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History of the Bloomingdale Trail

The story of The Bloomingdale Trail begins just after the Great Chicago Fire when the City Council gave permission for the Chicago & Pacific Railroad to lay tracks down the middle of Bloomingdale Avenue. Soon the city’s population boomed and dangerous conflicts between residents and rail with it. Thousands were being injured or killed every year. In response, elevating the tracks became a political hot-button and social reform issue. Finally, in 1893, the City Council passed an ordinance mandating elevating all tracks within 6 years. The Bloomingdale line was one of the last to be raised, with work finishing in 1915. Incredibly, rail service continued unabated throughout construction. That is how the embankment that would become the Bloomingdale Trail came to be.
For nearly a century what was called the “Bloomingdale Line” served a small manufacturing district across the city’s Northwest Side, including bicycle, furniture, candy and instrument makers. Trains rolled overhead until the 1980s when activity slowed to a trickle. By the mid 1990’s the few trains that used the line were re-routed and freight service ceased completely. Many of the manufacturing buildings along the corridor were converted into residences. With freight service stopped nature quickly reclaimed the space. Trees grew up between the tracks, flowers bloomed and animals found new habitat. It was only a matter of time before the communities along the line rediscovered the space. Those who ventured up there in the late ‘90s and early 2000s found an impromptu nature trail with birds and surprising views of the City. This was the raw precursor to the Bloomingdale Trail.
Official plans for converting the Bloomingdale Line into a public space go back to the late 1990s, when it was included in the City’s Bike Plan. But in 2003 a series of public meetings were held by the City’s Department of Planning and Development to figure out how to bring new open space to underserved communities on the Northwest side. Two things emerged that laid the foundation for the Bloomingdale Trial. First, the Logan Square Open Space Plan, an ambitious plan that called “for the creation of the Greenway on the Bloomingdale Rail Line.” Second, The Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail was formed, an advocacy organization who would champion the project for the next decade, ensuring that the vision for a multi-use park and trail network remained a priority.