The area we know today as ‘Chicago’ was inhabited by native people long before the fur trappers, traders and missionaries arrived in the early 1800’s. The open plains and abundant waters made it a good place to live and hunt.
The city was officially founded in 1833. As with the early cities in Europe and the Far East, water access defined where the important cities of the day would be created. With Lake Michigan and the rivers that fed into and from it, trade could begin and expand.
As the trade grew, so did the city. The few small tents became cabins. They, in turn, became larger houses. Those houses attracted more settlers who build more buildings. Soon, there were streets cut out, and the city began to grow like a weed.
As important as the water access was to business and trade, its impact was dwarfed by the arrival of the railroad. Faster and cheaper than water transport it fed the engine of Chicago’s growth, until the fire of 1871 destroyed most of the city in some twenty-eight hours.
The famous fire of 1871 halted Chicago’s rapid growth for many years as the city was rebuilt.
What most people don’t realize today as they look at the Chicago shore line on Lake Michigan, is that the shore line in 1871 was roughly the edge of where Michigan Avenue is today. After the fire, the debris was thrown into the river and, became land-fill which expanded the shore into Lake Michigan.
But before all of these events occurred, the native people lived there. The plains were great hunting grounds and the marsh like grounds closer to the rivers and lakes held many naturally growing plants the could be eaten.
The Potawatomi Indians had a word for one of the plants: “Shikaakwa”. The French settlers took that word and mispronounced it. It came out as “Chicago”. And so, the Second City, is named after a wild growing plant from the marsh ….. A “Stinky Wild Onion”!