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Marktown: A brief history

Updated: March 8, 2013 6:36AM



Today, Marktown is home to about 550 residents. The majority are Hispanic, with smaller percentages of African-Americans and white residents. Some of the homes are dilapidated, due primarily to absentee landlords who have not maintained their properties but are hoping to make a profit from BP or some other deep-pocketed neighbor. The majority of houses, however, are well kept and owned by the people living in them. The average income in Marktown’s 165 households is about $38,000 a year, and about 15 percent live below the poverty level.

No one would mistake Marktown for paradise. It is an island of homes surrounded by one of the largest complexes of heavy industry in the United States. Its next door neighbors are an oil refinery, steel mills and other industrial plants. The BP refinery lights up the night sky and one of the refinery’s new structures to handle Canadian crude rises several stories into the sky and hovers over Marktown. The sound of trucks hauling heavy loads of steel is not uncommon. There is probably no other community in America, certainly not in the Chicago area, which is surrounded by so much heavy industry. But that’s the way it was designed to be, and that’s what makes Marktown unique enough to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1917 by Chicago steel pipe maker Clayton Mark, the community that eventually became known as Marktown was created to deal with the lack of housing in the area in which Mark planned to expand his company. Mark charged Howard Van Doren Shaw, a well-known Chicago architect who’d designed Mark’s own home in Lake Forest, Ill., with the task.

Shaw, who’d designed what’s thought to be one of the first shopping centers, Market Square, a year earlier, envisioned Marktown as an English village, with detached, boarding and row houses, a school, library, public square parks and shops. World War I and a faltering economy, however, cut the plan to 200 stucco-clad buildings from 8,000.

In response to a second threat to its existence in the 1970s, when Cline Avenue was being built, Marktown was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. After the first threat in 1955, the then-Inland Steel Mill was forced to build a 13-acre park, said Paul Myers.

Source: Marktown Historic District (www.marktown.org)



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