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Chicago Basics: Geography

Greater Chicagoland.

The city has long followed the familiar metropolitan pattern of expanding outward in "rings" of settlement, from the city core to the rural outskirts.

1. Central Chicago. Downtown neighborhoods such as the Loop and the Magnificent Mile; nearby parts of town such as the Near North, Near South, Near West.
2. The Neighborhoods. Edgewater, Uptown, Lakeview, Ravenswood, Lincoln Park, Albany Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town, The Pilsen, Little Village, Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Englewood, Gresham, etc.
3. Border Communities. Places just inside or just outside Chicago, on its fringes, such as Evanston, Rogers Park, Sauganash, Skokie, Edison Park, Austin, Oak Park, Garfield Ridge, Cicero, Oak Lawn, Blue Island, Calumet City, Hegewisch, etc. Airports Midway and O'Hare. Industrial parks in Chicago and Indiana.
4. The Suburbs. North Shore suburbs such as Wilmette, Winnetka, Highland Park; Northwest suburbs such as Des Plaines, Arlington Heights, Palatine; Western Suburbs such as River Forest, Berwyn, Brookfield, Hinsdale; South Suburbs such as Oak Forest and Harvey.
5. Far Suburbs. Suburbs a bit farther out such as Lake Bluff, Libertyville and Bolingbrook; commercial hubs such as Schaumburg and Naperville; forest preserves such as Timber Ridge; towns in Northwestern Indiana including Hammond, Munster, and Highland; industrial parks such as North Chicago and East Chicago.
6. Gateway Cities. Cities just at the edge of the Chicagoland spread such as Gary, Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, Crystal Lake, McHenry and Waukegan
7. Outside Ring. The mixed-use areas just beyond Chicagoland comprising agriculture, villages, some industry, and many recreational opportunities such as those found at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Starved Rock State Park, Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, and Illinois Beach State Park.
8. Far Cities. Major settlements along the thoroughfares into and out of the greater Chicagoland region, including Michigan City, Kankakee, Peru, Rockford, Elkhorn, and Kenosha.

Beyond: Nearby Places. There are many exciting regions adjacent to or within easy traveling distance of greater Chicagoland, including Door County, Milwaukee, Madison, and the Dells in Wisconsin; Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield and the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Lafayette and South Bend, Indiana; and Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids in Michigan as well as Michigan's western shoreline.

Glaciers shaped the terrain of the Chicago area during the most recent Ice Age, leaving it largely flat and comparatively featureless. The site of the present-day metropolis on the shores of Lake Michigan stands in what was once the much larger Lake Chicago, which retreated roughly 4,000 years ago to take the Lake's present form. Native Americans inhabited the site several hundred years prior to European contact; major human development of the area did not begin until the mid-19th Century.

Under French control from the 1600s, the Illinois region fell to the British in 1763 and to the Union after the Revolutionary War (codified by the Treaty of Paris in 1783). Originally part of the state of Virginia, the territory of Illinois became part of the Northwest Territory in 1784, part of the Indiana Territory until 1809, and was its own territory until Illinois statehood in 1818. The state population at that time was tabulated at 34,620.

The Chicago region "was placed successively under the counties of Crawford, Clark, Pike, Fulton, Putnam attached to Peoria, and in 1831, Cook County" (www.chipublib.org). The settlement incorporated as a town in 1833, initially bounded by State, Madison, Kinzie and Desplaines streets. It expanded its borders twice before incorporating as a city in 1837. By the late 1800s, its territory stretched north to North Ave., and to Fullerton Ave. farther east; west from the Lake to Western Ave., and to Crawford Ave. farther south; and south to 39th St. The city annexed again as much land and more in 1889, adding Jefferson, Lakeview, Lake, and Hyde Park Townships and parts of Calumet and Worth. It added Rogers Park and several other areas adjoining the city in 1900. After acquiring additional lands in the 20th Century, especially the area in and near O'Hare International Airport, the city reached its current land area of 228 square miles.

The U.S. Census Bureau today identifies the Statistical Metropolitan Area of Chicago-Gary-Kenosha as encompassing the counties of McHenry, Lake, DeKalb, Kane, DuPage, Cook, Kendall, Will, Grundee and Kankakee in Illinois; Lake and Porter in Indiana; and Kenosha in Wisconsin. This region had a population of 9,157,540 at the time of the 2000 census; the population within the City of Chicago limits was 2,896,016.

The area typically known as "Chicagoland" incorporates Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage, Will and McHenry counties, and sometimes Northwestern Indiana; it includes the city itself, suburbs such as Lake Forest, Wilmette, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Glen Ellyn, Oak Park, River Forest, Hinsdale, and Oak Lawn, fringe cities such as Waukegan, Elgin, Geneva, and Aurora in Illinois, and Hammond, IN.

The city of Chicago itself roughly divides into sections such as the North/Far North, including communities such as Rogers Park, Uptown, Edgewater and Lakeview; the North/Near North, including Lincoln Park, the Near North, and the Gold Coast; the Central Downtown Area, encompassing the Magnificent Mile, the River North, and the Loop; the South/Near South, including the South Loop, Bridgeport, and the UIC/Bronzeville areas; the Southside, including Hyde Park and South Chicago; the West/Northwest including Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Belmont Central, and Austin, and the Southwest/Far Southwest including Englewood, Morgan Park, and Kennedy Park.

Explore: Chicagoland Communities Map - Neighborhoods and Suburbs Map - Interactive Map -

Further Reading:

alookatcook.com - Genealogy in Cook County, IL.

Big Stick Inc. "Chicago Neighborhood Map, 2nd Edition". Chicago: Chicago Association of Realtors, 2001.

census.gov - U.S. Census Bureau Online (2004)

"Chicagoland Map". Chicago: Chicago Tribune/Rand McNally, 1996.

chipublib.org - "A Chronological History of Chicago: 1673-"

chipublib.org - The Chicago Public Library Online (2004)

co.cook.il.us - Cook County Info Center (2004)

davidrumsey.com -- David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Dubsky, Julie, James Hort and Brad Sleeth. "A Virtual Field Trip Through Northeastern Illinois". http://jove.geol.niu.edu/faculty/fischer/429_info/429trips/NIF/ 2000.

Edwards, Ninian W. History of Illinois 1778 to 1833: Life and Times of Ninian Edwards. Springfield, IL: The Illinois State Journal Company, 1870. Excerpted as "Early Colonial History": http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilcoles/ilcolonial.htm.

Federal Township Plats of Illinois, 1804-1891: http://landplats.ilsos.net/Flash/Welcome.html

Fester, Bob. "The Illini Confederation: Lords of the Mississippi Valley" http://members.tripod.com/~RFester/index.html (2004)

The Green Guide: Chicago. Greenville, SC: Michelin Travel Publications, 2001.

Illinois State Archives: http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/irad/iradregn.html

Schmidt, Edward W. "History of the Chicago Province Jesuits". Jesuits-chi.org. (2004)

Sorensen, Mark W. "The Illinois History Resource Page". http://www.historyillinois.org/hist.html#history (2004)

state.il.us/hpa - Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (2004)

uark.edu/depts/contact/prehistory.html - "Missippi River Valley Prehistory" (2004)

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