History of Bridgeport
Bridgeport has been an established community for over 160 years. The area’s scrappy past can be glimpsed from the names that precede its current name. One’s like Hardscrabble, Cabbage Patch and Lee’s Place are just a few of the monikers it has carried throughout the years. The neighborhood has since served as a breeding ground for five Chicago mayors, including both Mayor Daleys.
Historically the area was settled by Irish-Americans. In the 1830’s many of them relocated here after leaving Ireland, with the Great Potato Famine only accelerating matters starting in 1842. They first found work on the Erie Canal, later moving to Chicago and working on the Illinois and Michigan Canals. Much like today, Illinois was having financial issues and was unable to pay the workers with currency. Instead, these hard-working immigrants of Irish descent received “Land Scrip” for their services. Land scrip was a voucher of sorts, that allowed those who held it to purchase land at a free or reduced rate. Like many immigrant groups coming to America, they decided to stick together. They formed an Irish neighborhood by using the Land Scrip to purchase canal-owned land. This kept them around their countrymen and in the area they worked in. Much of the property can still be traced back to the Land Scrip time. Property that was purchased has been handed down through the generations with the families living there having roots back to the beginning of the neighborhood.
Although the Irish were the first to settle in Bridgeport, and are probably the most well-known ethnic group in the area, Bridgeport is by no means a stranger to many other groups. Many Italian-Americans refer to the neighborhood as home and the area also had large increase in Lithuanian-Americans settling along Lituanica Avenue. Some many immigrants settled in the area at one time that it was referred to as the “Lithuanian Downtown” and was the hub of all Lithuanian business. One of the things that has remained constant over the years and has helped draw in large numbers of new immigrants to the area and city is the affordable housing and ease of access to commercial districts. Bridgeport is very close to I90/94 and the Red and Green line trains.
At one time Chicago was home to the most Polish people in the world outside of Warsaw. These days it is still home to a large Polish contingent that can be seen in some of the Polish restaurants and festivals. Religion was always very prominent in Polish culture and the move from Poland to America did nothing to dampen that. Two Polish churches that are beautiful representations of an architectural style that has come to be known as Polish Cathedral: St. Mary of Perpetual Help, and St. Barbara. St. Mary of Perpetual Help has an area known as the Shrine Altars which has paintings that date back to 1890. The Art Institute of Chicago lent its services to the church and provided restoration work on the masterpieces. There are currently plans in place for them to also help with the restoration of the stained glass windows and to complete the painting of the interior ceilings and rotunda.
Bridgeport has always been known as a working-class neighborhood, with a diverse ethnic heritage. But just like many other Chicago neighborhoods, this one takes its food seriously! While pizza is well represented in Bridgeport, they also have their own claim to fame. A breaded-steak sandwich served by most of the neighborhood’s pizzerias, that the neighborhood can claim as an original. Like most neighborhoods in the city, there are a wide range of options, from Mexican, to Chinese, and even Vegan. That’s one of the great things about being in a city where food is a priority; you can never lose! Bridgeport lives up to that reputation with some great places to check out. They may not be as fancy as some spots in River North, but you’ll always enjoy the food and be happy that you came.