Mark Twain incisively noted, “”She is novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time,” which is precisely why locals and tourists should get to know the Midwestern jewel’s past and revel in its continuous progress.
Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60614
Whether you’re interested in Bears running back Walter Payton; nanny turned photographer, Vivian Maier; the real story of the Great Chicago Fire; an overview of the city’s skyscrapers; fashion, art and literature over the years; or want a keener understanding of the spectacular White City of 1893, the Chicago History Museum is the place to visit. A permanent exhibit, Chicago: Crossroads of America, provides a good sketch of Chicago history, and those who want to delve deeply can make an appointment at The Research Center to view archives, print publications, manuscripts, photographs, architectural drawings and assorted memorabilia. The museum is also a gold mine for tours.
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Among the Newberry Library’s impressive collections are substantial materials chronicling the city’s history. You’ll find maps, directories, magazines, newspapers and librarians who can help you track Chicago ancestors and find out about the rich history of the neighborhood in which you now live. Fans of Hemingway, Nelson Algren, Sherwood Anderson and other scribes can look over manuscripts, photographs and artifacts related to Chicago writers. Comb archives of companies that were instrumental in shaping the economy and the history of Chicago and the rest of the country, such as railroads like The Pullman Company, the Illinois Central and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. These repositories are gold mines not just for historians, but for genealogists as well.
Clarke House Museum
Chicago Women’s Park
1827 S. Indiana Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616
Although you might think your place is the oldest house in town when your plumbing goes out, the Clarke House owns that title. Take a free one-hour tour (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 1p.m. or 3 p.m.) to get a feeling for what life in the Chicago prairie was like for pre-Civil war families whne the population was around 4,000. The house The Greek Revival style house is located in the Prairie Avenue Historic District.
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
The exquisite landmark building, built in 1897, is awash in glittering glass mosaics, mother-of-pearl and jewel colored stone as well as housing two breathtaking stained-glass domes including the largest stained glass Tiffany dome on the planet. Serving as the city’s first central public library, the Chicago Cultural Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it offers free public tours (Wednesday to Saturday, 1:15 p.m.), as well as prearranged private tours for adults during the week. Learn about the building and its place in Chicago’s storied past.
Riverwalk – East Bank Club
500 N. Kingsbury Court
Chicago, IL 60654
You can walk, take a double decker bus, boat or even a Segway tour that will give you the basics of Chicago history, but Wateriders guides you through the downtown architectural haven and an interior skyline in kayaks on the Chicago River. The two-and-a-half-hour tour spills the 411 on many of the stunning buildings, but you’ll also better understand the role the river played in transforming Chicago from a one-horse pioneer town to the third largest city in the country. Learn about Chicago’s captains of industry, colorful characters and beloved architects who helped design a world-class city in the Midwest. Tourists who still refer to Chicago as “Al Capone’s place” will go for the “Gangster” tour that Wateriders calls “our unique take on Nelson Algren’s ‘Hustlertown’ kayaking the river at dusk.” Tours take place through the end of October, weather permitting.
Related: Best Historic Landmarks In Chicago
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.