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Exploring Old Town

Chicago VT meet day five

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Breakfast time at Goddess and the Baker

As I did yesterday, I opted for a leisurely start to today rather than join the early birds for a walk. It gave me a chance to sleep until my normal waking hour around seven, for the first time on this trip, and to wash my hair! I met up with Steve and Amelie at nine for another relaxing breakfast at Goddess and the Baker, then headed to the L with the rest of the group.

Breakfast at Goddess and the Baker, Chicago (taken by my friend Karolina, who was breakfasting upstairs!)

We travelled just one stop to Sedgwick in the Old Town neighbourhood where Rich's friend Giovina led us on a walking tour. Old Town is not, somewhat to my surprise, the old heart of Chicago, but rather one of its neighbourhoods. It takes its name from art fairs held in this area in the 1940s, ‘Old Town Holidays’. However, it is certainly home to many buildings older than most in the city. There are Victorian era houses and even one of just seven buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Almost immediately we were on quiet streets that contrasted significantly with the bustle of the River North area where we were staying, just one stop away on the L. They were lined with some of those old houses, some built of wood despite a ban on the use that material following the fire. I got the impression that Old Towners like to defy the rules and conventions. The streets here don’t always follow the grid pattern of the rest of the city, and the area has often attracted those who seek an alternative lifestyle: hippies, gays and lesbians, sex workers, artists and performers. One of the first buildings pointed out by our guide Giovina was a bar, the Twin Anchors, which Frank Sinatra used to frequent.

The Twin Anchors, and nearby house

Clapboard house

St. Michael’s RC church

This area was once home to many Native American nations, including the Potawatomi, Miami, and Illinois, and was an important trading centre due to its proximity to Lake Michigan. After their forcible removal from the land it was settled mainly by German-Catholic immigrants. They were responsible for building one of the neighbourhood’s gems, and certainly a highlight of our walk, St. Michael’s church.

Door detail, St Michael's RC Church

A leaflet I picked up in the church starts thus:

On October 9, 1871, mid-morning, the great bells in St. Michael’s tower began to toll a warning, slowly, sonorously. It was a bright and dry day, a little more than two years since the dedication of the imposing new church.

The leaflet goes on to describe how, as the fire jumped the Chicago river and started to devour the buildings of the North Side, ‘the German parishioners filled the wood-cobbled streets and planked sidewalks, hoping the massive walls of St. Michael’s would resist the fire.’ Miraculously they did, although the other buildings on the site (convent, school) were destroyed and the bell tower had crumbled.

Two years after the fire, in October 1873, the church had been restored and today stands as one of those seven buildings in the city to have (more or less) survived the fire. We spent some time exploring the inside, where I loved the stained glass which I read later was imported from Germany at the start of the 20th century.

In St Michael's RC Church

The beautiful ceiling

The altar

Stained glass

Old Town streets

From here Giovina led along some of the neighbourhood’s prettiest streets. We saw several studios of local artists which from photos she showed us looked lovely inside but which aren’t, unfortunately, open to the public. However there were some lovely ‘arty’ details to enjoy on the exteriors.

Artists' studio detail


Building details

Indeed, everywhere we went there were lovely details to photograph, and a few that made us smile, including one house with a duck pond in its tiny front garden!


Houses in Old Town

Front garden ducks!

Around Lincoln Park

We emerged from these picturesque streets on to a busy junction by Lincoln Park and the Chicago History Museum. Here Giovina showed us a large fragment of a building that had been destroyed by the fire. This ‘hunk of molten iron, stone, and brick’, as the Chicago Park District website [https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/chicago-fire-relic] describes it, has been mounted and displayed here as a symbol for the resilience of the city.

Fragment of building destroyed in the Chicago Fire

A short distance from here we came to the rather appealing Children’s Fountain, dating from 1982.

Nearby mural, and the Children's Fountain

Children's Fountain details

Turning back from the park again we came to one of Old Town’s most famous institutions, Second City. The list of comedians who have started their careers in its improvisation shows contains many of the biggest names in that business: Alan Alda Alan Arkin, Bill Murray, John Candy, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers and many more.

Second City

Soon after that point the tour, and our group, broke up. Some of us headed back to the park, while others, including me, went to explore lively North Wells Street, the hub of the eating/drinking/shopping scene in Old Town. I enjoyed a light Middle Eastern lunch of hummus, baba ganoush, vine leaves etc with Amelie, Isa. Lisa and Napoleon. Amelie and Napoleon then went their separate ways while I browsed some shops with Isa and Lisa.


Street art on N Wells St

The three of us then went for ice creams at a great place, Jeni's, with unusual flavours such as sweet potato and marshmallow!

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

We caught the L back to the hotel, checked out another shop near the station (again buying nothing) and sat for a while in the lobby chatting with Steve before separating to rest up a bit before dinner.

In the evening we ate at Weber's Grill where I had a very good burger with blue cheese and mushrooms, and drank a local Chicago beer, Half Acre, which I also enjoyed.

Burger in Weber's Grill

Night streets in River North

Posted by ToonSarah 08:07 Archived in USA Tagged food architecture history houses chicago usa street_art virtual_tourist

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Are the ducks in that duck pond real or models?

by irenevt

Now that you mention it, I've never been to Second City. It was named that many years ago because Chicago was, at that time, the second largest city in the US. (Now it's third, I believe).

by Nemorino

Thanks Irene and Don - yes Irene, the ducks are real, and there were others there too!

by ToonSarah

Very many thanks (yet again) for giving me the virtual tour Sarah. It really does help to compensate for my being unable to join you all in Chicago.

by Yvonne Dumsday

Thanks Yvonne - although it was a shame you couldn't join us as I know you'd have enjoyed this and the other activities Rich planned!

by ToonSarah

Old Town looks really worth the visit, loved the read! :)

by Ils1976

Sweet potato icecream made me speechless!

by hennaonthetrek

Thanks Ils and Henna. The ice cream was interesting and tasted quite nice but I preferred my other choice of praline 😀

by ToonSarah

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