No one actually lives on Goose Island (a tiny man-made isle surrounded by the Chicago River), but this small near north side area draws Chicagoans to its premises with a phenomenal restaurant scene (extremely small, but phenomenal) that joins the ranks of some of the city's best dining. It's headed up by The Dining Room at Kendall College. Get a masterful meal prepared by students striving to get an "A" on their culinary efforts. Cheaper than eating at a five-star establishment, you still get dishes on par with Chicago's finest restaurants for a fraction of the price.
Goose Island Facts
Location: 1 mile northwest of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: Near North, Lincoln Park, River West
Boundaries: As an island, Goose Island is completely surrounded by the Chicago River.
Crime Statistics: Go to http://gis.chicagopolice.org to search specific streets and areas for crime incidents
Then and Now
Though most area residents have become familiar with the name "Goose Island" from the popular brewpub of the same name, many would be surprised to learn that there is an island, about 160 acres large, in the middle of their fair city.
In fact, Goose Island is the only island that currently exists on the Chicago River. It is a man-made island on the North Branch of the Chicago River that is separated from the rest of the Near North by the North Branch Canal, which was dug in the 1850s. The man that is credited with having commissioned the dredging of the canal is William B. Ogden, Chicago’s first mayor. The story of the land, though, predates Ogden. In 1832, a man named Charles Taylor bought the land that now comprises most of Goose Island for $100, and then sold it that same year for upwards of $500. Talk about your property appreciation! Certain sections of the property changed hands frequently throughout the following decades, until 1853, when the entire land tract was sold to the Chicago Land Company, of which Ogden was trustee.
In the early years after the canal was dredged, many residents referred to the new island as "Ogden Island," though it was never officially given that name. The exact source of the name "Goose Island" is somewhat hazy, but there are several theories in circulation. Some attribute the moniker to the odd oblong shape of the island, which could, if looked at from the right angle, resemble the body of a goose. Others suggest that the name comes from the Irish settlers that inhabited the island for much of the 19th century, claiming that they kept geese as livestock. The most common theory, though, is that the name stems from a different, smaller island, about a mile downstream near where the north branch meets the south branch. It was said that this island (which no longer exists), once served as a popular resting place for large flocks of geese and ducks.
The Irish hypothesis for the naming of Goose Island is not without foundation, as the area was first inhabited by Irish Immigrants that came to Chicago to escape the potato famine that devastated Ireland in the mid-19th century. The northeast portion of the island contained several residential streets that were heavily populated for a few decades, although much open land remained in the middle of the island. In fact, there was so much open land on the island that the Irish settlers were able to maintain a measure of agrarian culture. In many reports, residents of Goose Island are said to have kept chickens, goats and cows, and grew potatoes and cabbage in their yards.
As with much of the Near North side of Chicago, though, by the end of the 19th century, residents of Goose Island had fallen into a state of poverty and the area become one of general disrepute. As industry grew in the first half of the 20th century, the residential area of Goose Island steadily shrank. A rail track was built that cut through the middle of the island, connecting rail freight with river traffic, which can account, in large part, for the increasing importance of Goose Island as an industrial center. Only three families are said to have lived on the island by the mid 1970s, and by the mid 1980s there was reportedly only one house that remained. The question of the direction that Goose Island would take in the future was taken up in public debate in the late 1980s, as residential developers expressed a desire to build on the largely industrialized island. Because of the island’s proximity to both downtown Chicago and the trendy River North and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, developers recognized the potential of the land, but they were met with strong opposition. In 1990, Mayor Richard Daley supported the designation of Goose Island as a Planned Manufacturing district, which would effectively guard the island against any residential development (residential permits are expressly forbidden in Planned Manufacturing Districts).
Best Shopping Stops
Goose Island is probably the last place in Chicago you might call a shopping destination, unless of course you’re a professional (or amateur) photographer. If that’s the case, just about anything you might need could be found at Calumet Photographic (900 W Bliss St, 312-944-2774). Widely regarded as the best photo shop in Chicago, Calumet has it all. They stock all the gear and can accommodate most of the printing needs of photography professionals, and the staff at Calumet knows more about their inventory than your average retail clerk. Beyond that, the folks at Calumet offer cheap photography classes, and they have a good supply of used equipment that’s in decent condition. And if you absolutely need a camera for a shoot and can’t shell out the cash, Calumet will rent you one for a very reasonable price. If only every store were run like this!
What’s on the Menu?
When it comes to fried shrimp, Chicagoans tend to have certain loyalties, depending on where they live, but most everyone that has tried it will confess that the Goose Island Shrimp House (1013 W Division St, 312-642-3640) serves up some of the best shrimp around. The place is known almost as well for its great deals as for the quality of the seafood. The cooks are said to weigh the shrimp before breading it and dropping it in the fryer, ensuring that you get a good portion. And everything is freshly prepared in the kitchen by hand (none of that pre-bought frozen nonsense). That everything is made fresh does mean that you’ll have to wait, but when your eyes hit a big plate overflowing with steaming shrimp, it’ll all be worthwhile. Besides the namesake shrimp, you can also get fried scallops, clams and catfish nuggets. Most items are ordered by the pound or half-pound, with a half-pound of shrimp running about $4.
If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for fine dining but your pocket book can’t take the pinch, a trip to The Dining Room at Kendall College (900 N North Branch St, 866-667-3344) is in order. The food is arguably as good as what you would be served at any of the best restaurants in the swanky Chicago dining scene at only a fraction of the price. Meticulous emphasis is placed on atmosphere and service at the many of the restaurants of the upper crust, but sometimes that stuff seems a bit superfluous. The Kendall College dining room cuts right to the chase: no frills, just outstanding food at very reasonable prices. Though the students do all of the cooking, the master chefs are on hand inspecting every dish before it leaves the kitchen. You will be served, of course, by culinary students as well. Though they often have little or no training as servers, they know how to talk about food and they can often make quite affable and capable waiters. Most guests at the Dining Room opt for the prix fixe because it’s a remarkable bargain. After all, where else can you get a superb four-course meal for under $30?
Driving is easily the most popular means of getting around Goose Island. In fact, millions of people have probably passed through Goose Island—either on Division Street or Halsted Street—without ever knowing that they’d ever set foot on the small island. Division and Halsted streets are the main thoroughfares, and they are the only roads that connect the island with the rest of the city. CTA trains do not pass through or make stops on the island, but there are two buses that service Goose Island: the #70 Division Street bus and the #8 Halsted Bus. The #70 makes a stop at the west side of the island, where Division Street meets the North Branch of the Chicago River, and the Halsted Avenue bus makes a stop just outside of Goose Island, at the intersection of Halsted and Division streets.
School’s in Session
The only school that is actually located on Goose Island is Chicago’s premier culinary school, Kendall College (900 N North Branch St, 866-667-3344). Kendall College first opened its doors in 1934, and now offers Bachelor’s degrees in a variety of food service-related fields. Widely considered to be one of the best culinary schools in the country, Kendall College unleashes legions of talented young chefs on the Chicago dining scene every year.
Because of its designation as a Planned Manufacturing District there are no primary or secondary schools located on the island. However, if you are in search of a school in nearby neighborhoods, you can find more information on Chicago schools at our Chicago Guide Schools page.
Kendall College - 900 N North Branch St - (866) 667-3344
Calumet Photographic - 900 W Bliss St - (312) 944-2774
The Dining Room at Kendall College - 900 N North Branch Street - (312) 752-2328
Flaming Wok’n Grill - 903 N Halsted St - (312) 274-0599
Finkel’s on the River - 926 N North Branch St - (312) 335-0050
Goose Island Shrimp House - 1013 W Division St- (312) 642-3640
There’s a lot of mystery involved in searching for a new home—it starts with the property and expands outward to encompass the street, the block, the neighborhood, the entire city! Every little thing matters from the color of the walls to the attractions of the town. That’s why a guide like this one on Goose Island is so helpful to potential homebuyers. Without leaving the comfort of your desktop computer or laptop, you’ve got an extensive pool of information on all of Chicago’s neighborhoods that includes first-hand descriptions of dining, entertainment, shopping, bars, and events, in addition to lists of schools, hospitals, post offices, and gyms. We’ve done all the research to carefully craft this one-stop online spot, and create your hub for the real deal on Goose Island. So as soon as a Chicago loft, condo, townhome or house catches your eye, you know where to come for the low down on the digs around that prime piece of real estate.