The largest celery-growing region in the country was once in Rogers Park.
This was one of many facts that about 70 Northwestern students and “fellows,” faculty and staff affiliated with a residential college, learned Sunday. The group rode a four-car, chartered Chicago Transit Authority El train on a tour from Davis Street in Evanston to Western Avenue on the South Side of Chicago. The tour focused on Chicago’s changing neighborhoods.
“I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’m still learning new things,” said Henry Binford, a NU history professor and Shepherd Residential College fellow who narrated the tour.
Binford started giving tours on the El for his freshman seminar in 1974. More recently, he began offering the tours to the residential college program.
Students said they considered the event a unique opportunity to learn about the history of Chicago.
“It was a really neat perspective to see Chicago as a living museum,” said Weinberg freshman Evan Gray, who lives in Shepard. “I really liked hearing about the development of architecture.”
Much of the information Binford gave related to buildings and architecture. Students got off the train at the Library stop to take a walking tour of the South Loop. Binford gave the history of several large buildings, including the Chicago Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Correction Center, a 27-story federal prison in downtown Chicago.
For some students, the tour was a chance to learn history about a city that they often visit but do not know much about.
“I’m from California, and I really don’t know anything about Chicago,” said Weinberg sophomore Sonia Sanga, a resident of Ayers College of Commerce and Industry. Sanga added that she tends to take Chicago’s rich history for granted.
Even natives to the area said the tour was a learning experience.
“I thought it would be fun to get a different perspective of Chicago,” said Ian Weinberger, a Music freshman from Evanston.
Weinberger, who lives in Jones Residential College, said he was interested in Binford’s explanation for Chicago’s diagonal streets, which were built before the city’s grid system was developed. The streets were among Chicago’s early development on higher ground.
Nancy Anderson, coordinator of the residential college program, said cross-residential college events such as the El tour are a way for students and fellows to interact in a casual setting.
“Since our students and fellows are from a range of disciplines and schools, it’s an opportunity to mingle that they might not otherwise experience,” Anderson said.
Shep Shanley, a fellow at Willard Residential College and senior associate director of admissions, said he was happy that he was available Sunday to go on the tour.
“I’m very interested in Chicago history and Chicago architecture,” said Shanley, an Evanston native. “There’s always something more to learn.”
Reach Andrew Bowen at [email protected]