Streetcar Lines: The Broadway Line

Edgewater’s First Trolley

 By LeRoy Blommaert

Edgewater’s first trolley ran down Broadway in Edgewater and connected downtown Evanston to downtown Chicago, though for the latter that connection was somewhat indirect, at least initially. A trolley was the popular name for an electrically powered streetcar that obtained its power via a trolley pole with a wheel or “shoe” at the top that glided under an overhead electric power line. Edgewater’s first trolley line was also the first on the north side and only the second in Chicago. The first was the Calumet Electric Railway Company on the far south side. 

Edgewater’s first trolley was its fourth rail line. 

The first was the railroad that forms it western boundary. Originally named the Chicago and Milwaukee RR it came through in 1855—very early in Edgewater’s history. However, there was initially no stop in Edgewater until sometime before 1857. The Chicago Tribune of September 16, 1857 refers to the Chittenden station as the first one on the line out of Chicago . The stop was renamed Rose Hill in 1859 when Rose Hill Cemetery opened. For most of its history, it was known as the Milwaukee Division of the Chicago & North Western RR. 

The second was the Evanston Division of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul which ran in Rogers Park and Edgewater along the same right-of-way now occupied by the CTA’s Red Line. The first train came through in May 1885 but likewise did not stop in Edgewater. Like the North Western, the St. Paul was a steam railroad. (Note: you can learn more about both railroads on our website.) 

The third rail line was the High Ridge horse car shuttle of the North Chicago Street Railway Company that operated along Clark Street between Devon and Lawrence. It connected to the main horse car line at Lawrence for the trip to “Limits’ just south of Diversey where a connection was made with the cable car for the trip downtown. The exact date of the opening of the shuttle is not known but it was before 1892, as best can be surmised from available sources. It later was converted to trolley. 

Edgewater’s fourth rail line and first trolley was incorporated in 1891 as the Chicago and Evanston Street Railway. It had an Edgewater connection (in addition to the physical one): one of its key promoters and investors was none other than Edgewater’s founder, John Lewis Cochran who in 1921 described his efforts: 

There was a horse car line in Evanston avenue from the “limits barn,” as it was called, north one and one-half miles to Montrose avenue. I wanted Mr. Yerkes to change it to a trolly line and build north to Evanston. He laughed at me and said he would some time, but that did not satisfy me. Then I conceived the Chicago and Evanston Electric to connect with the horse car line. The building of this road was the hardest task I ever undertook. I obtained all the right of way and all of the frontage consents myself, and along with the late Marshal Field, John J. Mitchell, Samuel Insull and Charles L. Hutchinson, I built it. It was seven and one-half miles long, equivalent to fifteen miles of single track. We subsequently sold it to the North Chicago Street Railway, Mr. Yerkes’ line. [ Note: Yerkes was Charles Tyson Yerkes who came from Philadelphia and acquired controlling interest in the west side and north side streetcar companies beginning in 1886. A controversial figure he was the historical subject upon whom the lead character in Theodore Dreiser novel The Titan is based. Also, Cochran remembered the southern boundary incorrectly. It was today’s Irving Park Blvd. not Montrose] 

The incorporators changed the name of the company to the Chicago North Shore Street Railway Company in 1892 to avoid confusion with the St. Paul’s Evanston Division which originally had the corporate name the Chicago and Evanston Railroad. The power plant and trolley “barn” was at Broadway and Ardmore. The building still exists today, though reduced in size from the original and stripped of its original cooper cornice. (You can search our website for more information about it.) 

The line opened for operation in June, 1893, and initially ran from Graceland (since renamed Irving Park) in Chicago to Calvary in Evanston. By the end of August cars ran as far north as Emerson in Evanston. The route was along Evanston (renamed Broadway) north from Graceland to Devon then west on Devon to Clark, north on Clark to Howard, then north on Chicago Avenue in Evanston to Dempster, west on Dempster to Sherman, then north on Sherman to Emerson. 

The organizer’s plan had been for its trolleys to link up with the cable car terminal at “Limits” just south of Diversey by using Yerkes’ North Chicago Street Railway right of way along Evanston Avenue between Graceland and the cable terminal. It was a horse-car shuttle. However Cochran and his investor’s sought to have Yerkes electrify the line. Whatever were Yerkes’ real intentions, neighbors along the line opposed erecting trolley lines and polls. Electric operations of streetcars was a relatively new concept (in Chicago at least), and there were fears about people being electrocuted. In addition, for aesthetic reasons residents did not want their neighborhood “marred” by those “unsightly” wires and poles. Thus, initially, Cochran’s trolley ended at Irving Park, where passengers had to transfer to the horse car shuttle, and then transfer again to the cable car at “Limits” for the ride downtown, each time paying another fare. It was not a good arrangement. With the transfer of southbound passengers at Irving Park, the horse car became crowded almost immediately. After Yerkes secured control of the Chicago North Shore Street Railway, he allowed its trolleys to get to the cable car terminal via Halsted and Clark to Diversey. 

To deal with neighborhood opponents, Yerkes gradually reduced the number of horse cars on the Evanston Ave shuttle. That led to less frequent service and more crowding. Eventually, the neighbors gave up and this segment was made ready for trolley operations. When the construction was completed, trolleys of the Chicago North Shore Street Railway Company made the journey directly down Evanston Ave to the Limits Barn. This was in the spring of 1896. However, it was not until 10 years later in October 1906, that passengers could proceed downtown without having to transfer to another car. That was when cable operations ended on the north side. 

In its second year of operation, a Chicago Tribune reporter took a trip by trolley from Evanston to Whiting Indiana, transferring several times. Here is his description of the portion of his trip in Edgewater: 

By this time the car had proceeded southward on Evanston avenue into the pleasant neighborhood of Edgewater. The road had more the air of a city street and wagons from the down-town stores were occasionally met. On one of the lamp posts the man read the sign “North Fifty-ninth street.” [currently Foster Ave.] The lake was still visible at the eastern ends of the cross streets, but the subdivided truck gardens were replaced by handsome villas in still more handsome grounds. (When this article is posted on our website, we will have a link to the entire article, which appeared in the September 16, 1894 edition.) 

When Yerkes sold his interests in his north side and west side streetcar companies in 1899, there was a reorganization. All of his lines owned by the North Chicago Street Railroad Company were acquired by the newly organized Chicago Union Traction Company; the other “suburban” lines (including the Chicago North Shore Street Railway Company) were acquired by the newly organized Chicago Consolidated Traction Company. However, through agreement, the Chicago Union Traction Company operated the cars of the Chicago Consolidated Traction. In 1908 the Chicago Railways Company acquired the lines of the Chicago Union Traction Company through foreclosure. In 1910 the north and west side lines outside of the City of Chicago were acquired by the newly organized County Traction Company. In December 1910, the line into Evanston was severed at Howard Street. In 1914 the four streetcar companies in the City of Chicago were organized as the Chicago Suface Lines. The CSL operated Chicago streetcars until the Chicago Transit Authority assumed control in 1947. The CTA also assumed control of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. Before this the streetcar and “L” lines were operated by two separate and competing companies. 

Trolleys operated on Broadway until February 16, 1957, when they were replaced by buses; however buses were substituted for trolleys on weekends beginning on September 5, 1954. Over the years there were several revisions to the route, mostly on the southern end and involving different ways of “looping the loop.” For two short periods the line was combined with the section that ran on south State Street ending at 119th St. At the north end, in 1932 the line was extended west on Devon to Kedzie, but then at the end of 1947 it was cut back to Ravenswood where it used the Schreiber loop at the Devon car barn. 

While there are several photos of streetcars on the Edgewater portion of Broadway, they are of the streamlined “Green Hornet” streetcars, called PCCs, taken in the late 1950s; the only photograph of an earlier streetcar the author has been able to find is the one shown in figure 1; it shows a truncated view of an open car at the Ardmore car barn and power house. (Photos of open trolley cars anywhere in Chicago are quite rare, as they were discontinued quite early as not being economical in Chicago’s multi-seasonal climate.) A builder’s photo of two types of cars in the original fleet are shown in figures 2 and 3. [Editor’s note: since this article was written two additional early photographs of streetcars in Edgewater along Broadway have been discovered. Both are at Bryn Mawr.]

For further reading see: “Competing Rails—The Milwaukee Road’s Legacy in Evanston and Wilmette” Dispatch Number 2 of the Shore Line Historical Society. See also: Chicago Streetcar Pictoral: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, Bulletin 146 of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association. 


Table of Key Dates for Broadway Line
1891-08-15 Incorporated as Chicago and Electric
1892-07 Name change to Chicago North Shore Electric Street Railroad
1893-06 First day of operation: Ardmore to Graceland (Irving Park)
1893-06-10 First day operated north to Calvary in Evanston
1893-07-01 First day operated north to Dempster
1893-08-28 First day operated north to Emerson
1894-10-02 First day operated on Halsted to Diversey
1895-03-04 Fire destroys power house and car barn at Ardmore
1896 Spring First day of through service on Broadway to the cable car at Limits south of Diversey
1899-02-27 Assets of CNSSt Ry were acquired by the Chicago Consolidated Traction Co.
1906 First day operated into the Loop directly
1910-12-27 Service terminated at Howard Street
1918-01-02 Cars used both the loop at Ardmore and the loop to the east of the Devon car barn
1932-07-10 Cars routed west on Devon to Kedzie
1937-08-19 New Broadway State line created; some cars ran to 119th and Morgan on south side.
1939-05-15 Cars cut back to Lake St because of rebuilding of State St. bridge over the river.
1947 CTA took operational control
1947-12-12 PCC cars introduced
1947-12-15 Route cut back at Clark-Schreiber loop
1949-05-28 Cars routed over new State St. bridge; cars ran again to 119th and Morgan
1954-09-05 Bus Service substituted on weekends
1955-12-03 Through service discontinued. Cars replaced by buses on south State Street section; north section becomes Route 36
1957-02-16 Last day of streetcar operations