Chicago’s 54th community, Riverdale, borders 115th Street to the north, city limits to the south, Bishop Ford Freeway to the east and the Illinois Central Railroad tracks to the west. Its neighborhoods are Altgeld Gardens, Eden Green, Golden Gate and Riverdale. There’s also a different village named Riverdale, Illinois.
In 1816, the United States and Native Americans signed the Treaty of St. Louis, ceding the northwestern portion of Riverdale to the government. The remainder of the heavily forested area was acquired by the Treaty of Chicago in 1833. In 1835, George Dolton settled on the Little Calumet River. He partnered with J. C. Matthews and operated a ferry until a toll bridge was built at River Crossing in 1843. In 1849, Dolton leased 50 acres to John Ton, an Abolitionist, who assisted the Underground Railroad until the Civil War.
This farming and lumbering community developed with the help of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1852. By the 1880s, six railroads intersected Riverdale. Distilleries, lumber yards, ice houses, cattle pens, barrel makers, a sugar refinery and a steel mill opened businesses. The Cal-Sag Channel constructed between 1911 and 1922 attracted more industry. The Great Depression inhibited construction except for WPA projects that constructed sewers, formed curbs and paved streets. In 1945, Altgeld Gardens was built by the CHA, and Black Americans moved to Riverdale. Industry declined in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, 63% of the residents lived in poverty.
Today Riverdale is easily accessed from I57 and I94, and two Metra commuter trains stop in the area. It is home to forest preserves, a Water Reclamation Plant, rail yards, landfills, industrial sites and the Metropolitan Sanitary District sewage treatment plant.
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