|Location||Chicago River on the north, Pershing Road on the south, Stewart Avenue on the east, Chicago River on the west|
The Bridgeport neighborhood was first settled in the year 1804 by Charles Lee when he settled here with his family. Lee had heard about the area after he learned of the construction of Fort Dearborn in 1803 that lie about 3 miles away. Lee’s family home was in Fort Dearborn; however, his farming business was right near the river in what would become Bridgeport.
In August of 1812 the British government hired Pottawatomie Native Americans to attack Fort Dearborn and any settlers in the area because the United States was again at war with the British in the War of 1812. Without Fort Dearborn the farm could not thrive and it closed down as the house that housed employees on the farm also closed down.
In the year 1816 Fort Dearborn was rebuilt and “Mack & Conant” purchased the farmland and built up a fur trading society with log cabins lining the area known as “Hardscrabble.”
In the year 1833 a quarry was opened up that brought employment to immigrants which caused this community of log cabins to expand. In 1835 another town named “Canal Port” was platted in wake of the construction of the Illinois & Michigan canal; however, this town never made it far and was eventually just part of Bridgeport and Pilsen’s boundaries, the only part that remained was a street named Canalport Avenue that is within Pilsen.
When 1836 came around the canal construction began and Canal Port seemed to have a rivalry with the rest of the area; therefore, the name “Bridgeport” may have surfaced right at this time to separate itself from Canal Port.
The first immigrants to migrate in were mainly Irish immigrants that came to work on the canal. In the 1840s German and Norwegian workers came to the area to also work on the canal until it was completed in 1848. Once the canal was complete several manufacturing plants, meat packing houses and lumber yards opened right by the canal which caused a boom in growth of the neighborhood as more Irish arrived in the community but there was also a new wave of German immigrants coming to the area.
In the year 1863 Bridgeport became an official Chicago neighborhood. The Germans had settled in larger numbers by the mid-1860s and the Irish objected to this which caused feuds between the two types of residents. In the year 1865 much of the meat packing industry left Bridgeport and moved to the new Union Stock Yards that opened just south of 39th Street (Pershing Avenue) in the bordering community of Lake Township (now called Back of The Yards since 1889). This brought a major influx of more migration to Bridgeport that included more Irish and Germans, Swedish, Czech and Bohemian immigrants. Many of the newly arrived workers were impoverished which brought Bridgeport a slew of lower income classes.
In the early 1880s Italian, Lithuanian and Polish immigrants arrived in Bridgeport making the neighborhood more of a cultural melting pot. With the increase in population and cultures and also lower income classes brought the neighborhood early gang activity. Most of the gang activity spilled over from nearby Lake Township as there were many Irish gangs near the Stock Yards in the slums of this community, now they were spreading into nearby Bridgeport.
Some of the older gang members of Lake Township grew older and moved to Bridgeport and became active in politics or held other government positions such as being police officers. The gangs that roamed Bridgeport from the Back of The Yards were gangs like: Bearfoots, Hamburgs, Old Rose Athletic Club, Shielders, Dukies and Hickory Street. Between the gangs and the politics in this neighborhood gave rise to some of Chicago’s most corrupt politicians that worked hand and hand with Irish organized crime.
By the year 1933 the strong foothold Bridgeport men had in Chicago politics led to the electing of Edward Joseph Kelly as Mayor of Chicago who hailed from Bridgeport. Kelly was Mayor until 1947 then Martin Kennelly was Mayor from 1947 to 1955, also from Bridgeport, then came Richard J. Daley from 1955-1976, then Michael Bilandic from 1977 to 1979. The Bridgeport Mayors’ legacy continued in 1989 when Richard M. Daley became Mayor until 2011. These mayors were said to have all dabbled in corruption especially Richard J. Daley that had ties to organized crime.
When World War II came about the Chicago Housing Authority built a white only project complex called the Bridgeport Homes that was between 31st Street to 32nd Street and Halsted Street to Lituanica Street. The projects were there to help families as they worked for industries that served the war effort.
The 1940s and early 1950s were known as the golden age for Bridgeport as the neighborhood was at the peak of prosperity. When the Union Stock Yards began downsizing in the 1950s many Bridgeport residents lost their jobs and moved out of the area, the stock yards played a major role in the economics of this neighborhood and without those jobs the neighborhood began to suffer a little as prominent churches, schools and businesses began closing in the 1960s, some houses also became vacant.
Mexican migration began in Bridgeport in the later 1960s much to the dismay of Bridgeport’s white residents. Bridgeport has a long history of racial and cultural clashes that date back to the 1840s when Germans first arrived and a historic clash happened with the Irish in 1856. Polish gangs fought with Lithuanian gangs in the 19th century and Irish gangs fought with Polish and Lithuanian gangs as well. Now the focus was on the Mexicans that arrived and this brought about the rise of more greaser clubs and Mexican gangs. There was also a major racial clash by the projects as African Americans began moving into the homes in the late 1950s because of the nearby Dan Ryan Expressway buildup that eradicated many African American homes.
Bridgeport had gangs for many years due to being next to some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. On the east were the tough streets of Bronzeville, on the west was the rougher neighborhood of Mckinley Park, on the south were the mean streets of Back of The Yards, on the north was the tough streets of Pilsen. Bridgeport saw a need for greaser clubs that would often get violent with each other many of times.
The neighborhood was well known for violent youth gangs before the 1950s but by the 50s the issue became much worse. One murder in front of the Old Dutch store at 3208 Morgan Street on July 1, 1955 shook the whole city when one of the first gang related drive by shootings happened. A gang of greasers drove by the store and saw some other youths they identified as rival gang members then started firing a shot gun which killed 17 year old Kenneth Sieboda. This murder brought light to all of Chicago that there was a new and more deadly era of street gangs and maybe it was time to give thought that this was a bigger problem than organized crime. The streets of nearby Back of The Yards were experiencing more intense gang wars and these wars were spilling onto the streets of Bridgeport.
In 1957 a major Heroin bust took down several greaser gang members that were running a rather complex drug ring for greaser gangs, this showed how serious the Bridgeport greasers were. The notorious Gaylords street gang from the west side opened a faction in Bridgeport at Archer and Loomis in order to help white youths fight off migration of blacks and Mexicans.
The 1960s would prove to be an even more violent decade for white greaser gangs in Bridgeport as they fought viciously with each other along Morgan Street and with the Back of The Yards gangs, they would also fight with black gangs near the Dan Ryan Expressway out of the Douglas neighborhood.
The 1970s saw the increased migration of Mexican families to Bridgeport and that brought about hatred and attacks of whites that did not want them there. The greaser gangs also went after Mexican youths which encouraged Mexican youths to join Bridgeport gangs like the Insane Spanish Chancellors and Latin Kings. The projects in Bridgeport were now being taken over by impoverished Mexicans and African Americans by the 1970s, by the 1980s the projects were a mix of Mexican and African American families as white residents had completely moved out.
The 1980s brought about an influx of Mexican street gangs that migrated from other neighborhoods like the Latin Kings, Satan Disciples, Ambrose and the Bishops, and in the projects the African American youths brought the Gangster Disciples. White gangs faded out of the area with the last to depart being the Gaylords of Archer and Throop.
By the 1990s Bridgeport’s Mexican population had reached 35% while Asian migration had reached over 30%. Asian migration to the neighborhood helped stimulate the local economy with Asian owned businesses; however, Bridgeport fell into a state of higher poverty and fairly severe gang activity; however, this neighborhood did not fall as hard as many south side neighborhoods around it. Many myths and jokes have flown around over the years that if you go to a Chicago White Sox game you will get robbed; Bridgeport was never that bad and still is not to the point where you would get jacked just for going to a Sox game, the stories are foolish.
In recent years Bridgeport has had a decline in gang activity leaving just the Satan Disciples and Latin Kings as the only active gangs left in Bridgeport. The Bridgeport homes were renovated in recent years and the Gangster Disciples were flushed out while the Satan Disciples have mainly taken those over; however, gang activity is not real rampant in these projects. Bridgeport has also become an area with many newer and even trendier businesses with a growing hipster population. The influx began with the opening of Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar which has been voted to have the best craft beers in Chicago and voted as the best bar in Chicago. Many people from Chicago and the suburbs came in the 2010s decade to sample Maria’s and from there many moved to the neighborhood and opened restaurants and made up a hipster culture. Bridgeport could become the next gentrified community. Bridgeport has some roughness and some crime but is not one of the tougher neighborhoods of Chicago.
Bridgeport is one of the first gangster neighborhoods and is the birthplace of the Insane Spanish Chancellors.
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