CHICAGO (CBS) – The iconic Michigan Avenue Bridge has been renamed to honor the first settler in Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.
CBS 2’s Kate Sullivan reports that a dedication ceremony was held Friday morning for what will hereafter be known as the DuSable Bridge.
DuSable is described by historians as the father of Chicago, an African-American fur trader who married a Native-American woman and fostered racial harmony.
He was also the first person with the vision to see Chicago as the nation’s transportation crossroads.
DuSable – born to a French father and African slave mother – built the first home on the Chicago River, roughly where the Marina Towers stand today.
“He was the first. You can never be a second, first,” Haroon Rashid, founder of Friends of DuSable, said. “The founder of Chicago was Du Sable.”
Rashid said that if DuSable had decided to settle elsewhere, say Milwaukee, Chicago “would be a smelly, stinky, marshy area.”
Craftsman Ralph Frese said, “Du Sable learned about this site. He discovered there was an opportunity here and he created something and I think that should be celebrated.”
Frese credited DuSable with grasping Chicago’s unique location.
“He recognized right away Chicago was a crossroads,” Frese said. “The great Mississippi watershed that drains into the Gulf where du sable came up from … which empties into the North Atlantic.”
Most Chicagoans know DuSable for the South Side Museum, the high school and the harbor that bear his name. History says he was much, much more.
“His spirit of inclusion, diversity, globalization, tolerance. All those things he brought to Chicago as its first immigrant,” Rashid said. “From Oprah to the mayor, whoever comes to Chicago owes him a great appreciation for founding the third largest city in America.”
DuSable married a Pottawatomi woman and their family enjoyed peaceful relations with the various tribes in the area. And the crossroads DuSable saw led to railroads and airplanes.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced a resolution last year calling for the renaming of the Michigan Avenue Bridge for DuSable, the African-American fur trader who established Chicago’s first trading post in 1779.
Reilly said last year he thought it was a perfect plan, because the bridge is right above the site where DuSable settled and founded the City of Chicago.
DuSable was born in Saint-Marc in present-day Haiti, and lived in France, Louisiana and Michigan before coming to the western shores of Lake Michigan. During the Revolutionary War, he helped George Rogers Clark in the battle for the capture of Vincennes.
DuSable’s first trading post was located on what is now Pioneer Court, between the Tribune Tower and the Equitable Building. His holdings had expanded from just one house to a large estate by the time he sold his trading post and left for Peoria in 1800. DuSable died in St. Charles, Mo., in 1818.
As it is, Chicago’s first settler’s name is attached to DuSable High School, 4934 S. Wabash Ave., DuSable Harbor at the foot of Randolph Street, and the DuSable Museum of African-American History at 740 E. 56th Pl.
There is also an obscure street called De Saible, an alternate spelling of DuSable’s name. The street is actually a driveway for the Wentworth Gardens public housing development, running for less than a block heading east from Princeton Avenue between 37th Place and 38th Street. A few Wentworth Gardens buildings have addresses on De Saible Street.
Another street named for DuSable, Jean Avenue, runs for a couple of blocks between Lehigh and Caldwell avenues in the Northwest Side’s Edgebrook neighborhood.
In 1993, several Chicago aldermen introduced an ordinance that would have permanently renamed Lake Shore Drive to DuSable Drive, but the bill died in the City Council Transportation Committee.