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Social Studies

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Table of Contents > Chapter 7

Lower West Side (continued)

More than any other ethnic group in Chicago, Bohemians tended to be socialists and freethinkers, and they were closely identified with the "Battle of the Viaduct" on July 26, 1877 when Chicago police and U.S. soldiers killed nearly thirty workers and injured two hundred persons, among them women and children. According to Schneirov, Bohemian lumbershovers spontaneously joined the railroad strike of 1877, expanding it beyond the Michigan Central railroad yards near the lakefront to the area west of the Chicago River. Bohemian women filled their aprons with stones, thereby aiding their husbands and sons in the conflict with the police and militia. At one door and sash factory on 22nd Street, Bohemian women "stoned the hated bluecoats till they dispersed."

So intense were the confrontations between workers and police on Chicago's Lower West Side that Blue Island Avenue came to be known in labor circles all over the nation. Built as a plank road in 1854 linking Western Avenue to downtown Chicago, Blue Island Avenue was filled in with cinders from nearby factories, hence its name "Black Road." In 1877 and again in 1886, battles between police and strikers outside the McCormick Reaper Works gave new meaning to the sobriquet "Black Road."

In addition to the struggle for economic survival, religious differences shaped the Bohemian community in Pilsen. Freethinkers, Catholics, and Protestants all formed their own institutions , especially schools and sokols where Czech values could be transmitted to American-born children (See Fig. 1). The Bohemian community also supported a wide range of newspapers, from the liberal Czech Svornost to the Socialist weekly, Spravedlnost and the Catholic daily, Narod.

By the 1880s, an estimated 45,000 Bohemians lived in the area bounded by 16th Street, Halsted, 20th Street (Cullerton), and Ashland Avenue. One of Pilsen's first Bohemian institutions was St. Procopius parish, established in 1875. So quickly did the membership of this congregation grow that within eight years they were able to build and dedicate the massive Romanesque church which stands today at the northeast corner of 18th and Allport, a link with the neighborhood's Bohemian past.

Not only did St. Procopius parish overshadow the older Irish parish of Sacred Heart at 19th and Peoria, but it became the "mother church" of Chicago's West Side Bohemian parishes. As early as 1888, Bohemian Benedictine priests from St. Procopius established a mission at 18th Place and Paulina which developed into the flourishing parish of St. Vitus. More than just a neighborhood church, St. Procopius was the largest Bohemian congregation in the United States, and it supported an abbey, the printing plant for Narod, a large grammar school, and a boys high school (1887), which would later evolve into Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle.

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Figure 1: The lodge headquarters of the Czech Slavic Benevolent Society (CSPS), built in 1879 at 1226 W. 18th Street. »

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