Since Chicago’s founding, the Near North Side has always been a neighborhood in transition. Early development was chiefly centered around industry, and the immigrant population that supported that industry was concentrated around the north branch of the Chicago River. Swedes, Irish and Germans worked at breweries and coal plants, giving the area such colorful names as “Little Hell” and “The Patch” in the 1850s.
After the Chicago Fire of 1871 largely leveled the area, the cheap land and housing was subsequently filled in by the wave of immigrants from Sicily in the 1880s. The neighborhood was then dubbed “Little Sicily,” a moniker that held strong until the mid-20 th century. Around the same time, bridges started to be built across the river and Potter Palmer established his mansion on Lakeshore in 1885. The wealthy began their migration north from Prairie Avenue, and the Gold Coast was born.