Michigan Avenue from the Lake

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Michigan Avenue from the Lake
Drawing: Louis Kurz, Lithography: Chicago Lithographing Company
Chicago Illustrated
8¾ x 11¾ in.
Chicago History Museum, Gift of Miss Charlotte M. Jennings

All aboard! Imagine being on this train. You are heading north into Chicago parallel to the great Michigan Avenue, riding on a set of Illinois Central Railroad tracks alongside Lake Michigan. This interesting image was part of a famous series of Chicago scenes made by artist Louis Kurz for the firm Jevne and Almini, just after the Civil War ended. In it, we can see both the railroad and part of the wealthy center of the city as it was before the great fire of 1871, and as veterans returning home from the war would have found it. Kurz features this scene, in part, because the railroad itself was one of the largest and busiest transportation companies in the county. Senator Stephen A. Douglas sponsored the bill that established the Illinois Central in 1850 with headquarters in Chicago, where it functioned as both a freight carrier and as a commuter line. During the Civil War, the Illinois Central played a critical role in sending soldiers, arms, and other supplies southward from Galena and Chicago to Cairo, Illinois, where they were then transported by rivers or other railroads to the military front in Tennessee and Mississippi. After the war, the Illinois Central continued to play a central part in Chicago’s and the Midwest’s economic boom, extending all the way to New Orleans by the 1890s.      


1. The artist has emphasized certain aspects of Chicago in this view of Michigan Avenue. What do you notice about the landscape? What would this image say to a mid-nineteenth century American about the city?

2. This view of Michigan Avenue is quite unfamiliar to modern people who have spent time in Chicago. How and why?

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