Urban Hike: Great Chicago Fire

Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Tragedy by Walking its History

In the middle of the night on October 8, 1871, a blaze broke out in an immigrant neighborhood on Chicago's near West Side.  By the time the fire ended some thirty hours later, nearly 17,000 structures had been destroyed, and the still-young city had suffered over $200 million in damages.  Join Chicago Studies on the 150th anniversary of this traumatic event -- memorialized in both Chicago's flag and the University's "phoenix rising" crest -- as we walk (and talk about) the path of the Fire from Mrs. O'Leary's barn (now 558 W DeKoven St) through downtown to the shores of Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park.  NOTE:  this will be a robust hike -- about 6 miles in total length, with 15 stops (and a few bathroom breaks, including one at UChicago's Gleacher Center - please bring your UChicago ID to enter that facility).

Hike Details

    The area burnt by the fire was immense, and there are a number of ways to explore it.  For this event, we have chosen to follow the fire's historical path, which began in the West Division (now near West Side and the West Loop), burned east into the South Division (now the South Loop and the Loop), and then crossed the main branch of the Chicago River to burn the majority of the North Division (now River North and Lincoln Park).  Our total route will be approximately 6 miles, with numerous stops (see a map of the route, with stops described below).  Note that this route is well-served by the CTA; participants are welcome to join/leave the walk at any time.

    1. The O'Leary Barn
    2. Crossing the South Branch
    3. Terrace Row and the Illinois Central Railway
    4. The Cyclorama Building
    5. State and Madison
    6. Original offices of the Chicago Tribune
    7. Kerfoot's Shanty and the "Church District"
    8. The Old Courthouse
    9. Crossing the Main Branch
    10. Into the Lake
    11. Fort Dearborn and the Old Settlers
    12. The Water Tower
    13. Washington Square
    14. Astor Street
    15. The Wooden Alley
    16. City Cemetery
    17. Chicago History Museum/Chicago Historical Society

    Our hike will begin at 2 PM at 558 DeKoven St., the historic location of the O'Leary family's barn (where the fire began) and the present-day home of the City of Chicago's Quinn Fire Academy.  We'll convene in the southwest corner of the campus, where a sculpture commemorates the beginning of the Great Fire.

    Chicago Studies will provide (optional) free, direct bus transportation from campus to the hike's starting point.  Our bus will pick up participants at 1:15 PM in front of our offices at 1155 E. 60th St.  You must wear a mask while on the bus.

    Our starting point is also accessible via the CTA if you would prefer to arrive at the hike on your own.  Both the Clinton St. Blue Line and the Roosevelt Green/Red/Orange Line stops are easy walking distance (just a few blocks) from Quinn Fire Academy.  To save your legs for the hike, board a westbound Roosevelt bus (#12) at Roosevelt CTA station and disembark at Jefferson (about 4 blocks/half a mile).

    We will finish our hike approximately 5:30 PM at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St., at the corner of North Ave. and Clark St. in Lincoln Park).  Chicago Studies will not be providing transportation back to campus after the hike; we encourage you to take advantage of the near North Side's many attractions, including the optional, free 6:30 PM program at the nearby Newberry Library and the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory (both free, and just north of CHM) as well as the many fine restaurants and nightspots in Lincoln Park and Old Town.  CHM is a short walk from both the Sedgwick Brown Line and Clark & Division Red Line stops.

    This is a relatively long hike - about 6 miles on paved, urban terrain.  Please wear shoes that are comfortable for you to walk in -- we recommend running shoes, comfortable sneakers, or lightweight hiking shoes.

    Chicago's weather is very unpredictable, especially in early October.  Watch the weather forecast carefully the day before and the day of the hike.  Dress in layers (one of which should be relatively wind/waterproof in case of rain) so that you can easily add or remove clothing if the temperature changes during our walk.  We recommend wearing sunscreen as well -- our entire walk will take place during daylight hours -- and a hat if you'd like extra protection.  Don't forget sunglasses if the day is bright/sunny.

    Chicago Studies will have granola bars and other light snacks available prior to the hike (at 1155 E 60th St.), but will not be providing snacks or water during the hike itself.  We encourage all participants to pack some snack foods and bring a water bottle to hydrate during our 3.5 hours of physical activity.  A light backpack (one that you're comfortable wearing/carrying for several hours) is also recommended.

Registration is now open. | Friday, October 8 | 2:00-6:00 PM.

Our walk will end near Chicago's Newberry Library, who will be hosting an evening outdoor program of shadow puppetry telling stories from the Fire's survivors in the plaza in front of their historic building, itself a survivor of the Fire, from 6:30-7:30 PM that same evening.  We encourage participants to stay downtown for this free "bonus" event from one of our partners -- you must register separately for Newberry's event on their website if you wish to attend.

Chicago Outdoors' Urban Hikes invite participants to explore Chicago in and beyond Hyde Park, in both natural and built environments - imagine a walk through the woodlands of Big Marsh Park or a guided tour along one of the lines of the CTA! Led by faculty, staff, and partners, our hikes offer an in-depth look at Chicago’s diverse ecosystems. Urban Hikes help to expose students to Chicago itself, while building relationships with faculty and partners and providing path-making opportunities for further inquiry.