Lake Street that great street

Before State Street became that Great Street, there was Lake Street.

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Chicago was settled at the level of the shoreline of the Chicago River. The city level was later raised 16 feet in a feat of engineering. (Peter V. Bella)

Lake Street had two things making it the commercial street of Chicago, its proximity to the Chicago River and its distance from the waterway. Lake Street was the closest street to the Chicago River. The river was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Merchants could easily and swiftly get to ships bringing goods and raw materials or deliver their finished products to be transported east.

Lake Street was also far enough from the mud flats past the shore line of the river. It was the closest place where buildings could be safely erected without sinking into the mud. It must be remembered that Chicago originally sat at the same level of the river shoreline, 16 feet lower than it is today.

Lake Street was a stretch of merchants, manufacturers, trades people, artisans, and other commercial enterprises. It was one of the largest horse trading areas in the Midwest. During the Civil War, Lake Street businesses prospered wildly. If a Union soldier wore or used something, there was a good bet it was made or sold on Lake Street.

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Lake Street El tracks run from Wabash Avenue to the city's west limit. (Peter V. Bella)

After the Civil War Marshall Field and Potter Palmer decided to build on State Street and move their operations there. Others followed suit. After the Chicago Fire destroyed much of downtown Chicago, merchants rebuilt State Street, eventually making it that Great Street.

Lake Street is now known for the stretch of El Tracks going from Wabash to the city limit on the west.


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