Special Collections and Preservation Division
Neighborhood History Research Collection
Chatham-Grand Crossing Community Collection
.5 linear ft.
Call number: Archives_CGC
The community of Grand Crossing traces both its name and its origin to an historic and celebrated collision in 1853 between the trains of the Illinois Central and Michigan Southern Railroads. The wreck occurred at what is now 75th Street and South Chicago Avenue, and accounted for eighteen fatalities. Both lines claimed right-of-way, but the crossing of the lines had been possible only because the Illinois Central, having been denied permission to cross the Michigan Southern tracks, kidnapped the Michigan Southern's guard and built the crossing literally overnight. The accident resulted in heavy use of signal lights and all trains were required to come to a full stop at the crossing; nevertheless, frequent accidents followed in the ensuing decades.
Hyde Park's founder and entrepreneur Paul Cornell noted that industry developed near railroads, and concluded the area around the railroad crossing would be a good investment. The land's being a watery swamp notwithstanding, Cornell amassed 960 acres between 1855 and 1871 at which latter date it was subdivided and offered for sale. Thus was born the village of Cornell, which shortly changed its name to Grand Crossing upon the discovery of another Cornell downstate.
In 1876, Orrin L. Bassett established the Chicago Tack Company at 75th and Woodlawn. Other industries followed: the Cornell Watch Factory, the Patzacak Furniture Company, and the Chicago Scale Company among them. A barbed-wire factory was in production by 188o. By the time Grand Crossing was annexed to Chicago in 1889, it was well built up with frame cottages, principally occupied by German factory workers. The nearby neighborhood of Brookline was also heavily German; Park Manor to the west, laid out in 1886, was populated with Yankee stock; Brookdale to the east held Irish, English, and Scottish railroad workers.
Chatham lies between 79th and 87th Streets, with Cottage Grove Avenue its eastern and State Street its western boundary. Chatham's first buildings were corn-cribs erected in 1860 by the Illinois Central Railroad. Residential dwellings were not begun until the mid-1880s, primarily frame homes built by Italian stonemasons and railroad workers. This subdivision's name, Avalon Highlands, suggests a developer's attempt to disguise from potential investors the area's low-lying swampiness. Although in 1892 the Calumet Electric Company established cable car service through the neighborhood on Cottage Grove Avenue en route to a southern terminus at Pullman, Chatham did not develop seriously until after 1910. Between 1911 and 1915, over 150 homes were erected, and a community called "Garden Homes" was built just to the south of Chatham in the late 'teens. By 1920, when the Illinois Central opened its 79th Street Station, Chatham's population was just under 10,000. Most of these people were foreign-born-principally Hungarians.
Spurred by the general development of the southern Chicago neighborhoods stimulated by the World's Columbian Exposition, Grand Crossing enjoyed steady growth in the first two decades of the twentieth century, as single-family frame and brick two-flats were constructed. In 1912, its namesake railroad intersection was removed by elevation of the tracks. By 1930, both Chatham and Grand Crossing had reached "maturity" as regards population density and business enterprises.
Throughout the Depression and World War II, the neighborhoods remained fairly stable. The 1950s saw the beginnings of a steady turnover form an immigrant-white to a Black population. Grand Crossing went from six to eighty-six percent Black between 1960 and 1970. With the new population came new business: several of the city's and the nation's largest Black-owned businesses were headquartered in Chatham including Johnson Products and Ultra-Sheen Hair Products. One of the nation's largest Black housing cooperatives was Chatham Park Village Cooperative, which was the first rental property in Illinois to convert to co-op ownership.
This small but high-quality collection cuts across a broad spectrum of Chatham-Grand Crossing history. With the exception of the 1980 newspaper (Oversize 1), the material documents a by-gone era when these neighborhoods were of predominately white population. Of particular note are the first-person (and presumably never published) reminiscences of residents (folders 1:1, 3, 4) and secondary historical sketches (1:8-11). The Chatham Branch Library scrapbook (1:13) covers the opening and early days of that Library. While the Illinois Central Railroad material (1:17 and Oversize 2) is not unique, it is nevertheless useful in documenting neighborhood whose history is so inextricably linked to the railroad.
Separation Record: Oversized material:
The following items have been removed to the locations given:
Historical Sketches & General
Chatham-Southeast Citizen. V. 16, n. 23. 20pp. 1980 Oct 24-26.: Oversize 1
Illinois Central Railroad. Timetable (photocopy); 1871.: Oversize 2
The materials in this collection were gathered by the Chatham Branch Library at 822 East 79th Street. They were transferred to the Special Collections and Preservation Division and processed in January of 1989.
The Chatham-Grand Crossing Community Collection is available to the public for research in the Special Collections and Preservation Division Reading Room on the 9th floor of the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60605. The collection does not circulate, although photocopy and photoreproduction services are available depending upon the condition of the original materials. First time patrons to Special Collections must present photo identification and complete a Reader Registration Form. Telephone inquiries on this collection and other Special Collections holdings can be directed to 312-747-4875.
1. Block, Eugene-Reminiscences; n.d
2. Cole, David Harris-Newsclip; 1957
3. Dunn, Mrs. F.-Reminiscences; n.d
4. Fulford, Catherine-Reminiscences; 1936
4a. Free-Man Stoker & Engineering Co.-Flyer; 1930s
4b. Weber Wagon Co. (76th & Lowe)-Advertising flyer;1870s
5. Ingleside Avenue Methodist Episcopal-Historical sketch; 1924
Clubs and Organizations
6. Grand Crossing-Chatham Professional Leaders' Council-Newsclippings
7. Y.M.C.A.-Correspondence, 1941; clippings
8. Browning, Betty, "Grand Crossing Traces Name to Railway Wreck"; 1930
9. de Roulet, M.A., "History of Grand Crossing"; 1930s
10. Drury, John, "Old Chicago Neighborhoods-Grand Crossing"; 1947
10a. Gregory, Mae, "Chatham 1856-1987"; 1989
11. Hutchinson, O.N., "Grand Crossing"; 1938
Municipal Agencies-Chicago Public Library
12. Chatham Branch-Correspondence & newsclips; 1932-1950
13. Chatham Branch-Scrapbook; 1927-1928
14. Park Manor-Newsletter; 1947
15. Yale-Newsletter; 1940
16. C.T.A. Jackson Park spur-Newsclip; 1955
17. Illinois Central Railroad-Routes, schedules, newsclips (photocopies); 1852-1888 [See also oversize material.]
18. American Youth Reserves-Correspondence & clippings; 1941-3
19. Seventh War Loan campaign-Newsclips