Back of the Yards
Rich History on Chicago's South Side
As part of the New City community on the South Side of Chicago, the Back of the Yards is a historic neighborhood bordered by Pershing road to the north, Amtrak rail tracks to the east, Garfield Boulevard (55th Street) to the south and Western Avenue to the west. The real estate consists mostly of brick two and four-flats, two-story single-family homes, bungalows, raised ranches, and some condos. Many have small yards, and some even have garages.
The Back of the Yards neighborhood has a very rich history. It revolves around the Union Stock Yards, which experienced rapid growth in the late 19th century after the invention of the refrigerated boxcar. The stockyards employed thousands of European immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Ukraine. The lives of these immigrants have been described as extremely hard due to air pollutants, long hours, and low pay. Consequently, the yards were the site of many struggles between labor and capital in the name of workers’ rights. Many current labor laws can be traced back to the slaughterhouses in the Back of the Yards. Fun fact: the stench of the pig stockyards was so strong that children who grew up in the Back of the Yards would at times become nauseous at first exposure to fresh country air.
While the stockyards (and the stench) have been gone since the 1960’s, some remnants of this infamous industrial explosion still remain. The Union Stock Gate can be seen at Exchange Avenue at Peoria Street, as well as a statue in memory of Chicago firefighters that died in the line of duty. The area is also known for two famous churches. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, at Hermitage and 48th Street, was originally for the Polish community. It now holds services in English, Spanish and Polish, and its stained glass is definitely something to admire. Holy Cross Catholic Church at Wood and 45th Street was initially a Lithuanian church. Services are now held exclusively in Spanish, and tamales can be purchased near the front steps. The interior, like St. Joseph’s, is an excellent example of the Eastern European Baroque style.
The most famous park in the Back of the Yards is definitely Sherman Park, located at 1301 W. 52nd Street. Visitors will immediately notice that the park is surrounded by a lagoon. Once one crosses over the water, there are countless activities to enjoy. The island features tennis courts, baseball fields, basketball courts, jogging paths, and even a pool. An indoor gymnasium and auditorium are also available for when the weather turns frightful. A trip to Sherman Park is definitely worth the time, even if it is just to marvel at the landscape architecture. Fun fact: The park was designed by Daniel Burnham, the architect and city planner best known for the construction of the “White City” in Chicago which hosted the World Fair in 1893.
As part of the Modern Schools Across Chicago (MSAC) program, which builds new, LEED certified facilities, the Back of the Yards neighborhood will gain a brand-new, sustainable high school, which is slated to be ready for students in 2013. The school will include top-of-the-line amenities such as a college resource center, science and computer labs, library and media resource center, and a gymnasium and natatorium.
The Back of the Yards neighborhood is host to so many great eateries that even the pickiest patron will be able to find something to satisfy. CRD tip: enjoy a home-style Mexican meal at La Cecina. Not only is the food great, but you can save money by taking advantage of its BYOB policy.
The Ashland bus #9 and Ashland express X9 go all the way north to Wrigleyville and south to 95th street. To get to the Loop, take the #47 along 47th Street and get off at the Dan Ryan Expressway to transfer to a northbound CTA Red Line train.
For times and additional travel information please visit www.transitchicago.com
Back of the Yards Links