The history of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood is a story of immigration, migration and urban change. The neighborhood is located in the heart of Chicago’s south side, which was a central location to many African American artists, writers and musicians from gospel great Tommy Dorsey to poet Gwendolyn Brooks. In the 1850s, South Shore was far from the center of things in Chicago, and was really just a mass of swampland. Despite its swampy disposition, steel mill workers began to move into the area, which actually became a collection of settlements with very British names, like Essex and Windsor Park (a Metra station in South Shore neighborhood still bears the name Windsor Park).
The population started to pick up when the railroad came through in the 1870s, and even more so after becoming an official part of Chicago in 1889. Another boost to development occurred after 1893, when the World Columbian Exposition took place in neighboring Jackson Park. All the excitement surrounding Chicago’s south side led to the construction of the swank South Shore Country Club, which was built in 1905. However, the posh, upper-crust club excluded African American and Jewish residents.
Irish, German, Swedish and Jewish immigrants from Europe flooded to the area in the 1920s and the population surged to almost 80,000. At that time South Shore was a diverse place with a variety of churches and synagogues. Then, in the 1950s, a new migration—this time from the south—took place. Trying to escape the oppression of life in the southern states, large numbers of African Americans started coming to the northern city of Chicago in search of a better life.
The South Shore Country Club went out of business in the 1970s, but the change was cause for celebration because the Chicago Park District bought the stunning 65-acre property in 1974 and converted it into the South Shore Cultural Center, making the beautiful space available to all.
Today, the South Shore neighborhood offers residents wonderful lakefront facilities and extensive community programming, though commercial areas leave much to be desired as there are a limited number of shops or restaurants. Still, it’s an affordable south side Chicago neighborhood that is home to many of the city’s inhabitants.