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Then and Now: Washington and Dearborn streets

Written by
Clayton Guse

Circa 1865

Photograph: Courtesy New York Public Library

Ah, Chicago before the fire. The city was very different—a nexus between the industrial East and the agricultural West, full of opportunity. It grew like a weed, and in order to keep up, the city was made mostly of lumber. Wood covered the streets and sidewalks, and since the steel revolution hadn't caught on yet, many of the buildings were, yes, also wooden. This photo of Washington Street looking west from Dearborn Street is a good example of what Chicago looked like back then. Carriages sat on muddy roads by wooden boards and gaslights, just asking to catch fire—and that's exactly what happened in 1871.


Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The dream layout that makes modern-day Chicago an architectural beauty wouldn't have come to fruition had our great city not burned to the ground, and today's view along Washington Street proves how beneficial the Great Chicago Fire really was—from a city-planning perspective. These days, Daley Plaza sits in the area north of the street, and City Hall has been occupying the block north of it between Clark and LaSalle streets since it was completed in 1911. Cars and buses have replaced the horse-drawn carriages, and the downtown area in question is now called the Loop (because of the trains, naturally). 

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