The Old Streets of Chicago

Before the 1909 address system was implemented, Chicago’s layout was pretty confusing. Although the city was generally built as a grid, the original address system was inconsistent and many of the same streets would go under different names depending on their location in the city. Over time, these extra street names were eliminated to avoid confusion.

Some streets were also renamed to honor prominent citizens of Chicago. To appease local residents weary of change, the city has since generally replaced this practice with “honorary” street names. A recent example of this was with a recent attempt to change Evergreen Avenue to Algren Street in Wicker Park to honor Nelson Algren.

You can find a complete list of all the street name changes in this PDF document online, although it is a bit difficult to comprehend. You can also view this 1904 map to see if your street went under a different name a hundred years ago.

A few changes of note:

  • Damen Avenue used to be called Robey Street until 1927. It was renamed for Father Arnold Damen. The cornerstones at Huron Street and Patterson Avenue still read “Robey.”
  • Walton Street, just south of Augusta Boulevard, used to be called Cornelia Street, despite the city already having a Cornelia Avenue just south of Addison.
  • Wolcott Avenue used to be called Lincoln Street, which had to be confusing with the prominent Lincoln Avenue.
  • Cortland Street from Damen to Racine used to be called Clybourn Place, not to be confused with the prominent Clybourn Avenue. This is why the current Metra stop at Ashland and Cortland is still called Clybourn, despite stopping nowhere near Clybourn Avenue.
  • Garfield Avenue was renamed Dickens Street in 1940. The Northwest corner of Lincoln Park West and Dickens still has “Garfield Avenue” on its cornerstone.
  • Armitage east of Racine was called Center Street, perhaps because it was the center of the North side. However, this had to often be confused with Centre Avenue, which is what Racine was called south of Augusta.
  • Pulaski Road was called Crawford Avenue until it was changed by Mayor Ed Kelly in 1933 to help get the Polish vote. Descendants of Peter Crawford, an early Chicago pioneer whom the street was originally named for, along with the street’s business owners, disputed the name for 19 years until the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the renaming in 1952. You can still find signs of Crawford along Pulaski today and it remains Crawford Avenue outside of the city limits.
  • Roosevelt Road was once simply called 12th Street.
  • Central Park Avenue was never renamed despite the fact that Central Park was renamed Garfield Park way back in 1869.
  • The east-west Hubbard Street used to be called Austin Avenue, despite the north-south Austin Avenue also being located on the far west side. In River North, it was known as Michigan Street; this was when Michigan Avenue north of the river was still called Pine Street (and Lincoln Park Boulevard near Chicago Avenue). The Northwest cornerstone at Hubbard and Wells reads “Michigan”.
  • Financial Place in the Loop was once named Sherman Street. The Southeast cornerstone at the intersection with Jackson Street still reads “Sherman Street”.
  • Wells Street in the Loop was originally Fifth Avenue. The Northeast cornerstone at Wells and Quincy (just below the Quincy Brown Line stop) still reads “S. Fifth Avenue.”

Have you noticed any old street signs or markers that are still visible today?

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