The Purple Line

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With its excellent bike lanes and trails, Evanston is an eminently bikeable city, through which I have been riding some 10 miles almost every morning in a kind of loop around town that takes in some of our most beautiful and historic sites.

The ride starts at the Ecology Center (built in 1974 to provide environmental education to Evanston schoolchildren and families), and heads east on the Ladd Arboretum trail that parallels the North Shore Channel. At Green Bay Road, near the giant “Silver Wings” sculpture made by Ferdinand Rebechini, I swing over the Channel and loop west to Twiggs Park (with Harbert Park, Traffic Guy’s favorite), named after­ William H. Twiggs.

According to the Shorefront Legacy Center, Mr. Twiggs came to Evanston in 1884 from Iowa, attended Garrett Seminary and for many years operated his own printing press in downtown Evanston. He also was a City clerk and held important roles at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church. The park, which has its own bike repair station consisting of tire pump and various sized wrenches, ends at one of the community gardens located on either side of McCormick Boulevard and Bridge Street.

Across the street is the Dar-us-Sunnah Masjid, a mosque that opened in 2010 and serves some 200 worshippers.

From there I head south on Isabella Butler Park. Dr. Butler helped found the Evanston Sanitarium, a precursor to Community Hospital. At the corner is Hill Arboretum Apartments, a one-story, 33-unit building that features affordable and accessible housing. It is named after Dr. Elizabeth Hill, one of the City’s leading African American physicians, who with Dr. Butler helped establish Community Hospital in 1930, from which the apartments were converted in 1991. Dr. Hill delivered many prominent African American Evanstonians, including the award-winning author Charles Johnson. “Dr. Butler is an Evanston legend and founding mother and elder of the Black community in the 1940s and ’50s,” Mr. Johnson informs me.

The Butler Park trail curves gracefully south past a tot lot and playground, bordered by homes on one side and the North Shore Channel on the other.

Across Emerson Street the route continues through Eugene Beck Park, named after a former Evanston alderman, and ends at Lyons Street. From there I head south on McDaniel Avenue, passing the Morton Grove-Niles Water Commission pumping station, completed in 2019, and cross Church Street riding past the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, home of the City’s many early education programs. This Dr. Hill was an educator, principal and District 65’s first African American school superintendent. At King Literary and Fine Arts School (which opened in 1967 as King Lab) I swing east on Lake Street, past the impressive 65-acre high school (which opened in 1924) and the ETHS Power Plant, the large red brick building across the street that provides heating and air conditioning to the school.

From there I ride past Penny Park, built in 1990 from the donations of Evanston schoolchildren, and the Merrick Park Rose Garden, named for long-time Second Ward Alderman Clinton Merrick and dedicated in 1948. At the south end of the garden is the City’s original Fountain Square fountain, which was relocated from downtown Evanston in 1946. Just east is the old and stately Masonic Temple, the Police and Fire Department headquarters, a City sewage pumping station that opened in 1920, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church and the McGaw YMCA, named after a major benefactor, Foster McGaw, who was founder and head of Evanston-based American Hospital Supply Corp. for many years.

Farther east is a bevy of churches – Lake Street, Immanuel Lutheran, First Presbyterian and First Congregational. East of Raymond Park is located a 150-year-old home, according to a plaque from the Evanston Historical Society, now the Evanston History Center.

Crossing Sheridan Road, I turn north on the lakefront path, crowded in warm weather with walkers, bikers, joggers, skaters and folks heading east to picnic in Centennial Park. I continue north past Clark Street Beach, with its busy volleyball scene, as well as the Arrington Lagoon in Dawes Park, and make my way east onto Northwestern’s campus, past the massive Ryan Center for the Musical Arts building, where one can look south to see the Chicago skyline miles away, often shrouded in fog or smog.

The “lakefill path,” as Northwestern calls it, continues along the lakefront for about a mile, and features the Bird Sanctuary (which features the wonderfully named Lance Leaf Coreopsis as well as Round-headed Bush Clover and Sand Prairie Phlox), the Sailing Center, hundreds of painted rocks (including several marriage proposals and the comically fearsome shark), the massive new Kellogg School of Management building, and the university soccer/lacrosse field, ending at the new Walter Athletic Center and Ryan Fieldhouse. Turning on Lincoln Avenue, one rides by the City’s water treatment plant, which can supply 108 million gallons of “pure drinking water” a day, according to the City’s website.

Continuing north on the excellent protected bike lane on Sheridan Road I pass Northwestern’s Floyd Long Field, Grosse Point Light Station (built in 1873 and a National Historic Landmark), as well as the Harley Clarke Mansion and the popular Lighthouse Park and Beach. From there I take the bike lane north to Isabella Street and head west across Ridge Avenue, passing the 18-hole par-60 Canal Shores Golf Course (“fun, quirky and challenging,” claims its website), the street-level Purple Line El tracks and Northwestern’s Miller Park, Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field (formerly Dyche Stadium) athletic facilities.

At the west end of Isabella Street, just east of the Metra tracks, I swing south through Frank Torgerson Park and cross Central Street, passing the Metra Station, and head home along Lincoln Avenue past Haven and Lincolnwood schools and Three Crowns Plaza. Sometimes I’ll detour on Noyes Street, where near the corner of Ewing Avenue, is located one of the oldest continuously occupied homes in Evanston, a converted farmhouse built in 1860, according to the plaque.

That takes me home – a little under 10 miles, which I cover in just over an hour. Slow, but hey, who’s in a hurry with all there is to appreciate on the Tour de Evanston! After all, there aren’t many 10-mile stretches anywhere where you can see so many beautiful, interesting and historic sites as this one.