The Gift of the Iron Horse

The Gift of the Iron Horse

What neighborhood has two Metra lines, three Metra stops, and a CTA El line?

Old Irving Park. The only other area that is so well-connected is the town of Oak Park. Yes, a city neighborhood with more transit options than "convenient" neighborhoods does exist.

Actually, these lines serve neighboring Avondale and Portage Park as well. But things weren't always this way.

Prior to 1970, what we call the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line only went as far as Logan Square. By 1970, the El was expanded to Jefferson Park along the adolescent Kennedy Expressway, and by 1984 the El was finally extended to its present terminus at O'Hare Airport. Thus, the Blue Line was once called the "Logan Square El" and then later the "Jefferson Park El." Northwestsiders did have alternative ways of getting around, though.

The Chicago and Northwestern Railway was the first "iron horse" to gift the vast expanse of prairie now called the Northwest side. Early developers of the Irving Park area, hoping to eventually annex the immediate area as a luxurious suburb, convinced the C&NW to build a station over Irving Park Road, in between the cow trails now known as Pulaski Road and Cicero Avenue.  The large, ornate houses that populate the present area around the Irving Park train station followed soon after, as many businessmen found living in the "healthy" air and general environment of the "country" to be advantageous for their families, while only having a 17-minute commute on the train to Chicago's  downtown center.

However, the City of Chicago won out (as it always does) on the Irving park "subdivision," and it became a city neighborhood. The now-Chicagoans could still utilize  the trains, and to this day there is only one stop (Clybourn) between Irving Park and the Ogilvie Station (formerly Northwestern Station), thus creating a commute that is faster than any Gold Coast dweller's "easy" trip home.

The Northwest side was also gifted with another railway: the Milwaukee Road. Another 19th-Century industrialist endeavor, the railway that is now called the Metra Milwaukee District/North Line was responsible for not only the growth of historic northern suburbs o Chicago, but also for the development of the Portage Park/Irving Park communities of Chicago.

By the mid 1870's, almost all passenger stations that are currently in-use along the Metra Milwaukee District/North Line were established. One of the last stops before downtown Chicago was the Grayland stop at Milwaukee Avenue near Kostner Avenue. This stop was named after an early developer of the immediate area and Cook County Sheriff, John Gray.

Thus, those fortunate "suburbanites" living in the area in the 19th-Century could have the peace and quiet of the countryside (or produce farms), and still have fast service to The Loop with the gifting of the iron horse to the city's northwestern outreaches.

Although Chicago eventually incorporated these hopeful "villages," the small-town feel remains intact (despite the view of I-90 viaducts and the sound of El trains). The Victorian homes still stand, some even with gas lamps lit; awaiting the return of the master of the house from his evening walk from the train station.


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