Founded in 1833, my hometown of Chicago is the third most populous city in the U.S. after New York and Los Angeles. As the hub of the Midwest, the city is pivotal for both the railroad industry and the airline industry. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was the world’s busiest airport until the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport assumed that designation in 2005. Huge, vibrant and sprawling, Chicago is the home of the blues, deep dish pizza, the Chicago-style hotdog, and the Italian beef sandwich. Chicago is the first builder of the skyscraper and its picturesque skyline across the waters of Lake Michigan is easily recognized worldwide. The city boasts having perhaps the finest collection of architecture in the world.
The name Chicago is derived from the Potawatomi word chicagoua for the native garlic plant which grew in abundance on the south end of Lake. The land was mostly swamps, prairie and mud even after the establishment of Fort Dearborn in 1803. It could be argued that nature never intended for there to be a city here. For the first few decades, it took civil engineering projects of unprecedented scale to establish working sewers, reverse the flow of the river to keep it from flowing into the city’s drinking supply, and to stop the buildings from sinking back into the swamps.
In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed over 4 square miles and left 100,000 homeless and more than 300 people dead. The stone Water Tower in the Near North Side is the most famous surviving structure. Although the fire was one of the largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century, the rebuilding that began afterward helped develop Chicago as one of the most populous and economically important cities in America.
The city has earned several nicknames over the years, some of the better known names are the “Windy City” and “Second City.” Some folks mistakenly believe that the Second City moniker refers to Chicago being the second largest city next to the city of New York for quite some time. In reality, Second City refers to the city’s rebuilding after the fire; the current city is literally the second Chicago after the one that nearly burned down in 1871.
A port city situated on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods that are home to various rich cultures from around the world. The city consists of three large Sides (the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side) each named according to its direction from the downtown area. Chicagoans tend to identify strongly with their neighborhoods, and rivalries between the North and South Sides sometimes run deep when it comes to critical issues like baseball loyalty. In order to understand more about Chicago, visitors need to venture away from the Loop and Michigan Avenue and head out into the vibrant neighborhoods to soak up the local nightlife, sample the wide range of fantastic dining, and see other sites that are important to Chicagoans. Thanks to the city’s massive public transit system, all parts of Chicago are easily accessible.
Chicago is a sports-loving city with two baseball teams (The White Sox and the Cubs), a basketball team (The Bulls), a football team (The Bears), a hockey team (The Chicago Blackhawks) and a soccer team (The Chicago Fire). While college athletics are not one of Chicago’s strong points, Northwestern football and DePaul basketball show occasional signs of life. Chicago sports fans have a lot to keep them occupied.
Chicago is also a drinking town, and you can find bars and pubs just about everywhere in the city. It is believed that Chicago has the second highest bars-per-capita in the U.S. after San Francisco. The best places to drink for the sake of drinking are Wicker Park, the neighboring Logan Square and Bucktown. Do beware of the bars in Lakeview near Wrigley Field which are heavily frequented on weekends, and packed solid all day whenever there is a baseball game.
There is a bond that all Chicagoans share and the saying that you can take a Chicagoan out of Chicago but you cannot take Chicago out of the Chicagoan is very true! Our hometown beckons to those of us that have been transplanted elsewhere and we look forward to frequent visits to this magnificent town.
When visiting Chicago, prepare to cover a lot of ground! With a wealth of iconic sights and neighborhoods to explore, there’s enough to do whether you are visiting for a week or for several months.