Thursday, May 18, 2017

Last Thursday was the 123rd...

...anniversary of the Pullman Strike so I thought it would be a good occasion to take our weekly Hike down in that neighborhood. It rained on Wednesday, though, so we had to postpone our trip until last night.

While we were down on the Far Southeast Side, I figured we could kill two birds with one stone and visit Big Marsh.

What is "Big Marsh"? (Hint: it's not my brother-in-law Ed Marsh.) According to the Chicago Park District's website (my emphasis):

Park 564 "Big Marsh" is a 278-acre property on the Southeast Side of Chicago in the area commonly known as the Calumet Area Reserve. Once an active industrial property, the site was acquired by the Park District in 2011 and opened as a new public park in 2016. The vision of Big Marsh is to provide a new type of recreation in Chicago that marries habitat restoration with public use. Roughly 45 acres are developed for eco-recreation opportunities including hiking, adventure courses, and off-road biking. The eco-recreation elements are located primarily on existing slag fields where plants have a hard time growing and good habitat creation is unlikely. Other acreage is reserved for more passive recreation including bird-watching and nature walking. All acreage is being developed to protect or further enhance the overall natural habitat of the park property including sensitivity to flora, fauna, and wetlands. Through much planning, investment, and local stakeholder input, Big Marsh is now a safe, open, and inviting park space for Chicago and the neighboring communities.

I wasn't familiar with the area and, besides, we needed to let rush hour traffic die down a little, so we ate dinner in the neighborhood first, at Carm's in Little Italy. (Public transportation would have been difficult so we opted to drive.) Steve, the owner, was happy to see us but commented that we were only there because I felt guilty for walking my dog, Stewart, past the restaurant every day without ever stopping in. (He wasn't too far off.)

After a hearty meal of mostly hot dogs and cheeseburgers, we left 1212 W. Flournoy in two cars a little after six o'clock and arrived at Big Marsh just before seven. With the exception of a couple of people on bicycles the seven of us were the only ones in the park. It didn't seem quite finished and is definitely geared more toward bike-riding. (Yes, pun intended.) But just look at those pictures. Hard to believe you're still in the City of Chicago!

Big Marsh is actually located in South Deering, not Pullman. The largest of the 77 official community areas of Chicago, South Deering was traditionally an industrial neighborhood, consisting of only a small group of homes in the northeast corner with Lake Calumet taking up most of the remainder. It was the home of the now defunct Wisconsin Steel Works, originally the Joseph H. Brown Iron and Steel Company, which opened in 1875 and was the first steel mill in the entire Calumet region. Since the closing of the plant, the neighborhood has gone through an economic depression.

Oh, and South Deering is in the 10th Ward, once the power base of Alderman Edward ("Fast Eddie") Vrdolyak. Remember him?

(It was also the home for a time of the notorious mass murderer Richard Speck -- yikes! -- and it's probably just as well we didn't know that when we were tramping around the place alone.)

After admiring the view, taking some pictures and braving the wind (at least it was warm out!) for about an hour or so we returned to the parking lot. We hadn't made it to Pullman yet and there were still a couple of landmarks I wanted to see. Dele and Michael chose to go back, but Alan, Bradon, Jack, John and I decided to drive over and at least check out the Pullman National Monument.

It was only a few minutes away and all I can say is, Oh My God! (Or, OMG, as the kids say nowadays.) A small area, bounded only by 111th Street on the North, 115th on the South, Cottage Grove to the West and the railroad tracks on the East, the neighborhood contains a very cool church made of greenish stone, a market square (or circle) of some sort as well as blocks and blocks of row houses. We were all tempted to get out and resume our Hike but agreed it was getting too dark. "We should come back here sometime," I said. "Yeah," someone replied, "How about next week?" Everyone nodded enthusiastically, and John said, "It can be Part II of a two-part Hike." "Brilliant!" I decided.

So we drove home with the knowledge that next week, weather permitting, held the promise for a very good Hike. And we'll get there early enough to take plenty of pictures. How come I had never been to Pullman before?!?

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