ONE MARKET, MANY CULTURES, A MUSICAL BIRTHPLACE

Maxwell Street was home to one memorable market and an evolving, overlapping parade of many cultures. It was also the birthplace of electrified Chicago blues.

The market. Maxwell Street is most known for the lively open-air market that bears its name. At its height, it stretched seven city blocks. On Sundays, the big shopping day, the street was closed to automobile traffic, as thousands of shoppers—from the neighborhood, from other city neighborhoods and even the suburbs—jostled and gawked and haggled over a dazzling array of goods, new and used, luxurious and utilitarian. LEARN MORE

Many cultures. The Maxwell Street neighborhood on Chicago’s Near West Side is almost as old as the city itself. Almost from the beginning, it was an immigrant gateway. The earliest housing there was built by and for Irish immigrant workers building the railroads. They were followed by Germans, then Italians, Eastern Europeans from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, then the Greeks and Bohemians. After World War I, the Great Migration brought African-Americans from the South in ever growing numbers, looking for jobs in the North and settling in Maxwell Street. LEARN MORE

The music. Each succeeding culture brought the comforts of home with them—their traditions, their cooking and their music. Over succeeding decades, Maxwell Street rang out with European folk tunes, beer hall songs, Klezmer music and more. But no music is more tied to Maxwell Street than the blues. Descended from Mississippi Delta blues the migrating African-Americans brought with them, the electrified Chicago blues were born on Maxwell Street. LEARN MORE

The map of Maxwell Street
The timeline of Maxwell Street
Maxwell Street symbolizes the pilgrimage to freedom and opportunity.
Jim Herbert