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Archer Avenue Tour

Last week I had a bachelor weekend (Julie and Maddie were away, at our city place), and my big thing to do for fun was to...drive the entire length of Archer Avenue, from Lockport to Chicago. (Yes, I’m quite the wild one.) My daily train runs generally parallel to Archer, so I've seen bits and pieces of the street here and there, but never the entire distance. So I hopped in the car on Saturday afternoon, with a bottle of water, an Epic bar and a couple of old CDs (Chris Mars, Treat Her Right) and set out.

Archer is one of the major southwestern arteries of the Chicago area, which starts just north of downtown Lockport, winds through the towns of Lockport, Lemont, Willow Springs, Justice and Summit (just edging Bedford Park) and the Southwest Side of Chicago, where it ends at 19th and State, in the South Loop. Archer follows the path of an ancient Native American trail (which paralleled the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers), and was originally built as a supply road for the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was headquartered in Lockport.

Naturally, I stopped and took photos along the way.

 

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St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Church, in Lemont. St. James was built in 1833 to serve Irish diggers of the canal, many of whom are buried in the quaint churchyard. The church stands on a bluff above the canal and the Des Plaines River, on a highland that in prehistoric times was an island - in fact, the area is formally called Mount Forest Island. Driving up the short road between Archer and the church feels like stepping back in time.

 

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Pleasanty creepy, Addams-esque (or Munster-esque, if you prefer) Victorian house in Willow Springs. I've seen online mentions of this house being haunted. Ghosts might be the only thing living there - it looks abandoned. The house isn't actually on Archer, but is visible from the street, on the bluff just a block up Charleton Street.

 

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The main gate of Resurrection Cemetery, in Justice. Resurrection is one of the largest cemeteries in North America, with 540 acres and over 152,000 graves. The cemetery is infamous for being the purported resting place of Resurrection Mary, whose ghost supposedly haunts Archer Avenue.

 

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Administration building of the former Argo corn starch factory, in Summit. These relief sculptures depict the history of corn, from its first planting and harvesting by Native Americans to the laboratory explorations of scientists. The factory is one of the largest corn processing plants in the world, and is so prominent that the town is often known as Summit-Argo in its honor. This building is now occupied by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. 

 

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36th and Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. This house, the setting of my story "Valentino’s Return" in Where the Marshland Came to Flower, is incongruously wedged between an auto repair shop and a CTA bus lot, on a very commercial stretch of Archer. I see the house from my daily train to the city, and am always struck by how out of place it looks. Thinking of the sort of people who would live in a house like this eventually lead me to my story.

 

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Huck Finn Donuts, 3414 S. Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. I've always been curious about the name - I don't remember any specific references to doughnuts in Huckleberry Finn, or from Mark Twain in general. Yes, I stopped for a doughnut, to fortify myself for the long drive home - tasty, good but not spectacular.

 

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R.V. Kunka Pharmacy, 2899 S. Archer, Bridgeport, Chicago. Sadly, it's no longer in business - I would have loved to stop in for a chocolate malt. I hope that wonderful storefront is retained by the next owner.

 

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Hilliard Towers Apartments (formerly Raymond Hilliard Homes), seen from Cullerton Street near Archer. Designed by the incomparable Bertrand Goldberg (best known for Marina City) and built in 1966 as a CHA public housing project, the complex was redeveloped in the early 2000s as a mixed-income development - middle-class, low-income and seniors. Hilliard is bounded by Cermak Road, Clark Street, Archer, Cullerton and State Street, and even though it is only briefly bordered by Archer, it bears a commanding presence over the street. Archer ends just two blocks east, at State, where I turned around and headed for home.

January 13, 2019 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink

Comments

Should Illinois legalize weed, the new owners of R.V. Kunka Pharmacy could easily retain the signage and even the products advertised. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Robert M Roman at Jan 19, 2019 2:28:48 PM

Love the "Huck Finn Donuts"!

I'm embarrassed to say that except for driving through on the highway four times, I've never spent any significant time in or around Chicago. I need to remedy that someday.

In any case, this is why blogs are still worthwhile and even necessary. This wonderful tour just wouldn't work quite right on Facebook.

Posted by: Jeff at Jan 26, 2019 9:26:39 PM