Cram’s Chicago and Suburbs: Street Names, Surface, Elevated, and Steam Railways (ca. 1940)


Studies in urban histories or historical geography that emphasize North American cities’ footprints on the landscape most often designate an era of “streetcar neighborhoods” or “streetcar suburbs,” characterized by an outer ring of neighborhoods of a particular density where most or all residences and businesses developed within walkable range of streetcar lines.  Indeed, the degree to which residential development was shaped by access to public transportation in the era before such landscapes were reshaped to accommodate automobile-scale development is visible on many city maps from the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. 

This particular map, by commercial publisher George F. Cram (the former Chicago firm moved to Indianapolis), was sold folded, the North and South Sides of Chicago appearing on recto and verso.  It was designed for convenience, yet was also meant to be a comprehensive guide to all the city’s neighborhoods.  Perhaps most notable is that only very few neighborhoods were not within walking distance to one or another electric streetcar or “surface car” line, designated here in red.  High traffic areas are also served by elevated or “steam railroad” lines, and some further “railroad suburbs,” like Franklin Park and Park Ridge at upper left, are only served by the latter.  The map, ca. 1940, thus preserves a portrait of “pre-war” Chicago’s gridded urban footprint, giving the impression that future lines would ostensibly accommodate newer streetcar neighborhoods further out; but this did not happen.  Over the next twenty years the surface lines would be dismantled, as they were in Los Angeles and many other cities, and replaced by more flexible but potentially more ephemeral buses, leaving only the elevated and steam (later diesel) lines to constitute the Chicago region’s permanent rail transit infrastructure.  Those buses would meander about a new suburban land-use pattern of highways, frontage roads, and cul-de-sacs, designed neither around public transit nor in many cases with even the thought of accommodating it.



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The George F. Cram Company, Inc. History:


Cram’s Chicago and Suburbs: Street Names, Surface, Elevated, and Steam Railways.  Indianapolis : George F. Cram Company, ca. 1940.  The Newberry Library, map3C G4104.C6 1940 .C7. © Herff Jones, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.