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Cook County HighwayNews Archive

Welcome to the webpage of the Cook County Highway News Archive. On this page and in the subsequent links, you will find a complete, fully searchable set of the Cook Count Highway News publication, and information about the history of the Cook County Highway Department/System.

The Cook County Highway News is a unique firsthand account of the construction of the Cook County Highway system in the mid 20th century. Unlike most publications produced by government organizations, the Cook County Highway Department choose to chronicle the passing scene and only make a relatively modest attempt at department self promotion. As such, the collection provides an important account of highway building in the Chicago Region during the mid 20th century.  Cook County Highway News ran from June of 1953 until December of 1976 under a number of caring editors.  One of the main features of the publication was its love affair with transportation history, both that which occurred prior to 1955 and also on the construction of the Cook County expressway system occurring during that time. 

The digitization of the newsletter was completed as part of a service project by the 2010 Chaddick Scholars class at DePaul University's Chaddick Institute. Graduate students spent several days scanning over 2,000 pages from the collection and combining those scans into a single file that is chronologically organized and searchable. The timing of this project nicely coincides with the 50th anniversary of the completion of both the Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressway systems in the Chicago region. We hope that you will find the collection interesting and useful for your research or personal enrichment.

The newsletter collection scanned for this project is the property of former Cook County Highway Superintendent Carl Kowalski.  The project was made possible through collaboration between Joseph Schwieterman, Director of the Chaddick Institute, and Andrew Plummer, Transportation Historian. The project was coordinated by Lauren Fischer, Research Associate at the Chaddick Institute with assistance from graduate students Antwon Bailey, Alice Bieszczat, Steven Field, Justin Klusas, Suzanne Ostrovsky and Jonathan Wittig. The file is a complete set of the newsletter including several variations published by the highway department during the 22 years it existed.  The digitized version is a PDF file with a searchable index and word search capabilities.

Full edition of the Cook County Highway News.

Cook County Highway News 1953 - 1959
Cook County Highway News 1960 - 1965
Cook County Highway News 1966 - 1969
Cook County Highway News 1970 - 1976 

History of Cook County Highway and Publication

The construction of the Cook County expressway system was a combined effort of the County Highway Department, the City Chicago, the State of Illinois and the US Bureau of Public Roads. Under the agreement to build the expressway system in Cook County the three local agencies designed and built the highways, with each entity having responsibility for a particular section of each route. The effort was coordinated through the Bureau of Public Roads who provided between 50 to 90 percent of the cost of engineering and construction. Beginning with the first issues of Cook County Highway News, the publication outlines the county's plans for the future expressway system and the justification for building it. As major construction got underway, articles describe how elaborate sewers had to be dug to drain the huge concrete canyons in the middle of the city; details the limits of each of the contracts let by the department, the low bid and the successful bidder; the need to light the expressway and pave the shoulders were some of many the articles that detailed this effort.

Although the publication was primarily concerned with the sections of road that were the responsibility of the Cook County Highway Department it remains the only document that reported on the step by step process of designing, funding and building the five major expressways in the county. During the first 15 years of publication the newsletter chronicled month by month the story of building the expressways. A bonus feature of the publication are the pictures taken by county photographer Elmer Majewski of the expressways under construction. Although the originals are evidently lost, Mr. Majewski's work appears on the covers and within the newsletters during a majority of the time it was published. No other comprehensive source has been identified that describes this historic endeavor in words and pictures.

By 1964, Cook County Highway Department had only their third highway superintendent and a cadre of existing and retired employees linked to its formative years. The department had been created 50 years earlier by the Illinois legislature to help pull the state out of the mud, literally. The goal was to have local county highway departments be responsible for building a system of hard roads for the state. At its inception in 1914 Cook County had only one mile of concrete road but by 1964 the county was in the midst of building 60 miles of urban expressway. To celebrate that history the department published a year-long series chronicling 50 years of the highway department's activities and accomplishments using primary sources, including the proceedings of the Cook County Board, records of the department and first-hand accounts the series detailed the events, equipment and people that constituted this history. The scope of the history was not limited to the internal workings of the department but described outside events in the state and region, providing some context for the county's highway history. It is a unique resource that brings all of this pertinent information together.

The publication's editorial interest in history resulted in a variety of other history related stories and features. Over the years employees took the time to research and write about everything from early Roman roads to the local Indian trails. A continuing feature was "How a Road Was Named," a short history behind the unique names of a variety of county roads.

Highlights of Cook County Highway News

Some of the common themes and topics in the publication were as follows:

  • Descriptions of the periodic restructuring of the Cook County Highway Department.
  • Numerous articles and pictures on the department's snow fighting men and equipment deployed to fight the winter storms that hit Cook County with details on the efforts to combat the 1957 and 1967 blizzards.
  • Articles on the responsibilities, administration and history of township government in Cook County.
  • Descriptions of current transportation related federal and state legislation especially highway and transit funding proposals.
  • Publication of speeches at Midwest and national highway conferences by important transportation experts.
  • A monthly list of new construction permits by township issued by the county in the unincorporated area.
  • Descriptions of the status of projects under construction by the department and a listing of detours in effect for those projects.
  • Summaries and results of the Mississippi Valley Highway Conference which was an important Midwest event attended by hundreds of engineering and highway professionals, hosted on several occasions over the decades by the Cook County Highway Department.
  • Pictures, histories and descriptions of department personnel when they were hired, as they performed certain activities, as they got promoted, when they participated in extracurricular activities and when they retired.