Beginning in 1852, the Illinois Central's railroad tracks approached the city on a trestle several hundred feet offshore. The Michigan Avenue buildings in this old photo looked out across a thin strip of land to a constant parade of dirty, noisy trains chugging past, obstructing their view of one of the world's spectacular waterfronts.
Citing an 1836 city decree that set aside the lakefront as public ground, city activists including mail-order baron Aaron Montgomery Ward fought for decades to banish the railroad. It wasn't until 1909, twenty years after this old photo was taken, that architect Daniel Burnham created his Chicago Plan to improve the city, giving Chicagoans a view "stretching away to the horizon, where water and clouds seem to meet."
Today, the buildings in the new photo look out on Grant Park, and Lake Michigan beyond.