Located 13 Miles South of The Loop.
Neighborhoods include: South Chicago
Zip Codes Include: 60617, 60649
South Chicago was formerly known as Ainsworth. This chevron-shaped community is one of Chicago’s 16 lakefront neighborhoods near the southern rim of Lake Michigan 10 miles south of downtown. A working-class neighborhood, it is bordered by East 79th Street on the north, South Chicago Avenue (the Chicago Skyway) on the southwest, a small stretch of East 95th Street on the south. With the Calumet River on the community’s southeast side, South Chicago can be considered the literal gateway to the Calumet Region and the first among the four Chicago neighborhoods (East Side, Hegewisch and South Deering) that are considered by the locals as Chicago’s Southeast Side. Particularly because most of its streets run off the citywide grid. It also shares the unique Alphabet Avenues with the other three. Yet the Southeast Side is a description that, although true, the city itself continues to resist, but rather includes them all with Chicago’s South Side communities.
Once a separate community, South Chicago began as a series of scattered Native American settlements before becoming a village. First occupied by a chief named Askhum, considered ‘lord’ of the vast Callimink (Calumet) Valley and leader of the Pottawatomie people. They and other Native peoples used South Chicago and the shallow Calumet River area as portages, for seasonal settlements, hunting and fishing thousands of years before White settlers arrived to the “New World”.
The post-Civil War era brought with it great industrial innovation. Developer James H. Bowen, the “Father of South Chicago,” and others in a massive land grab wrested the land from its former existence and founded “Ainsworth” among other communities. This community was formed out of wetland prairie to provide residence for the labor force of European immigrants coming to work at the industries developing along the Calumet River, most notably the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company, built at the mouth of the river in 1881. Only fractions of the original topography and habitat remain as is the case with most of urban Chicago. With the entire Chicago Lakefront built on miles of landfill and slag there still remains a small stretch of semi-secluded beachfront just north of the Southworks Site. This bit of lakefront, once a seasonal settlement for the Pottawatomie, was left alone due to an umovable and deeply embedded bedrock of granite, which defied the development techniques of the time. It is the only natural beach frontage left and virtually unknown on the entire Chicago coastline. This beachfront and the massive outcrop of the Southworks table slag to the south and the water treatment plant to the north is a perfect demonstration of the vigorous advancement of the steel industry and 20th century development.
The four communities of Ainsworth; the Bush, Millgate Cheltenham/South Chicago and Calumet quickly developed into one village referred to collectively as South Chicago during the wave of annexation in 1883. The predominately woodframed architecture of the Bush, Millgate and eastern Cheltemham are a lesson in Victoriana with the ‘sunken yards’ and bridge-like walk ups from street like Houston, Baltimore and Brandon attesting to the degree infrastructure built up from the original topography of that time. It also demonstrates how South Chicago was not immediately effected by the housing ordinances restricting the use of lumber for home building after The Great Fire of 1871. Most of the neighborhood north of East 83rd Street and west of South Manistee Avenue was developed after WWII and contain mostly brick homes, but under the ordinance brick homes began being built throughout the newly annexed neighborhood after 1883.
South Chicago was bustling with waves of immigrants as the popularity of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The steel mill became U.S. Steel South Works in 1901, continuing to attract immigrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe,Scandinavia and Italy. During the 1950s many residents called the northeast section of South Chicago *”The Bush” and worked in the local massive steel mill, US Steel. Others worked in neighboring steel mills such as Youngstown Steel, Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel, and LaSalle Steel. At its zenith, South Chicago helped make the Chicago metropolitan area the leading producer of steel products in the nation. The Willis Tower and the Hancock Building were built from South Chicago steel. The embers, (graphite) from the smokestacks would cause the cars and sidewalks to sparkle and created a golden glow throughout the night. Softball and bowling were popular pastimes. Large Polish weddings on Saturdays were also a common sight.
Throughout the early 1910s, Mexicans from a variety of regions within Mexico began to settle in communities throughout Chicago including South Chicago. South Chicago became one of the first growing Mexican communities in Chicago. The community faced many challenges including many racist attacks by the more assimilated groups. The early Mexican community began to band together and worked to help build Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as they were not welcomed in other churches throughout the area. South Chicago’s Mexican Patriotic Club’s Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16th) Parade was the first such parade in Chicago also celebrated with a carnival of rides and booths.
While South Chicago has a sizable African American population, existing ethnic groups continue to have strong community ties in the area. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the oldest parish founded by Mexicans in the City of Chicago. Immaculate Conception, St. Michael’s, two churches built in the so-called ‘Polish Cathedral style’ and later Saint Bronislava have served South Chicago’s Polish residents for over 80 years and now have significant sized Latino populations as well. The first Catholic parish established in South Chicago was St. Patrick, which was founded by Irish Catholics.
Much of the business and shopping is done along Commercial Avenue. Several privately owned businesses such as clothing stores, furniture and retail, and beauty salons, can be found along Commercial Avenue. Restaurants from Nigerian to Italian cuisine are found in South Chicago. Despite the slow economy, more “Mom and Pop” stores flourish throughout South Chicago’s residential areas, than in any other neighborhood. East 83rd Street, East 87th Street and south along Commercial Avenue to East 95th Street have attracted corporations, businesses and new banks into the community. Commercial Avenue is also home to many non-profit organizations including Healthy South Chicago, the Alianza Leadership Institute, Centro Comunitario Juan Diego, El Valor, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, and SEDCOM.
The CTA Red Line is located with a few stations just 3 miles west and the CTA Green Line has a couple stops just 5 miles north, but other than that, South Chicago is not currently connected to the Chicago ‘L’rapid transit system. The neighborhood does, however, contain 4 newly rebuilt Metra Electric Line, South Chicago Branch stations: Cheltenham E. 79th St., East 83rd Street, 87th Street, and 93rd Street/South Chicago, which terminates in the heart of the neighborhood’s business district along South Baltimore Avenue, and is the community’s most accessible commuter rail service to downtown Chicago. Although Metra is mainly a suburban service, the outbound South Chicago Branch, which terminates within Chicago’s city limits is the only Metra line to do so. The Chicago Skyway borders South Chicago, running northwest towards the Dan Ryan Expressway and southeast towards Indiana. It can only be entered towards Indiana, but has one westbound entrance down by Indianapolis Boulevard & Avenue B.
South Chicago is also served by a number of Chicago Transit Authority bus routes, services which enable commuters to make relatively easy connections to downtown and other Chicago neighborhoods. The buses that serve South Chicago are:
- N5 – South Shore Night Bus
- 6 – Jackson Park Express (terminates at the northeast corner of South Chicago)
- 14 – Jeffery Express
- 15 – Jeffery Local
- 26 – South Shore Express
- 30 – South Chicago
- 71 – 71st/South Shore
- 79 – 79th
- N79 – 79th Night Bus
- 87 – 87th
• Total 31,198
• Density 9,300/sq mi (3,600/km2)
• White 1.92%
• Black 74.67%
• Hispanic 21.71%
• Asian 0.21%
• Other 1.48%