#955: Churches on the Little Calumet

July 18th, 2018

In Altgeld Gardens, the roads curve.

It’s an odd realization in a town snapped famously to a grid. But here in the far south south so south South Side crossing a street across the river takes you from Riverdale the Chicago neighborhood to Riverdale the separate municipal jurisdiction, in a housing projects that gives low-income families homes by poison and industrial waste sites, butted against a forest preserve where old men from the projects or the neighborhood glare steadily as they fish rotted waters, the roads curve.

One crackles.

Between the projects and a wooded jut west from the Beaubien Forest Preserve, East 134th Street crackles. But it’s not the pockmarks and potholes that pucker in any city road in a climate that sees winter. Riverdale and the river is the point where city becomes country. The road crackles and dissolves into muddy paths through the woods. Corliss Avenue and 134th Place are actual dirt roads under the maps and presumably auspices of the third-largest city in the nation.

But where pavement crackles and dissolves into mud-rut and a city crackles and dissolves into nature, marinas, fishing piers and low-income suburbs, street maintenance falls fallow. We’re where the sidewalk ends.

And where Chicago becomes woods becomes river, churches.

I don’t mean to imply 134th Street is the last street in Chicago. After the crackling road, curving dirt Place and jut of preserve, there’s a slip of the Little Calumet River, a marina and industrial park then 138th, the real last street in town. But 138th is a border street, shared with the villages of Burham and, at this spot, Dolton.

134th is the last street in Chicago that’s all Chicago. No county preserve. No shared, winding river. No marina and industrial park where the Google listings for their addresses can’t settle on Riverdale or Chicago. This crackling road is the last one to see a touch of Chicago pavement. These moldering churches against the woods are the last of the city where there’s no question of the matter.

Chicago is bound by churches.

Altgeld Gardens Seventh-Day Adventist, The City of Hope Evangelical Ministries, Peter Rock Church of God in Christ, Lively Stones Church of God in Christ, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago, IL, and an abandoned house so eminently, perfectly, horribly vacant it scares me slightly. The house is so long abandoned it feels like a vacuum. It feels like an un-home.

The churches and un-home are the sentinels that guard the city. This border of churches where people raise voices in praise is where this wordless city begins. Every Bucktown hipster, every Lincoln Park yup, Mt. Greenwood cop, Little Village abogado, Chinatown dentist, Loop skyscrapekateer, Little India sari shop owner, every Chad, Trixie and P-Stone in this madcap city has its geographic start with this row of churches against a woods.

Chicago is bound by churches on the Little Calumet. Old men fish the waters where the city might as well begin.

Read more stories from the edges

A kink museum in Chicago’s northernmost neighborhood

On the east edge, a former steelworker wonders if he should have told someone

Coming back on the westernmost bit of city

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You are currently reading #955: Churches on the Little Calumet by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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