Western Boulevard begins at Gage Park and runs north-south past the Stevenson Expressway and the Sanitary & Ship Canal to 31st Boulevard. The boulevard, which is slightly more than three miles long, runs parallel to the longest street in Chicago, Western Avenue.
Located just off Western Boulevard, at 5218 South Western Avenue, is the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago. The museum commemorates more than 175 years of the city’s fire fighting history. Some of the museum’s artifacts include a hand-drawn fire engine, wooden water mains, the world’s first firefighting snorkel and a collection of old fire trucks. In addition, the museum showcases the history of the fire pole, which was invented in Chicago in 1878.
The landscape begins to change north of Western Boulevard and the neighborhood becomes more industrial. These changes reflect the history of the stockyards that once dominated this neighborhood. Immigrants came first from Germany and Ireland, then from Eastern Europe, and finally from Mexico to slaughter, butcher and package as many as 18 million animals a year. The working and living conditions for most of these laborers were deplorable, which led to some of the largest social reform campaigns in American history.
At the north end of the boulevard, Western meets the Sanitary and Ship Canal. Constructed in 1900, the canal permanently reversed the flow of the Chicago River. The canal was designed both as a transportation route and as a means of improving the city’s drinking water by sending sewage into the Illinois River instead of into Lake Michigan.
The construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal had an unintended impact on the eco-system of the Great Lakes. By connecting Lake Michigan to other waterways, the Sanitary and Ship Canal has become a route for Asian Carp and other invasive species to access the Great Lakes. To protect the Great Lakes, several organizations, including the State of Illinois, the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are working together to install and maintain electric barriers.