Back of the Yards

Back of the Yards

You may think Back of the Yards is an interesting name for a neighborhood. But it makes sense
when you know that this South Side Chicago community surfaced in the area surrounding the
Union Stock Yards. The neighborhood was literally in the back of the Yards. It began as an
industrialized region that attracted many immigrant workers – and later – many writers’ interests.

In the late 1800s, when the meatpacking business was booming, more room was needed to
handle the increased production. That’s when Chicago expanded south and added Back of
the Yards to its official city limits. Clusters of inexpensive homes were constructed (also called
workman’s cottages) to house the many laborers that flocked to the region for employment. The
working conditions were hard in meatpacking and other manufacturing jobs spurred by the late
19th Century industrial era. These issues were famously addressed in Upton Sinclair’s novel, The
Jungle. The author detailed problems and unfair treatment in the slaughterhouses, which led to
swift enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

After the meatpacking houses shut down in the 1970s, families in Back of the Yards struggled
to make ends meet. The plants were the community’s main source of economic stability and
without them local shops and businesses could not afford to keep their doors open either. The
neighborhood needed to reinvent itself and find a way to bring money back into the community.
A new industrial park was established in the area, occupying the site of the old stock yards.

Fresh industry gradually filtered into Back of the Yards and restored a solid tax base in the
neighborhood.

The South Park Commission is responsible for Back of the Yards’ system of parks and recreation
facilities. The commission started sectioning off plots of land for parks in the early 1900s and
today the neighborhood boasts a sizeable amount of grass and tree covered outdoor space.
Davis Square Park has a spray pool, fitness center, youth sports leagues and assembly halls for
neighborhood meetings. The biggest park in Back of the Yards is Sherman Park. It is 60 acres,
designed by the Olmsted brothers (who also came up with the scheme for Central Park in New
York City). Sherman Park is a beautifully landscaped island surrounded by a lagoon, walking
trails and other recreation facilities.

Dining in Back of the Yards is an open menu of fast-food favorites, pizzerias, taquerias, Chinese
carry-outs and local taverns. The neighborhood restaurants are influenced by the diverse
population, the majority of which is Latin Americans, African Americans and Irish Americans.

Back of the Yards is a fairly large Chicago neighborhood tucked in the center of the city’s South
Side. It’s about eight miles southwest of downtown and buses run east/west along 39th Street,
47th Street, 51st Street and 55th Street. These routes end at Lake Michigan, where passengers
can transfer to north/south-bound buses.