Tower 8 controlled the only entry point to the Loop that no longer exists, at Van Buren and Wells. The tracks continuing west away from the photographer were used by the trains of the Metropolitan Division to enter the Loop until October 1955. The Franklin & Van Buren station is in the background. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from the Bruce G. Moffat Collection)

Tower 8
Van Buren Street and Wells Street, Loop

Service Notes:


Loop (Ravenswood, Garfield, Douglas, Lake, Evanston Express)

Quick Facts:

Established: October 3, 1897
Original Line: Union Elevated Railroad
Rebuilt: n/a
Status: Demolished



The location that was home to Tower 8 and its associated junction was placed in service on October 3, 1897 to connect the Metropolitan West Side Elevated to the Loop Elevated. Tower 8 was located at the southwest corner of the Loop and controlled a T-shaped junction, with the short three-block connector along Van Buren and Market [now Wacker] built in 1897 to connect the Loop and the old Metropolitan main line connecting from the west.

So, why is Tower 8 called "Tower 8"? For administrative reasons that have now become unclear, the 11 stations and and three junctions on the Loop were assigned numbers beginning at the Van Buren & Fifth junction and counting up going counterclockwise around the Loop. The scheme progressed as follows:

8 - Fifth & Van Buren junction

9 - Pacific (LaSalle) & Van Buren station

10 - Dearborn & Van Buren station

11 - State & Van Buren station

12 - Van Buren & Wabash junction

13 - Adams & Wabash station

14 - Madison & Wabash station

15 - Randolph & Wabash station

16 - State & Lake station

17 - Clark & Lake station

18 - Lake & Fifth station (junction, after 1899)

19 - Randolph & Fifth station

20 - Madison & Fifth station

21 - Quincy & Fifth station

No records have survived that indicate what numbers 1-7 were to be used for, although they may have been assigned to the Union Consolidated line west of Market Street, for which the company received a franchise but had no real intention of constructing. Another theory is that they were for the various stub terminal stations and junctions, and for the Met's Franklin & Van Buren station. In any case, these administrative numbers survive today only in the names of the two remaining original junction towers: 12 and 18.

The tower itself was a two-story affair set south of the junction, cantilevered off the elevated structure over the corner of Wells and Van Buren. Its architecture was more practical than of any particular style, but did feature decorative window frames and sills, belt course moldings, and a hipped roof with a small chimney for the coal-burning stove inside. Entrance to the first floor was through a door at track level. Access to the second floor was also from outside, via a stairway on the exterior of the tower. The interior space was tight. With windows on all sides for maximum visibility, the tower was heated only by a small iron potbelly stove in the corner of the room. The junction was equipped with a hand-operated lever form of switch and signal control. This made the interior a dizzying array of levers and switches, all of which had to be precisely aligned by a vigilant towerman.

From 1897 to 1913, the track configuration of the junction remained largely the same. The Loop was operated as a railroad with left-hand running -- a very unusual practice in America -- a trait shared by two other "L" routes: the Northwestern Elevated and Lake Street Elevated. The Metropolitan and South Side elevateds started as and remained right-hand railroads, making the changeover to left-hand operation upon their entrance to the Loop at Towers 8 and 12, respectively. From the day the Loop opened, Metropolitan Division trains -- Garfield Park, Douglas Park, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park services -- were assigned to run counterclockwise on the Inner Loop.

In 1913, the Chicago Elevated Railways instituted crosstown service. While this required reconfiguration of the junctions at towers 12 and 18 to accommodate the now-through-routed North-South trains, Tower 8 didn't require any changes to accommodate crosstown service, despite another change concurrent effective at the same time: just after midnight on November 3, 1913, all trains began operating in a counterclockwise, unidirectional manner. Northwestern and South Side trains operated on the outer track and Metropolitan and Oak Park (Lake Street) trains on the inner track. North-South trains operated northbound via Wabash Avenue and Lake Street, while southbound they operated via Fifth Avenue (now Wells Street) and Van Buren Street. Still, Metropolitan trains made the same move through Tower 8 that they did before and trains that made the Outer Loop-around move between Wells and Van Buren continued to do so, just in the opposite direction.

The configuration of Tower 8 remained largely the same for the next 42 years, despite another crosstown route revamp in 1931 and the opening of the State Street Subway in 1943. By the mid-1930s, a stub track had been added diverging to the west from the Outer Loop track toward Van Buren Street, although it ended in a bumping post rather than actually continuing to the West Side Connector and providing an Outer Loop-to-westbound Van Buren Street connection.

The next big change to Tower 8 -- its removal -- came as part of the construction of the Congress Line to the replace the Garfield Park elevated. In the end, Congress trains were be routed into the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, removing Garfield trains from the Loop. This would eliminate the need for the western access to the Loop via the Metropolitan main line, though it was eliminated in stages.

On October 11, 1955, the connector between the Met main line and the Loop via Van Buren and Market streets, connecting at the southwest corner of the elevated quadrangle, was taken out of service. This closed Tower 8, with the tracks, switches, and tower removed in short order. The Congress Line and its connection to the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway were not ready yet, so a new, temporary connection to the Garfield Line was established half-block north by breaking through the abandoned stub-end Wells Street Terminal, which fronted on the Loop Elevated just south of Quincy station. The new junction was known as Tower 22 and for a few years Garfield Line trains accessed the Loop this way.


This is what the former location of Tower 8 looks like today, looking south on May 20, 2003. The tower would have been straight ahead over Wells Street and the connector to the Metropolitan main line would have branched off to the right. Note that the arrangement of the columns and spans, to some degree, belay that at one time there was more structure off to the right of the existing infrastructure. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

tower8a.jpg (144k)
Looking north in the summer of 1937, a Ravenswood Shoppers Special turns east onto Van Buren from Wells. The Franklin & Van Buren station is in the background. (Photo from the Krambles-Peterson Collection)

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Tower 8 is visible on the left as a Metropolitan Division train crosses over to the Inner Loop track at Van Buren and Wells in this view looking west circa the 1940s. Note the semaphore signals on the left. (Photo from the CTA Collection)

060789pv.jpg (120k) [Off-site link]
With Tower 8 and its associated junction long since removed, the remnants of the former T-intersection are evident in this view of the elevated structure looking east at the corner of Van Buren and Wells in 1971. The cut off flanges visible on the face of the crossbeam show where the elevated structure that formerly continued west used to connect to the Loop elevated structure. (Photo by Jack Boucher, courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress)

060790pv.jpg (111k) [Off-site link]
This 1971 view of the Loop elevated structure looking northeast on Van Buren shows where Tower 8 used to cantilever off the elevated structure, controlling the long since removed junction at the southwest corner of the Loop. (Photo by Jack Boucher, courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress)