On the south end of Grant Park in Chicago, IL there sits two large stone blocks. These blocks sit unassuming within the booming South Loop neighborhood of Chicago. They sit surrounded by a new skate park, towering skyscrapers, the installation of Agora, and in the near distance you can hear the railroad tracks of Metra, Canadian National, and the South Shore Railroads that are the last operational remnants of the history these blocks represent. These blocks were once part of the massive Central Station that was apart of what is now Roosevelt Road.
Built in 1893 Central Station served as one of the major inter-city passenger rail stations in the city of Chicago. Its own and primary tenant was the Illinois Central Railroad. Being built south the the business district (now know as the Loop) it was built originally to serve the surge in traffic for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This would be the fair that gave us the Great White City that can be seen represented by the Museum of Science and Industry. As the century turned into the 1900s the terminal continued to be a stepping off point for people entering Chicago. Trains operated by the Illinois Central with the names of the Panama Limited, City of New Orleans, Miami, and Land O’Corn brought people into the heart of the city.
As the plaque in Grant Park now commemorates this was also the starting point for thousands of people escaping the south. A one way ticket to freedom, a one way ticket to a new life. These trains carried more than just passengers. These trains carried hope, dreams, and opportunity. As immortalized in the movie The Blue Brothers, the song Sweet Home Chicago was created by those who had boarded a train with a one way ticket to a new life. Chicago became a center of Blues music from the flood of artists, musicians, and dreamers that came to call Chicago home.
Now a days looking at the area you would no idea this history ever existed as on March 5th, 1972 the station was demolished. Torn down during the great railroad consolidation of the early 1970s as passenger service was consolidated into Amtrak. Where the station once sat is now becoming One Grant Park or the already towering One Museum Park buildings that loom highly over Grant Park and Museum District. The only part of the railroad left are those tracks that mostly carry commuters into the city for their daily jobs.The world continues to move, but we should never forget how we got there in the first place. Its one reason why I love the history of the railroads. It is more than just cool trains, its the history of America and how we got where we are today. Hopefully someone else will come to appreciate these large hulking stones in the park as much as I do.