Beautifully engraved RARE SPECIMEN certificate from the South Side Elevated Railroad Company
printed in the 1890's. This historic document was printed by Western Bank Note Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of eagle with a Union Shield with a waterway onthe right and farm and train on the left. This is the first time we have seen this certificate and it may be unique.
January 14, 1897 - The South Side Elevated Railroad incorporated to acquire bankrupt South Side Rapid Transit Company. The franchises were transferred to the new company two weeks later; title to the physical plant would not be transferred until July 28th.
April 1, 1897 - Following the recommendation of employee Frank Julian Sprague, the Sargent & Lundy company (who had been retained by the South Side Elevated to supervise the electrification of their line) offers to equip 120 of the South Side's 180 passenger coaches with electric lights, heaters, motors, trucks, controls, braking systems, and perhaps most importantly a multiple unit (MU) train control system. MU, Sprague's personal invention, existed then only on paper and the experimental system promised to be able to allow one man to control a train of any length from a single operating position, with operating cabs in both ends of every car. Such a system had never been tried before on any transit system.
October 18, 1897 - Following the completion of the Union Loop elevated structure, South Side trains are diverted from the Congress Street Stub to the Loop elevated line. The South Side would be the only company to run steam trains over the Loop, operating on the Inner Loop in a counterclockwise direction. Concurrent with the opening of the Loop, the Congress Stub is deactivated.
November 12, 1897 - The first demonstration of Sprague's MU on Chicago tracks takes place for officials of the South Side and Union Elevated companies when three cars were run on the 63rd Street center track. Power is supplied from the CCRy's 63rd Street streetcar line. A reporter aboard from the Chicago Times-Herald declares the test an unqualified success.
November 17, 1897 - A five-car test train of MU-equipped South Side Elevated cars begins an exhaustive testing period, running in actual revenue passenger operation on the Metropolitan West Side Elevated (the South Side's own power house was still incomplete). The test continued through the end of the year. No significant problems are encountered.
April 15, 1898 - The first electrically operated train runs over the entire South Side Elevated line. Five days later, 20 cars are placed in service. That night, 17 are withdrawn from service due to defective rheostats. The problem is soon corrected and the cars are placed back in service.
July 27, 1898 - The conversion to electric traction on the South Side Elevated is complete and all steam locomotives are withdrawn from service.
The South Side "L"
Though the distinction of operating the first elevated railway does not belong to Chicago (New York city's, opening in 1867, has that honor ), Chicago did try many times to create such a service. With the first attempt in 1869, over 70 companies were created for the purpose of started an elevated rail system between 1872 and 1900. The accolade of opening Chicago's first rapid transit line went to the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company. Incorporated in 1888, it was originally envisioned to reach all the way to the Illinois-Indiana state line. Indeed, many counted on this happening, such as Frank J. Lewis, who, when laying out his southeast side subdivision between 108th and 114th Streets and Avenue O and the state line, fully expected a rapid transit line would be built to 106th and Indianapolis to serve his area. Alas, this never happened. When it opened in 1892, the South Side Rapid Transit went from a terminal at Congress Street to 39th Street, a distance of 3.6 miles, all in a straight line. This was accomplished by one of the S.S.R.T.'s most unique features: its route was completely through city-owned alleys. Earning it the nickname "Alley 'L'", this was done to circumvent the difficulty of obtaining consent signatures from the property owners along the streets, something required by Cities and Villages Act of 1872. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune noted one of the "L"'s most distinguishing features, its usefulness to all citizens of the city, by observing the variation of the passengers, from members of "the lunch pail crowd" to passengers "resembling gentlemen." Another aspect of the South Side "L" shared only by the Lake Street Line was its use of steam locomotives, just like those used on conventional grade-level railroads. Used in the days before electric traction- running a train electrically from a "third rail"- was commonplace (though it was used on the tram system designed for the Colombian Exposition only a few years later ), these locomotives were used to haul the rolling stock- the cars and vehicles of a railroad- until a third rail was put in place in 1898.
As was to be done with the "L" for the majority of its life, it wasn't soon until public demand and municipal attractions would necessitate the expansion of the line. When Chicago was chosen in 1890 to host the World's Colombian Exposition and Jackson Park was selected as the fair's site, the Alley "L" began making plans to extend its line directly into the fairgrounds. It was decided to continue through alleys, making a slight curve across Wabash, Michigan, Indiana and Calumet Avenues at about 40th Street, southbound until 63rd Street. There, it curved east, utilizing the street this time due to the ease of getting permission due to the vacant nature of the property along the street at that time. The line terminated in Jackson Park at a station of the same name. In 1903, the Englewood Elevated Railroad Company, sponsored by and later absorbed into the South Side "L", was created to build the long planned branch into the growing Englewood neighborhood. Leaving the main line at about 59th Street, it wound its way to 63rd Street, then west to a terminal at Loomis Street, later extended a few blocks to Ashland Avenue. The line opened in 1905. A branch was included in the charter that left the Englewood at Harvard Avenue and went south less than one mile to 69th Street. This short branch, called the Normal Park Branch, was built and opened in 1907 to serve a growing real estate development being created at that time. The line was abandoned in 1954. (For non-Chicagoans, see maps in the Maps Section for visual references.)
Another division that is closely associated with another of Chicago's most famous (and infamous) landmarks was the Stock Yards Branch. The elevated structure that connected to the "L" was built to replace a grade-level train run by the Stock Yards. It left the main line and went west at the same point when the main line turns east to cross Indiana Avenue. It continued until reaching the yards, at which point in terminated in a loop around what was called "Packingtown." The line was created for the purpose of transporting the vast quantity of workers to and from their south side homes. At the same point, another branch was created going east to the Kenwood neighborhood, terminating at 42nd Place. As Kenwood became more and more urbanized, around the period of 1905 to 1915, there was a lot of demolition of the existing housing stock and replaced with large scale apartment buildings. The people who populated them were middle and lower-middle class. Many of the folks who ended up settling there were Stock Yards workers. Says preservationist Timothy Whitman, "it made all the sense in the world to expand that "L" so that it ran directly from Kenwood over to the Stock Yards." The Stock Yards branch was opened in 1908; the Kenwood in 1907. Both ran shuttles to the Indiana Avenue station. Occasionally some went to the loop or south and in later years, some Kenwood-Stock Yards through trips were operated. Both lines were later abandoned when the necessity was gone.
History from chicago "L" Org.