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Some historic US highway endpoints in Chicago

Additional research and/or photo credits: Neil Bratney; Scott Maness; Jeff Morrison

What if everyday Americans were polled: can you name a specific location where a US highway begins or ends?  Few people would be able to come up with any answer, but out of all 1200+ current and historic endpoints, I bet one of the most common responses would be "the intersection of Jackson and Michigan in Chicago".

Morrison, Jun. 2011

I say this because anyone who's somewhat familiar with historic US 66 has probably heard that the route ended there, and many people have seen the "End" sign posted on Jackson Boulevard at its intersection with Michigan Avenue:

Google Maps Street View, 2009

But did you know that US 66 ended at that particular intersection only for about 12 years?  Or that it had a different Chicago endpoint that lasted for more like 40 years?  Or that Jackson and Michigan marked the endpoint of four other US routes in addition to US 66?  These are some of the details I was able to glean from a nearly-complete series of Illinois official state highway maps that were recently posted online.

The US route system was officially commissioned in late 1926.  Most states began signing their routes in 1927, and the 1928 issue was the first of Illinois' official highway maps to label US routes in that state.  During these first few years, the maps are actually ambiguous as to exactly where US 66 ended.  But we can be reasonably certain that the route would've come in on Jackson and ended at Michigan, where it junctioned US 41.  The 1934 map was the first one to make this perfectly clear:

c. 1934

But already for years prior to that, the Jackson/Michigan intersection had been known as the "route center" of Chicago.  In other words, highway route mileages were measured from this intersection, so it had always made sense for highway traffic to be routed to this intersection.  This is evidenced by the note at far right on that map.

US 32 was another highway that was among the original 1926 routes.  Originally it came into Chicago on Ogden Avenue, and met US 66 at Harlem Avenue.  From that intersection, these two routes were co-signed along Ogden:

c. 1931

Another original route was US 330 (also visible on the map above).  It came into Chicago on Roosevelt Road, but then turned north (perhaps on Austin Boulevard?) to Jackson, and then continued east again.  At the intersection with Ogden, it picked up US 66/32, and the three routes were multiplexed along Jackson to a common terminus at Michigan: the one pictured at the top of this page.

But this triple endpoint lasted only for a few years.  In 1931 US 32 was changed to continue northeast on Ogden, and in 1933 US 330 was changed such that it stayed on Roosevelt (these changes are visible on the first map above, from 1934).  US 66 continued to end at Jackson and Michigan until about 1938.  At that time, the Link Bridge over the Chicago River opened to traffic, and US 41 traffic was routed through the Loop via Lake Shore Drive (instead of via Michigan).  So US 66 was extended about a quarter-mile west from Michigan, such that its new endpoint was on Jackson at Lake Shore.  This remained the east terminus of US 66 for the next 40 years or so, until the route was decommissioned in Illinois in about 1976 (someone wrote me to share his recollection of a sign formerly at this intersection that confirmed the end of both US 66 and US 34). The photo below is looking east where Jackson ends at Lake Shore...

Google Maps Street View, 2009

...and Chicago Harbor on Lake Michigan is visible in the background. Meanwhile, US 34 had replaced the Chicago segment of US 32 in 1934.  For the next few years, US 34 continued to follow Ogden all the way through town (as US 32 had done during its final years).  It wasn't until 1938 that the US 34 designation was changed, such that it remained twinned with US 66, following Jackson all the way to its terminus.  But as I've said, that was the same year when US 66 was extended east to Lake Shore.  So US 34 never ended at Michigan.  Its endpoint was at Lake Shore for about 32 years, until US 34 was truncated back to its present terminus at Harlem Avenue in 1970. The photo below, taken looking the opposite direction, shows the view from what used to be the east beginning of US 66 and US 34:

Google Maps Street View, 2009

Lake Shore runs across the foreground; that's Jackson cutting through part of Grant Park and then entering Chicago's Loop in the distance. The Sears Tower wasn't there to dominate the skyline until US 34 was already gone, and it was there only for the final four years of US 66's existence in Chicago.

For a few years after 1938, I don't think any US routes were on Michigan.  But this changed in 1942, when the US 54 designation was extended to Chicago.  It came in from the south on Michigan, and continued all the way up to its junction with Lake Shore.  There was a 15-year gap during which the Jackson/Michigan intersection did not mark the endpoint of any US routes.  This changed in 1953: at that time, US 14 was extended southward along Lake Shore with US 41.  But at Michigan, US 14 separated from Lake Shore and US 41, and instead continued down Michigan.  Presumably it ended at Jackson (where it junctioned with US 66/34), and presumably US 54 was truncated to the same intersection... at least, that's how I interpret maps from that timeframe:

c. 1959

In other words, north on Michigan from Jackson was the beginning of US 14, while south on Michigan was the beginning of US 54.  This remained the case for about 20 years... even after 1955, which is when Jackson became one-way eastbound, and Adams Street became its westbound counterpart.  But Adams isn't a through road east of Michigan. So, from Lake Shore, westbound US 66 was routed on Jackson to Michigan, then north for one block to Adams, then west again. The shot below was taken looking west along the beginning of Adams, essentially from the front steps of the Art Institute:

Google Maps Street View, 2009

About halfway up that block the sign shown below is posted:

Morrison, Jun. 2011

US 66 never actually began at Adams and Michigan, but that doesn't detract from how well historic US 66 is signed throughout Chicagoland.

US 54 was decommissioned out of Chicago in 1972.  US 14 continued to end at Jackson until 1978, when it was truncated to its current terminus on Broadway at Foster. In the photo below, we're looking south on Michigan, approaching Jackson:

Google Maps Street View, 2009

For a time, this was the final segment of US 14, and US 54 began straight ahead. And for a brief period before that, US 66, 32, and 330 all began to the right on Jackson.

Since 1978, the only US route still serving downtown Chicago is US 41.  While Michigan no longer carries any signed highways, it remains one of the signature streets of Chicago.  And while the center of Chicago's address system lies at the intersection of State and Madison Streets, the Jackson/Michigan intersection remains a good candidate for the "vernacular center" of Chicago:

Google Maps Street View, 2009

That photo is looking north on Michigan. Just ahead is Jackson, the intersection that has marked the endpoint of five different US routes (and a sixth highway passed through). You can get more info about these routes by viewing these pages:
US 14 | US 32 | US 34 | US 54 | US 66 | US 330