Houseboats in the Chicago River
Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: Diogenes9561 ()
Date: December 09, 2014 12:46AM

One of my recollections of living on the North Side is that there were once several old, ramshackle, wooden houseboats in the Chicago river at Irving Park Road, just south of the bridge. As I recall, there were about 3 or 4 and they were on the west side of the river on the riverbank. My Dad told me that they had been there as long as he could remember (that would have been the early 1930s) and they looked awful. They were wood and were well weathered, just raw wood, no trace of paint. I always thought it was amazing that they were still afloat. (I also found it amazing that anyone would choose to live on what appeared to be a filthy, weathered boat in that stinking and polluted river.) Dad told me that people had been living in those boats since the Depression since a houseboat didn't pay property tax.
When I was with my grammar school buddies and we were crossing the bridge, we used to pick up a bunch of stones and pelt those old boats until some rather dirty and unpleasant looking old men used to come out and curse at us, threatening to call the police.(We ignored the threat as we figured that there would be no way to get phone service to a houseboat.)
I recall the boats being there through the mid or late 1960s, then they disappeared. I don't recall any being north of the bridge and there were none at Addison street or Montrose that I can recall.
And, being a north sider in that somewhat insular time, I have no idea if there might have been any in the South branch of the river anywhere.
Does anyone else recall houseboats in the river and, if so, where were they?

Re: Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: nordsider ()
Date: December 09, 2014 08:26AM

A photo of a houseboat docked on the Chicago River in 1920!horizon&view=subscriptionsummary&uri=full=3100046~!137473~!9&ri=13&aspect=subtab114&menu=search&ipp=20&spp=20&staffonly=&term=houseboat&index=.GW&uindex=&aspect=subtab114&menu=search&ri=13

More houseboats:!horizon&view=subscriptionsummary&uri=full=3100046~!137474~!1&ri=3&aspect=subtab112&menu=search&ipp=20&spp=20&staffonly=&term=Houseboats+--+Illinois+--+Chicago+--+1920-1929.+lctgm&index=SUBJECT&uindex=&aspect=subtab112&menu=search&ri=3

Also, in the book The Chicago by Harry Hanson (published 1942) about the Chicago River, he wrote about the houseboats "They were still moored at the banks near the Irving Boulevard bridge when I visited the locality . . . " and more comments about houseboats, but no mention however, of any docked the south branch of the river.

And, David M, Solzman, in his book The Chicago River (published 1998) commented that houseboats were found on the North Branch from Lawrence Avenue to Berteau, with some vessels lingering on to the 60s. During the Depression, many people who lost their homes moved onto houseboats.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 12/09/2014 01:57PM by nordsider.

Re: Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: 222psm ()
Date: December 09, 2014 09:40AM

Correct me if I'm wrong but I grew up near Horner park and I seem to remember the old (what seemed to be abandoned) boat houses as late as the mid to late 70's in the exact spot you're talking about. Then one day they were gone, I all ways wondered who would live in such deplorable conditions.

Re: Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: davey7 ()
Date: December 09, 2014 02:40PM

Geoffrey Baer just talked about this on Channel 11. I think they were built or, perhaps more accurately, used as full time housing, during the depression since they were cheap. I can't find a direct link to the program. I don't believe there were any on the south side since that was busier, linking to the canals and rivers to the west and southwest as well as more industrial and polluted. At least that's my story/theory and I'm sticking to it and with it even if presented with facts to the contrary. Or not.

Re: Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: ambrosemario ()
Date: December 10, 2014 09:27PM

I remember seeing nasty looking houseboats docked in the Chicago River at Wolf's Point at least until the early seventies.

Re: Houseboats in the Chicago River
Posted by: boilerbob7 ()
Date: December 15, 2014 04:31PM

During the seventies, I had several friends who lived on a couple of them. One had a large piano. There was a houseboat that we used as a clubhouse we called the "North Branch Yacht Club" It had running water during the summer (a hose from the nearby factory with owners approval) and a telephone. Several people used the area for winter boat storage since the water very seldom had any ice. It was also used for band practice.

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