– By Tom Schaffner
With 78 neighborhoods stretched over 234 square miles, Chicago needs an efficient and reliable transportation system to move people from one destination to another. That’s where our city’s extensive rapid transit system (the various CTA train lines) comes in.
Over the past 125 years, Chicago’s elevated railway has grown from a single line — the “Alley L” which transported passengers from Congress Street to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition on the South Side — to eight lines that fan out across the metropolitan area like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The 102–mile system, which is the second largest and second busiest in the United States, boards approximately 720,00 riders every weekday morning and provides transportation services to more than 235 million riders annually,
The system that exists today, however, is not the system of days gone by. Over the years, the Chicago Transit Authority has abandoned and ultimately demolished seven entire lines and branches since it took control of the system in 1947. These CTA train lines were eliminated because they were underutilized or were redundant to other forms of transportation, such as bus routes, streetcars or newly-constructed expressways.
Below is a list of elevated CTA train lines that have been discontinued and demolished since 1947:
Logan Square Line
Before the construction of the Milwaukee-Dearborn Street subway (1951), an elevated line headed west from the Loop to Paulina then jogged north to Milwaukee Ave. The line then traveled north to Logan Square where it terminated above a newsstand near Kedzie and Logan Blvd. The line opened for business on May 6, 1895. Years later, after the subway was built, it provided the Logan Square Line with a more direct route to the Loop. Once this connection was made, it rendered the Paulina portion of the line obsolete and unnecessary. It was abandoned and demolished in 1964.
Humboldt Park Branch
From 1895 until 1954, an elevated line connected Wicker Park and the north side of Humboldt Park. Consisting of only six stations, the branch proceeded west on a right of way that paralleled North Avenue and terminated at Lawndale Avenue. A huge decline in ridership was the primary reason for ceasing operation — in 1910 the lined averaged 12,550 passengers per day but by 1951 it only carried 1,250 passengers per day. The branch was abandoned on May 4, 1952.
Stock Yards Branch
Built in 1908, this elevated branch ran west from the main South Side Line (Green Line) at Indiana and continued for 2.9 miles, serving eight stations along the way. When it reached the Union Stock Yards, it made a counterclockwise loop, stopping at three huge meatpacking plants— Morris & Company, Swift & Company and Armour & Company. When the Stock Yards began to decline in importance in the 1930s, the line lost ridership and, ultimately, was abandoned on October 6, 1957. The CTA replaced the L with the #43 bus line, which followed the exact same route into the Yards. The move to close the line was precipitous — the Stock Yards itself closed in 1971.
This line, six stations and 1.25 miles in length went into service September 20, 1907. It separated from the main South Line (Green Line) at Indiana Ave. and proceeded eastbound to 42nd Place (near Lake Shore Drive). When ridership on the nearby Stock Yards Line began to decline in the 1930s, the Kenwood line began to decline, as well. The Kenwood line also was costly to maintain and had equipment and infrastructure (stations) that were in poor condition. The CTA shut the branch down on Nov. 30, 1957.
Serving nine stations in Chicago’s western suburbs, the Westchester Branch was 5.5 miles in length and opened with great fanfare on September, 30, 1926. It ran north from Mannheim and 22nd (Westchester) to Roosevelt Road where it then turned east (passing through Bellwood and Maywood) and continued all the way to Desplaines Ave. (Oak Park). Built to capitalize on the future growth of Westchester as a suburb, the line was a little ahead of its time. It closed in 1951 due to a lack of riders. Ironically, Westchester began to experience significant growth only a few years after the line was abandoned by the CTA.
Normal Park Branch
Less than a mile long, the Normal Park Branch ran from the main South Line (Green Line) in Englewood at Harvard St. south to 69th St, serving four stations along the way. It opened on May 25, 1907 but it never attracted many passengers. By late 1953 it was generating less than 100 fares a day, barely enough for a bus line but not for rapid transit service. The CTA shut down the line on Jan. 29, 1954.
Opened in 1895, the Garfield Park Line ran from the Wells Street Terminal in the Loop (Wells and Quincy) paralleling Van Buren and Congress all the way to the western edge of the city (Cicero Ave.) and, eventually, to the near west suburbs (Oak Park, Bellwood, Maywood). When the Congress Expressway (Eisenhower) was under construction in the mid 1950s, the 50-plus year Garfield Park Line was demolished in favor of a new rail line (Blue Line) that would occupy the median of the new expressway.
For a fun CTA train experience and to see what remains of the old lines, consider booking a Chicago walking tour with L Stop Tours!
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.