Historical Photo of the Week: Lake Shore Drive in 1905

Historical Photo of the Week: Lake Shore Drive in 1905

Lincoln Park, 1905. Long before Lake Shore Drive was a bustling eight-lane expressway, it was just a wide unpaved path along the lake, where the wealthiest Chicagoans would go for an afternoon stroll or a scenic ride in their horse-drawn carriages. In fact, one of those affluent Chicagoans, the famous Potter Palmer, convinced the city to construct Lake Shore Drive at the end of the 19th century to connect his sprawling "castle" to downtown, thereby increasing his property's value. The Palmer Mansion was just a few blocks south of the present-day boundaries of Lincoln Park, on Lake Shore Drive between Schiller and Banks, though it was torn down in 1951.

Beginning at Oak Street, this early Lake Shore Drive extended only to Fullerton Avenue, which was considered the outermost limit of the city at the time.

Image via Library of Congress.


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  • Awesome photo. Info on old Chicago is always interesting.

  • In reply to John Chatz:

    Thanks! And I agree!

  • In reply to Adam Morgan:

    In the photo to the left, above the man's hat (he is at the fence look out over the lake) in the distance, is that a break-water stucture in the lake or one of the pumps for the city's water supply? I can't remember when the first pumping stations for city water were built.

  • In reply to sjbswside:

    Great question! The first water crib in Chicago actually dates way back in 1865, if you can believe it. Called "Two-Mile Crib" for its distance from the shore, it funneled water all the way to the famous Chicago Water Tower on Michigan Avenue. It was replaced by a sturdier structure in 1900, the Carter H. Harrison Crib. But that was the only existing crib in 1905, and it was almost directly east of North Avenue, two miles offshore. And the structure in the photo certainly appears much farther south. Even if the photo was taken at Fullerton (the northernmost point of Lake Shore Drive in 1905), I doubt the Carter H. Harrison Crib would be visible from this angle.

    To me, it looks a lot like the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. The geography looks about right, and it's sitting on the end of a breakwater, just like the lighthouse does today. But apparently, even though the lighthouse dates back to the Columbian Exposition in 1893, it wasn't moved to its present site until 1919. I can't find any information online as to where it was before 1919. However, looking at some old etchings of the harbor, there do appear to have been lighthouses in the area dating all the way back to the mid-nineteenth century. So my best guess is a lighthouse, or some kind of lock station on the harbor's breakwaters.

  • In reply to Adam Morgan:

    After a little more digging, I found that there has been a some form of lighthouse structure on the Chicago Harbor since 1859. So that's my best guess!

  • Great picture!

  • It appears that articulated buses were not stuck on it at the time. :-)

  • In reply to jack:


  • My grandfather often mentioned he had ridden a horse down Michigan Avenue around this time. Maybe he also rode in a carriage too...
    It's a wonderful photo.!

  • In reply to suburbina36:

    I have added "Ride a horse down a main Chicago thoroughfare" to my bucket list.

  • Perfect timing for me. I just finished Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather and much of it takes place in Chicago in 1902. Nice to get an actual photo to go along with the images Cather describes. Thanks!

  • In reply to Beth:

    I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of Willa Cather, but now I'm tempted to check Lucy Gayheart out. Was it a good read?

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    Why is Potter Palmer described as "infamous?" What infamy did he commit? PP is described as a visionary civic leader, one of the greastest in Chicago, in the histories I've read. That LSD was installed for his own personal use, as implied, is not credible. Additionally, the facts stated in the article do not make sense: Palmer's mansion was three short blocks from Oak St. near his likely route to the Palmer House via Michigan Ave. South of there, LSD curves east, increasing the distance to downtown. Therefore he had no need of LSD to get downtown.

  • Hi Bruce, the "infamous" was a typo (it was supposed to be "famous"), so thanks for pointing that out so that I could correct it. As for Palmer's use of LSD, I did not mean to imply that he coerced the city to build it for his personal use. By connecting his estate to downtown (and to the rest of the city northward) with a popular lakeshore roadway, he was trying (successfully) to increase the value of his property. I will edit my article above to state that more clearly. Thanks!

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    In reply to Adam Morgan:

    Palmer had the visionary good sense to build on what is now an obvious location: near the lake. The posh mansions along Prairie Ave. were apparently there by consensus but without reason: The Illinois Central tracks were a barrier to access of the lake. The error of consensus became obvious after Palmer's move.

  • In reply to Bruce Mitzit:

    Indeed. As evidenced by Prairie Avenue's status today!

  • Spectular photo...

    lot of people do not realize that as short of a time as 450 years ago, US being only 236 yrs old this year and the 1st European settler arriving in Illinois in 1673 ( In 1673 Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet (Joliet) explored the Fox and Illinois rivers by canoe and met with peaceful Illini and Kaskaskia Indians ... ) the Lake Michigan shore and Lake Shore Drive was but a sand dune.. saw it on the DSC channel and then checked a book out at the library about it, quite fascinating!!!

  • In reply to coco chanel:

    Very true! And a lot of our present-day "lakeshore" is actually manmade, built atop rubble from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

  • Willa Cather wrote about life on the Great Plains. I personally liked reading My Antonia.

  • Any photos of women in front of their bathroom mirrors from 1905?

  • In reply to gwill:

    It would have taken a while to develop the photo. I don't think they were able to hold the duck face for minutes on end.

  • In reply to gwennaelle:

    Women were hardier in 1905 and would have no problem holding a Falcon Kodak Camera and their duck face for the required period of time.

  • In reply to gwill:

    True, true.

  • Awesome photo. I love love loooove pics of old Chicago.

  • I want a poster-sized print of this picture. It is fabulous. Not only is it historic Chicago, it has some kind of otherworldly aspect to it....I can't quite put my finger on.

  • In reply to SlickPoetry:

    I know what you mean. It has a very China Mieville vibe.

  • This is an excellent example of how "tax claw-back" works. Everybody pays taxes to fund infrastructure development like Lake Shore Drive, including renters. But only landowners benefit from infrastructure development through increased land values. The land value gains they realize dwarf the pittances they paid in taxes. A proper land value tax would return the increase in land value to the community whence it came.

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    Remember moving to Chicago in 1959 with my parents and seeing all the mansions that lined Sheridan Road. Remember the corner of Sheridan and Hollywood and 1000 Lake Shore Drive. Where are the pictures of these grand old homes. Thanks

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