What’s in a name? The Origin of Chicago Street Names

CHICAGO – Driving, navigating or cruising the streets of Chicago can be an adventure, to say the least.

The city has over 2,500 named streets that total over 4,000 miles for vehicles, buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The federal government commissioned southern Illinois cartographer James Thompson to create the first official map of Chicago in 1830. He was entrusted with the project in an effort to calm the chaos in the city. He took a risk and chose to name many streets after local and national figures rather than destinations.

The Thompson tradition continues to this day, and below is a look at the meanings of some of the city’s most popular street names.

ADDISON STREET
Named after Dr. Thomas Addison, a British physician who discovered a cure for a blood disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B12 known as Addison’s Anemia.

ASHLAND AVENUE
It is named for the Kentucky house of Henry Clay, a lawyer and politician who represented Kentucky in the Senate and House of Representatives. The house was surrounded by ash trees, and a Chicago developer originally from Kentucky is said to have chosen the name.

BELMONT AVENUE
This is named after the Battle of Belmont in 1861. The Civil War battle was the first time Ulysses S. Grant commanded during the war.

CERMAK ROAD
Named for Czech American Anton Cermak who served as mayor of Chicago from 1931 to 1933. He was assassinated nearly two years into his first term during an appearance in Miami with President-elect Franklin D.Roosevelt.

CLARK STREET
This busy street is named after American Revolutionary War soldier George Rogers Clark who captured most of the Northwest Territory from the British.

CLYBOURN AVENUE
This avenue is named after Archibald Clybourn, a Fort Dearborn butcher who built the city’s first slaughterhouse. This first settler was also Chicago’s first police officer.

DEARBORN STREET
Named after Fort Dearborn which was built on a small hill along the Chicago River in 1808 and named for President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn.

DAMEN AVENUE
Originally called Robey Street until it was renamed in honor of Father Arnold Damen in 1927. Damen was born in Holland in 1815, moved to Chicago in 1857, and was the founder of Holy Family Church with the St. Ignatius High School.

DIVERSIFIED AVENUE
Named after the 19th century German-born businessman and brewer, Michael Diversy, owner of the Lill & Diversy Brewery Company. It was the largest American brewery outside of New York until it was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. For some reason the street is spelled differently than how Diversy spelled its name , it had no “e” before the y .

FULLERTON AVENUE
This avenue is named after Alexander Fullerton. He was born and raised in Vermont and moved to Chicago in 1833 and became a successful lawyer, real estate investor, and lumber magnate.

HALSTED STREET
This street is named after two brothers who only visited Chicago once, Caleb O. and William M. Halsted of New York. The brothers were business partners of William Ogden and invested in real estate in the 1830s; and when Ogden later became Chicago’s first mayor in 1837, he named a street after them in gratitude.

IRVING PARK ROAD
This road is named after Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”. The road was named after the neighborhood originally intended to be called “Irvington”, but another town in Illinois has already claimed it, so it became “Irving Park”.

KINZIE AVENUE
Named after trapper and trader John Kinzie, one of Chicago’s first settlers and the city’s first documented murderer. In 1812, Kinzie fatally stabbed Jean Lalime, an interpreter from Fort Dearborn. He fled to Milwaukee and returned to Chicago a few years later where he served as a justice of the peace in the 1820s.

RUSH STREET
This narrow stretch of street is named after Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia native considered the father of American psychiatry. Rush was a physician during the American Revolutionary War and is also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who signed the Declaration of Independence.

SHERIDAN ROAD
This road is named after Philip Henry Sheridan who coordinated military relief efforts in the city following the Great Chicago Fire. The Civil War general was also in the city when the firestorm raged and is credited with helping to slow it down.

WACKER DRIVE
This two-level road is named after Charles H. Wacker, a Chicago businessman and chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission. Wacker is credited with pushing the idea of ​​a multi-level road which was completed in 1926.

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