Memories of Maxwell Street: The Maxwell Street Foundation

In the 1930’s, my German father remembers buying dishes with his Mom on Maxwell Street Chicago as well as pots and pans; always finding something useful. It was Grandma’s time to socialize. German immigrants were some of the first to settle. My friend remembers arriving on Maxwell Street with his Polish grandfather in the 1960’s bargain hunting for tools, appliances and produce. And he remembers polish sausage,corned beef, used books, scissors, knives and looking at clothes. All sorts of products could be found at Maxwell street for the right price. Maxwell Street was the best flea market in the city.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago,  in the early 1900’s immigrants arrived from several continents and many countries shortly before the turn of the century. First to come were Germans, Irish, Poles, Bohemians, and, most prominently, Jews, especially those escaping czarist Russia, Poland, and Romania.

The same friend of mine was growing up as a young musician especially loving the blues. Maxwell Street, right after World War II, was known for street musicians primarily blues and gospel. Famous band leader Benny Goodman was born in Chicago in 1909 and spent most of his youth playing the clarinet on Maxwell Street. The Blues Brothers movie produced in 1980 features Maxwell street. It truly was the birthplace of the Chicago Blues. Maxwell Street was the first stopping place for thousands of African-Americans newly arrived from the Mississippi Delta. Many performed at Maxwell Street with their harmonicas and guitars as well as known gospel singers such as Carrie Robinson and Thomas Dorsey.

The Maxwell Street Foundation has been established that offers an excellent history. Beginning in 1993, one year before the historic Maxwell Street Market was moved from the location it had occupied since 1912, future Foundation members advocated alternatives to the removal of Maxwell Street residents, businesses and buildings as the University of Illinois at Chicago cleared the area for its south campus expansion. They worked to preserve the street and they were able to save several buildings.

The Maxwell Street Foundation offers walking tours of the Maxwell Street neighborhood by appointment, sharing insights into the architecture, history and cultures. The Maxwell Street Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and contributions are tax deductible.

In October 2008, Maxwell Street Market moved to the intersection of Roosevelt Rd. and S. Des Plaines Avenue. For over 100 years, The Maxwell Street Market is still a Chicago tradition with an eclectic mix of handmade crafts, resale housewares and clothing, live music, family fun and some of the best street food in Chicago.