Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago was ideally situated on the waterways of Illinois to take advantage of the trading possibilities by the nation’s westward expansion. The bend in the river, which now creates the south and west boundaries of River North, is historically important in the development of early Chicago. This was the location of Chicago's first three taverns; its first hotel, Sauganash Hotel; its first ferry; its first drug store and the first bridges across the Chicago River. Recognition of early settlers of the River North area can be found reflected in the names of its streets - Hubbard, Kinzie, Taylor, Clybourn and Noble to name a few.
Like much of downtown Chicago, River North was rebuilt after the Chicago Fire of 1871. The area quickly filled with municipal buildings, worker housing, warehouses and shipping facilities to serve the Port of Chicago. In the 1890's, after railroad tracks were laid along the Chicago River's North bank, industry moved in. The area became known as "Smokey Hollow” due to the many factories and forges in the area creating smoke so thick that sunlight was often blocked. At the time Smokey Hollow was a major transportation hub with railroad tracks linking the ports along the Chicago River with the surrounding areas.
But from the 1920s through 1960s, the port relocated, the economy staggered and the neighborhood lost its industrial purpose. The area gained notoriety as Chicago's red light district.
The first stirrings of change came in 1964 when the two Marina City condominium towers opened on the North side of the river at State Street. But complete rebirth was still years away. By the mid-1970's, it was an urban wasteland with many neglected or abandoned buildings.
Then the revival dawned. Low real estate prices and large spaces attracted the artistic set and creative entrepreneurs. They moved in and began the reclamation. Great old buildings were repurposed into new galleries, studios, offices, apartments, restaurants and shops. Lofts from the 1890's to 1920's attracted lawyers, architects, advertising agencies, design firms and other businesses. The area got its name from Chicago real estate developer Albert Friedman, who in the 1970’s wanted potential tenants to forget the somewhat seedy nature of the area. Re-naming the community “River North” did the trick!
From its start as the home to the first taverns and hotel in Chicago to now, River North continues to house the highest concentration of restaurants and entertainment venues in the city! The colorful, energetic neighborhood of River North is cultured by day and boisterous by night. The people who live, work and visit this area know how to work hard in its businesses, then sit back and enjoy the festive nightlife. River North evades simple labeling and serves up something for everyone!
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