Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lumber Street, Chicago, IL and Fast & Furious

20150502 0639
(See also Lumber District)

I first spotted Lumber Street on a Google Road Map as a road that goes along the west side of the Chicago River South Branch. I was thinking of using it to get better pictures of the two Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridges in that area. This picture not only shows the two bridges, but the north terminus of Lumber Street at Roosevelt Road. However, since I read in Facebook that a railfan got challenged taking pictures of the Metra yard while on that road in the 1970s, I have been reluctant to go on that road. If they were bothered by non-employees being down there in the 1970s, I don't want to learn what they are like now after 9/11.

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My second encounter with Lumber Street was when I was taking pictures of Canal Street and Cermak Road Bridges. As I was walking back to Cermak Road from the Canal Street Bridge I noticed the street sign indicated I was on Lumber Street. In this view taken northish across Cermak Road, Lumber Street is the street on the right. The street on the left would be Jefferson Street, and it is a more normal North/South street.

I'm reminded that the original industries along the west side of the South Branch were lumber yards and grain warehouses. Since Illinois had a prairie instead of a forest, lake-going ships brought wood from Wisconsin and Michigan down the river and stocked the lumber yards. The lumber was used to help build Chicago and it was shipped down the I&M Canal or railroads to help build the rest of Illinois. Importing wood to the state was especially heavy during the rebuild after the 1871 fire.

Alexander Spiewak posted
The exponential growth of Chicago in the 1840s was due to the new method of balloon frame construction using then modern milled lumber. Chicago was in an idea location to receive logs from the north of Michigan and Wisconsin, mill them on arrival, and ship them downstate to the treeless prairies.
Balloon framing was cheaper, easier, and faster to build than the standard log cabin. Unfortunately the wooden homes and businesses growing Chicago would cause it to burn down in 1871. But by then they had lived their purpose and new forms of construction had taken over.
If you're interested more in the history and preservation of log cabins and vernacular architecture I started this little group here all about them.

pdf copy from 1915 Smoke Abatement Report, p. 348
My third encounter with Lumber Street was during the study of maps for the CB&Q Industrial Park. Note that the street had been established before the early 1860s when the South Branch Dock Co. sliced up the road with dock slips.

My fourth encounter of Lumber Street was a July 22, 2015, Chicago Tribune article --- "Lower Wacker car race ends in death." A few days earlier the Tribune had an article about how teenagers would show off their cars on Lower Wacker Drive as they had been taught by movies such as the Fast and Furious franchise. Two drunk kids were racing and one of them learned his 1999 BMW could not do "magical" maneuvers.

The article mentioned "a stretch of road near a cement factory popular with drivers who like to drift." A kid had asked on Facebook "Who's at wacker & ozinga tonight??" The article then mentions "a cement company off Cermak Road and Lumber Street where drivers often go after police chase them from Wacker." I had taken a picture of the Ozinga concrete plant, but it also includes a view of Lumber Street south of Cermak. Fortunately, no one was drifting on the Sunday afternoon when I visited.

MWRD posted
Historical photo of the week: Lumber yards along Loomis St., viewed to the north from the bridge over the South Branch of the Chicago River on November 13, 1902.
Greg Bartik Bartik Lumber. My great grandfather


  1. Is Lumber Street between Roosevelt and Canal, between the river and Amtrak car servicing facilities, open to the public? Is it legal to drive through?

    1. I've wondered about that myself because I would like to get photos of those bridges. The entrance off Roosevelt has a sign saying "Amtrak Personnel Only" and a guard shack with a gate at the bottom of the ramp. I did not see any signs from Canal Street, but I didn't have enough guts to see how far I could go on the road. Because there are some other businesses on the south end, I assume you can drive at least part way up the road past the crossing.