Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Forgotten Railways of Chicago: Scarchitecture

Scarchitecture, a portmanteau of the words scar and architecture, is somewhat of an internet buzzword. It refers to the remnants left behind by abandoned or disused infrastructure or old buildings, and how one can find, using satellite imagery, evidence of old roads, railroads, and all sorts of remnants of a city that once was. This blog post from 99% Invisible explains the phenomenon far better than I could. Applied to the old rights-of-way of railroad corridors that ran in the urban core, one can see examples in nearly every corner of Chicago, as well as many other cities.

Of course, not every abandoned railroad right-of-way leaves a scar, in fact I was quite surprised to learn that Chinatown Square occupies what was once a former rail yard of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe. In fact, much of the industrial area east of the Chicago River was once home to various rail yards, with very little, if any evidence remaining of their former lives. It is also impossible to trace the abandoned streetcar network of the city relying solely on satellite imagery alone. That being said, the railroad network of Chicago is so large, and was even larger in the past, that there's plenty of scarchitecture to be found.

Once of the best examples in my opinion is actually right near Wrigley Field. Within the red box, the right of way of the former Milwaukee Road Evanston Division can be found. The south end of this line linked up with the Kingsbury St line, of which the Chicago Terminal Railroad just stopped running. Source: http://www.chicago-l.org/operations/freight/


In the sense of being able to find abnormalities with the buildings and roads around it, the Kinzie Street Bridge doesn't qualify as scarchitecture. But it is a remant of the Chicago & Northwestern's role in the development of the area around Merchandise Mart. This line actually traversed under quite a few buildings en route to Navy Pier. It was never technically abandoned, although the last time this bridge had any activity was for the Chicago Sun Times in 2000.

Along with the still in-use St. Charles Air Line Bridge, the B&O Railroad owned an adjacent bridge as well. This bridge is permanently in the upright position. It is quite easy to note the abandoned approaches to the bridge. It is at this moment considered abandoned, however it is also being considered for use if any additional high-speed rail projects materialize. This bridge is quite easy to see for people traveling on the Metra and Amtrak lines leaving Union Station to the south.

A bit southwest of Cook County Jail, the remnants of an abandoned line that once fed into BNSF's Corwith Yard can be spotted, as well as buildings which are cut in odd-angles nearby.

Another great example of scarchitecture can be found on the south side around 81st St and Yates Blvd. The Brookdale Branch of the B&O's right-of-way is currently a few different housing developments, all of which do not conform to the homes on the grid all around them. 
As stated earlier, scarchitecture is not simply a phenomenon related to railroads; this was the former road bridge in Summit, IL along what is present day IL-171. Back in those days, this was IL-4, IL-4A and IL-213. Another interesting fact is that, although the roads to the east and west of where the former bridge was are now primarily industrial roads with little traffic, IDOT still maintains them. Scars of former infrastructure exist not just in the physical world, but in governmental agreements as well!
Back to railroads again. 19th St in Berwyn and Cicero between Austin and Ridgeland is built to occupy the right-of-way of a former electric line, what I believe was the Chicago & West Towns Railway. It's most noticeable at Austin, where the north side of the road strangely turns for no apparent reason.
The building shaped like a quarter-circle near Grand and Natchez is a remnant of a local line abandoned by the Soo-Line (Canadian Pacific) in 1999. 


The other Chicago & Northwestern line to Evanston, the one beginning at Mayfair Junction, has some notable remnants in architecture near Devon Ave and US 41. Much of the right-of-way has turned into a rail trail. 

Let me know if you know of any other examples of scarchitecture, both in the Chicago area and in your own neck of the woods!



18 comments:

  1. Tracy Ave. Yard, 103rd Street west of Western Ave. adjacent to the B&OCT (CSX) line through West Beverly. The right of way to the east of the tracks is wider north of 103rd (formerly Tracy Ave.) Former Pere Marquette yard.

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    1. Interesting! I did not know that, but it does seem wider to the east!

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  2. In Baltimore, there are two very obvious examples, in the east side if the city:
    Starting at Boston and Clinton street, there's a sweep that heads east and north.
    There's also a long line of trees that parallels Haven Street.

    Both used to be Pennsylvania Railroad.

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    1. Dave, thanks for the comment, I'd love to see this if you have a link for it!

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  3. In my youth I worked in a small factory near the apex of your Wrigley Field example, where Sluggers bar is now. There are many examples of this in "Chicagoland."

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    1. Thanks for your comment. There truly are many examples of scarchitecture above and beyond what I've noted. Some are best seen in the real world!

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  4. If you Google earth Lakewood south of diversey, you can still see tracks there and the cement across diversey that recently covered tracks. Several locations along Lakewood are like this. I have a screen shot but not sure if I can post

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    1. Vicki, thanks for the comment, at this point screenshots are not possible on the site, however links to online content, including photos should work.

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  5. The C&NW line to Evanston was known as the Weber Subdivision. The line branched just north of the North Branch of the Chicago River at a point known as River Junction. The Valley branch curved off to the northwest and went to Skokie. The east side continued north towards Evanston. Both lines had steam powered commuter service until the late 1950's. Material Service Company had a medium sized yard and concrete batch plant located between the two tracks in Sauganash, between Rogers Avenue on the north and Bryn Mawr on the south. It closed in the late 1960's.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I never was able to witness any activity along the Weber Subdivision, but it is a fun place for a walk these days.

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  6. The alley north of North avenue is as wide as it is because the Humbodlt Park line (closed in 1952) ran along there

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  7. Two of my favorites: the old Ogden extension to Lincoln Park, which ran from Goose Island to Armitage and Lincoln, and the old Indian Boundary Line, which manifests as Rogers Avenue (intermittently from Rogers Park Beach to near Foster and Lockwood) and then Forest Park Drive (from near Montrose and Narragansett to Indian Boundary Golf Course, near Belmont and the Des Plaines River).

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  8. Find the Major Taylor Trail at the northeast corner of Dan Ryan Woods, near 83rd & Hamilton, and follow it south-southeast. This was once Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way. Homes have been built on the land between 95th and 103rd streets on the west side of Beverly Ave. There were diamonds at 91st & Hermitage and 103rd & Vincennes where the Pennsylvania tracks crossed the Rock Island tracks. -- Danny Fields

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    1. Dan, thanks for the comment, I want to bike ride along the Major Taylor Trail at some point. The abandoned ROW from that line extends far into Indiana even if the trail only last for <5-10 miles. I didn’t know there were homes built on the ROW though!

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  9. One ran behind my house at 79th & Yates - - though I'm not sure it was fully abandoned as it is now. Since it was on a diagonal and saved several blocks of walking we would run along the tracks when we were late for school.

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  10. At about 6600 west on the NW side you can clearly note the "scar" on the line that used to run north to Dunning (AKA the "Crazy Train"). Nashville Ave between Diversey and Addison offers a clear view. Still some track by Diversey )look behind the Brickyard Target)

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  11. The Mayfair Junction line to Evanston was known as the C&NW Weber Subdivision. It split again at a point about 1/4 mile north of the north branch of the Chicago River bridge. The crossover point was called River Junction. One line continued north to Evanston and the other, the Skokie Valley Line, curved northwest to Skokie. Both had commuter service to downtown Chicago until the late 1950's.

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  12. CB&Q used to have industrial track along the south side of Cermak. Those tracks were taken up just this year so they still show up on the satellite image. There are still curved buildings where industrial spurs came off that track. For example. not only does Chicago Auto Recon have a curve by Cermak, there is another curved building a little further north. https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8525454,-87.6604596,73m/data=!3m1!1e3

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