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What’s in a name? The origin of Chicago’s street names


CHICAGO – Driving, navigating or riding on Chicago’s streets can be an adventure, to say the least.

The city has more than 2,500 named streets which add up to over 4,000 miles for vehicles, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The federal government tasked southern Illinois mapmaker James Thompson with creating Chicago’s first official map in 1830. He was assigned the project in an effort to quell the chaos in the City. He went out on a limb and chose to name many streets after local and national figures instead of destinations.

Thompson’s tradition continues to this day, and below is a look at the meaning behind some of the most popular street names in the City.

ADDISON STREET
Named after Dr. Thomas Addison, a British doctor who discovered a cure for a blood disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B12 known as Addisonian anemia. 

ASHLAND AVENUE
It’s named in honor of the Kentucky home of Henry Clay, a lawyer and politician who represented Kentucky in the Senate and House of Representatives. The home was surrounded by ash trees, and a Chicago developer who hailed from Kentucky reportedly chose 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 was in command during the war.

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

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

CLYBOURN AVENUE
This avenue is named for Archibald Clybourn, a butcher at Fort Dearborn who built the city’s first slaughterhouse. This early settler also served as Chicago’s first police constable. 

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 is the founder of Holy Family Church along with St. Ignatius High School. 

DIVERSEY AVENUE
Named after 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 in 1871. For some reason, the street is spelled differently than how Diversy spelled his name, he didn’t have an “e” before the y.

FULLERTON AVENUE
This avenue is named for 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 tycoon.  

HALSTED STREET
This street is named after two brothers who visited Chicago only once, Caleb O. and William M. Halsted of New York. The brothers were business partners with 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 which was originally going to be called “Irvington” but another town in Illinois 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 for Fort Dearborn. He fled to Milwaukee and returned to Chicago a few years later where he served as the 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 doctor in 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 in wake of 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 double-decked drive is named in honor of 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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