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Logan Square Pothole Reveals Chicago's Streetcar History

 A pothole in Logan Square revealed a bit of history in the form of a track formerly used for an electric trolley system.
Pothole Reveals Chicago Streetcar History
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LOGAN SQUARE — Potholes are a lot of things, but a gateway into history isn't usually one of them.

Yet that was the case with a pothole found last week on Kedzie Avenue between the Logan Square Blue Line stop and Longman & Eagle by a resident who happens to love Chicago history.

"I walk that way home from the train, so it was right in the middle of the intersection, and you couldn't miss it," said Logan Square resident Bart Shore.

Shore, a WBBM radio traffic reporter, knew that a streetcar line used to run right there on Kedzie Avenue. So when he saw a piece of rail sticking out in the pothole he knew exactly what it was.

"I'm really big on Chicago history," said Shore, a 21-year resident of the neighborhood.

 The pothole shows the rail once used by electric streetcars, cable cars, and even horse-drawn streetcars.
The pothole shows the rail once used by electric streetcars, cable cars, and even horse-drawn streetcars.
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Illinois Railway Museum/DNAinfo

Streetcars, known as the Chicago Surface Lines, ran from 1859 to 1958, according to the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society. They started out as horse-drawn trolley lines. Cable cars hit the rails in 1882, and then electric cars in 1890.

Listen to Bart Shore talk about the pothole discovery and more Logan Square history here:

"The gauge of the track stayed the same, it's just what was powering it," said Nick Kallas, executive director of the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill. "1906 was the last year for any cable cars in Chicago. After that they were electric-powered."

With Chicago being so famous for the "L" and not so much for streetcars, like those associated with San Francisco, Kallas said it's not surprising that many Chicagoans don't even know that there was an extensive streetcar system across Chicago and its nearest suburbs.

"They've been gone since 1958, so most of the population in the city don't even know what a streetcar is," he said.

With more than 3,000 cars running at its peak, Chicago's streetcar system was one of the larger ones in the world — and with all that track, Kallas said it's also not unusual to find remnants just beneath the surface of Chicago and suburban streets.

"They just asphalted over the whole thing," he said. "So when they're doing those sewer projects they find them all the time."

There are also some less tangible remnants of the streetcar systems. The  No. 56 streetcar line, for instance, ran up and down Milwaukee Avenue just like the present-day CTA  No. 56 bus line.

The  No. 22 streetcars ran on Clark Street, the  No. 8 line on Halsted — all correspon to current CTA bus numbers.

"Why change the numbers?" Kallas said "It's what everybody was used to, so they didn't change it."

As for that pothole on Kedzie Avenue, Shore reported it to the city because it wouldn't be pleasant for anyone who has the misfortune of driving into it.

For those who want to learn more about the city's streetcar history, the Illinois Railway Museum has actual Chicago streetcars that even run on a length of track installed there.

There also are several resources online with information on Chicago streetcars: the Illinois Railway Museum website, the Shore Line Interurban Society and Forgotten Chicago.

In the meantime, drivers beware. As of Monday night the pothole had not been filled.

"Anyone who drives into that hole is probably going to get a flat tire because the way [the track] is angled," Shore said.

If you just happen to be walking by though, why not take a peek at some Chicago history?