To the editors:
The dispute over the future of the strip of land running from Montrose to Irving Park between Graceland Cemetery and the Howard "L" [Neighborhood News, September 1] is made more interesting by a recounting of its history. The strip was never a road, at least in any dedicated sense. Rather, it was a railroad right of way. It was built by the Milwaukee Road as part of a branch line from the Loop to Wilmette. The line north of Montrose to Linden Avenue, Wilmette was rented in 1907 to a predecessor of the CTA. It was electrified and became part of the rapid transit network.
The lease (the trackage was not actually sold to the CTA until 1953) included an obligation to provide freight service over the line, and although riders on the Howard line might not have been aware of it, the CTA duly provided freight service (usually at night) to a number of industries on Chicago's north side and in Evanston until 1973, when it was allowed to abandon the service and restrict its activities to hauling people.
The primary connecting trackage for delivering freight cars to the CTA continued to be the Milwaukee Road, which still owned and operated the southern portion of its Wilmette branch from a point near Grand Avenue and Kingsbury Street near the Loop to its intersection with Irving Park Road. Cub fans whose attendance at Wrigley Field predates 1973 will recall railroad tracks running just west of the park; they were part of the branch.
North of Irving Park the CTA took over. Trolley wire was strung over the track so that CTA locomotives could haul the freight cars onto the "L" embankment north of Wilson Avenue. A ramp south of Wilson Avenue provided a physical connection between the ground level tracks and the elevated structure. Part of that ramp, as observant riders on the Howard line will notice, still exists just south of the Wilson Avenue station.
When the CTA got out of the freight business, it abandoned its ground level trackage from Irving Park to Wilson; this includes the strip whose future is now in dispute. The Milwaukee Road in turn abandoned its portion of the branch to a point several blocks south of Belmont and later disappeared itself altogether; it is now part of the Soo Line. The end of CTA freight service therefore led to the now-unsightly strip of land along Graceland Cemetery.
David Hart Nelson