Chicago is famous as a city built on a grid of streets, each laid out one-eighth of a mile apart from the other, many of them stretching for miles through the city, out into the flat Midwestern horizon.
Some Chicago streets do not fit into that grid, however. Ridge Boulevard is one such street. How did it come to snake in its northwesterly fashion through Chicago’s Far North Side and into the Northern suburbs? The answer is as historical as it is interesting.
First of all, it’s called “Ridge” for a reason; it’s located on the edge of a glacial valley. This is a “U” shaped geographical feature that’s also called a glacial trough. The whole of Lake Michigan was carved out by glacial action. The area was covered by a glacier twice. One such glacier carved out the region from the state of Michigan to Ridge Boulevard and one carved out only as far as Clark Street, which is also a glacial remnant.
The area just east of Ridge was the ancient shoreline of Lake Michigan (formerly Lake Checaugou). As the waters of the lake receded, the ridge remained. Today it is a reminder of the true scope of the history of the Rogers Park and West Ridge area. Who knows, maybe some mastodons made their way up and down what we now know as Ridge Avenue?
Ridge BoulevardGreen Bay Trail began in Chicago at a point which is now the north end of today’s Michigan Boulevard bridge. Note: because the mouth of the Chicago River had not yet been relocated, this area which today is across the river from the site of Fort Sheridan, was actually on the same piece of land as the fort. The river actually curved to run south just west of the fort down what is now Michigan Avenue and turned east to discharge into Lake Michigan at the location of today’s Art Institute (Adams Street).
The Green Bay Trail’s original route ran north on Rush Street to Chicago Avenue. Then northwesterly for a mile to the intersection of North Avenue and Clark Street. Continuing northwesternly, keeping in sight of the shoreline of Lake Michigan as far north as Gross Point in Evanston. Farther north the trail veered northwesterly along what we now call Green Bay Road. By the time it reached Waukegan, the road was almost three miles west of the lakeshore. Passing through Kenosha and Racine the trail was almost five miles distant from the lake. Eventually it ended at Fort Howard near Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Moving ahead toward more recent times, at least by comparison—what we now know as Ridge Boulevard was part of a stagecoach route that went from a fledgling settlement called “Chicago” up to Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and finally ending in Green Bay. The local stop to get on or off the stagecoach was located a few blocks north of Devon on the sest side of the road. Before that time, and since that time, the area around Ridge Boulevard was trod upon by countless and unknown natives and early European settlers.
Fort Dearborn was built in 1803 and destroyed in 1812. It was rebuilt in 1816 and finally abandoned in 1828. Fort Howard was built in 1816 and abandoned in 1841, the troops being relocated to Florida to fight in the Seminole Wars.
In 1833, the War Department appropriated $2,000 to improve the Green Bay trail for use as a military road between the two cities.
Today, Ridge Boulevard is just the street that marks the common border between the former communities of Rogers Park and West Ridge.