Friday, June 6, 2014

Elevated Railway Inaugural Run -- June 6, 1892

The elevated and the Auditorium (
Jill and I took the bus downtown yesterday for dental appointments on Washington Boulevard and walking into the building and walking out again we were serenaded by the racket from the elevated trains on Wabash Avenue.  The noise is another one of those Chicago sounds that the city puts in your head for good.  Between my ears, it rattles around alongside the never-ending announcement at Riverview’s Shoot the Chutes (Keep your arms inside the boat.  Don’t rock the boat) and the roar you hear from outside Wrigley Field when, occasionally, something good happens inside the Friendly Confines.

I did a little checking, and it turns out that at 7:00 a.m. on this day, June 6, way back in 1892 the first elevated train in Chicago began operation, leaving Thirty-ninth Street with 27 men and three women on board.  According to The Tribune the train arrived at Congress Street 14 minutes later.  “There was no brass band, no oratory, no enthusiasm, but the opening was a decided success just the same,” the paper reported.  [Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1892]

Patronage was brisk with the evening rush hour trains crowded enough so that many passengers had to stand, hanging to straps.  “There was not a hitch during the entire day,” The Tribune reported. ”The running was smooth, and the elevated structure bore the strain with little tremor.  Inside there was less noise than in a cable car . . . The new sensation of being whisked down-town . . . so impressed many of those occupying seats that it served to loosen their tongues, and apparently sane gentlemen, entire strangers to one another, freely discussed the novel, but none the less satisfactory journey without the usual formality of introductions.”

The new cars, a pale olive green on the outside with interiors furnished in oak and cherry, received particular praise.  “New York has never seen such gay ones as those put into service yesterday,” The Tribune crowed.  “The seats are roomy and comfortable, with cushions . . . The windows are wide, and at present have the added novelty of opening easily.”

First generation elevated steam engine a product of the Baldwin Locomotive Works (
Not everything on the first day of operation was positive.  “. . . the people living on either side of the track had seemingly forgotten the warning about the start . . . Late risers were confronted with the alternative of lying in bed till darkness came again or watching until there would be no train in front, giving them the opportunity of pulling down the all-concealing blind,” according to The Tribune.

Things were tough also for the students and teachers at Haven Public School at Wabash and Fifteenth Streets.  A teacher at the school said, “The noise and confusion in our school-rooms are simply dreadful and distracting in the extreme. For a long time we have had the clanging bells and the steady rumble of the cable cars in front of our building; on both sides of us in the rear, facing State street, an extensive junk shop where the principal business seems to be the purchase and crashing deposit of iron . . . now we have the elevated road which adds its share of noise to the distraction of teachers and scholars alike.”

There was also a huge jam-up at the Congress Street station where many people “not caring to brave the crush at the ticket-seller’s window, became disgusted and went away to take the cable cars, which, however crowded, admit the possibility of being boarded.”

The el at its beginning in 1892 (
The Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Company began this first phase of its operation with 20 engines and 60 coaches with 18 trains running during rush hours, each made up of three or four coaches.  The line was set up to run 24 hours a day with trains from midnight until 5:00 a.m. running every 20 minutes.  From 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. trains arrived every 14 minutes, and from 7:00 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. every six minutes.  From 8:30 until 9:30 a train came every three minutes, hustling folks from Thirty-Ninth Street to Congress Avenue in 14 minutes, less than half the time it took the cable cars that had to dodge pedestrian and equestrian traffic the whole way.

The line was gradually extended over the next few months until it reached Jackson Park on May 12, 1893 in time for the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Over a century later, it is still with us, more or less, snaking its way through the city, bringing its great democratic clatter to the windows and doorways of rich and poor alike.

No comments: