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 are 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. Many of the same Irish immigrants who helped build the Erie Canal later came to Chicago to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Much like today, Illinois was having financial issues and was unable to pay the workers with currency, so instead, the State of Illinois began issuing “Land Scrip” to the workers rather than paying them with money. Land scrip was a voucher of sorts, that allowed those who held it to purchase land at a free or reduced rate. A large number of those Irish-Americans who received the scrip used it to purchase canal-owned land at the northern end of the canal where it meets the south branch of the Chicago River. 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 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. The area also so a large increase in Lithuanian-Americans settling along Lituanica Avenue, which runs between 31st Street and 38th Place one block west of Halsted Street. 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. Polish history is most visibly represented in Bridgeport through its two churches in the Polish Cathedral style: St. Mary of Perpetual Help, and St. Barbara. The Art Institute of Chicago has done restoration work on the paintings in the Shrine Altars at St. Mary of Perpetual Help which date back to 1890, with further plans calling for restoration of the stained glass windows and to complete the painting of the interior ceilings and rotunda.
In 2008 the Chicago Sun-Times recognized Bridgeport as one of the four most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, alongside Albany Park, West Ridge, and Rogers Park. 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, it is the breaded-steak sandwich served by most of the neighborhood’s pizzerias, that the neighborhood can claim as an original. Chinese and Mexican fare are also well represented, particularly along 31st Street, Halsted Street, and Archer Avenue. Bridgeport in the early 21st century has also begun to experience an upswing in new restaurants, with a few recent additions serving items ranging from British-style pies to organic offerings.
The neighborhood is served by the Bridgeport News, a community newspaper delivered weekly on Wednesdays to homes throughout the neighborhood.
Every neighborhood in Chicago has places where you can go to get high quality food. 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 places in River North, but you’ll always enjoy the food and be happy that you came.
A great place to start your culinary journey is the Bridgeport Bakery. It’s been in the neighborhood for generations and is regarded as an institution. They are well known for their bacon buns, cookies, and cake-style chocolate doughnuts. A place that can’t be missed is Homestyle Taste. This is one of Chicago’s best Chinese restaurants and it isn’t in Chinatown, you can find it on Halsted in Bridgeport. People in the know have referred to this as a Northern-style Chinese spot. You won’t find the typical things here that you see in your everyday Chinese spot. When you come here you order things like pork pancakes.