, 1955.
University of Chicago Library,
Special Collections Research Center, apf2-09929
Paul Jervert shared
The 90-foot wide street that was great for horse and wagons became a nightmare with the advent of semi-trucks. "In the 1960s Mayor Richard J. Daley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture pushed a grandiose scheme to consolidate the city's food-related businesses near Lake Calumet." That plan failed. But market forces are slowly reducing the percentage of the areas produce handled by the market. In 1939 less than 20% of Chicago's produce arrived by truck, by 1993 more than 75% does. Trains are cheaper, but trucks take 3 days and trains take 5 days. Also, markets in Cleveland, Saint Louis, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis are competing with South Water because of lower labor and overhead costs. Moreover, large store chains--Jewel, Dominick's (1993)--can bypass South Water altogether and trucks can deliver directly to their own warehouses. (ChicagoReader) One time when my wife and I were traveling across Central Valley in California, we stopped at a road stand to buy some produce. When we commented that we were surprised that the produce did not look as good as the stuff we see in our Chicago stores, he replied that it was because they had to ship their good stuff or the grocery store chains wouldn't buy it!

When I studied the aerial photo of the 16th Street Corridor for the St. Charles Air Line Railroad posting, I wondered what the long, horizontal buildings in the middle of the photo were used for. Now I know --- South Water Street Market.

These buildings still stand, but they are now condos. (See WBEZ photo above also.)

Fulton Street Market

Patrick Stevens posted
I have not figured out where the Fulton Street Market fits into the history of the markets. I saw a comment for a railroad picture that said Madison Avenue was skid row from the South Branch to Ogden. So the gentrification of the near-west has been a significant change. This would explain why the Union Station is now interested in developing it unused rooms as event, retail and office spaces. It also explains why a report on the Fulton-Randolph Market District wants avoid a "slum clearance" to build more condos. The report has a couple of historic pictures showing a street full of horse and wagons on Page 6.

21st Century

In 2001 the market did move southwest to the north side of the Sanitary and Ship Canal just east of Damen---The Chicago International Produce Market (CIPM).

Trucks from the growers (receiving) use the west side and the trucks for the distributors (loading) use the east side. Looking at the map, I noticed that this area has become a grocery wholesale district. Up the road is Cermak Fresh Market and across the parking lot from that building is ALDI. And a little further towards downtown is Dalmares Produce.

I checked with a 1938 aerial map to confirm that they filled in a couple of slips originally created in the 1800s by the South Branch Dock Company to create land for this new market building. Even though it is built in the 75-acre industrial park that CB&Q created with the dock company when it built its access into Chicago in 1862-4, the market building does not have rail access.

The hours are from 3:30-4:00am to noon. "CIPM merchants offer the widest possible selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, herbs, spices, and specialty dry goods." (Agrilicious) The warehouse contains "ripening rooms" that control temperature, humidity, gassing, and ventilation, which controls ripening rates. Estimates are that produce in Chicago is a billion dollar business. This terminal supports not just the Chicago land area, but a tri-state area. (WBEZ) And they are trying to expand their reach to Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and additional Midwestern states. There are other competitors such as Central Grocers in Joliet.(ThePacker)

The loading doc is full of fast electric forklifts called power jacks moving produce to the correct receiving truck.

If you skip to 1:00 in the video you can see about 20 seconds of loading doc activity. Timestamp 6:04 was also interesting because it shows an order picker filling an order from a selection of 300 products and a view of the size of the cooled warehouse rooms. Note that the video was made in 2009, so the market was viable even during the recession.


Glen Miller posted
[I have heard of this, but I don't know where it is. I don't have time to research it now.]


  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quite interesting. Chicago Third Party Logistic Warehouse

  2. Maxwell st was the old "jewtown" along S. Halsted from the underpass at about 14th St. northward to just soth of Roosevelt. By the '80s it was a slum area. Most buildings were gone west of Halsted in that stretch and the vacant lots teemed with an informal "de facto" flea market that was a vestage of the jewtown era. Burning barrels for heat and garbage everywhere. Daley Jr. threw them all out and sold block after block to UIC to expand. Market was banished to I think Canal St and "officialised" There was a hue and cry about the closing of the Maxwel slum but they never stood a chance. DALEY NEVER LISTENED TO THE COMMON MAN, Despite what you may have been told! The3 picture immediately above is Halsted probably facing north during the market on the weekend in the '30s probably.

  3. I agree that no aerial photos show South Water Street Market with rail service. However, the Chicago Switching District Tariff 22-C Directory of Industries from both 1956 and 1967 list the South Water Market Terminal Company at 15th & Morgan Streets, served by the B&OCT (on behalf of B&O, CGW, and Soo). The listed industry is "Perishable products."

    Could this have been part of Griswold & Bateman? Alternatively, there was another large, rail-served warehouse on the southwest corner of 14th Place & Sangamon. What was this place?

    This article also suggests that South Water Street Market was basically exclusive to produce. Was there a Chicago equivalent for meats, dairy, and fish? And how would railroads have interacted with it/them?

    From a nuts-and-bolts railroad operation viewpoint, I'm also curious how other railroads, including the smaller ones with less perishable freight due to smaller service area, arranged regular daily service into CNW's and IC/ATSF's produce yards. For example, C&EI, Monon, Soo Line, or GTW, were fully capable of bringing in perishable freight into Chicago on any given train. But it would be in smaller numbers, perhaps only two or three cars per day at times. Were they interchanging this traffic with CNW, IC, or ATSF at outer-Chicago interchange points? Or did every single railroad make a call into one of these two produce terminals regardless of volume? Seems like this would have caused quite a bit of congestion. I can't imagine they were sending all their perishable freight to BRC, IHB, or B&OCT for delivery into CNW's Potato Yard or the CPT. That would just take too long.