Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Thirst for Early Chicago History

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of Chicago history. And I just discovered five books, and a re-issued early city directory that have gone a long way to quenching my deep thirst to know how Chicago was born, who the people were who came to Chicago in the early 1830s (the Native Americans had been here long before), and where these first Chicagoans settled. Here are the five reference books:
  1. A History of Chicago, Vol. 1, The Beginning of a City 1673-1848, Bessie Louise Pierce, The University of Chicago, 1937, Chicago, IL. (Vol. 2 From Town to City 1848-1871, Vol. 3 The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893)
  2. History of Chicago, Vol. 1, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Alfred Theodore Andreas, A.T. Andreas publisher, 1884, Chicago
  3. The Catholic Church in Chicago: 1673-1871, An Historical Sketch, Gilbert J. Garraghan, S.J., Loyola University Press, 1921, Chicago, IL.
  4. One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago: The Relationship of the Growth of Chicago to the Rise of its Land Values, 1830-1933, Homer Hoyt, The University of Chicago, 1933, Chicago, reprinted by Beard Books, Washington D.C., 2000.
  5. Chicago’s First Half Century, The City as it was Fifty Years Ago and as it is Today, The Inter Ocean Publishing Company, 1883, Chicago, Illinois.
Both Pierce’s and Andreas’ books are well-researched, greatly detailed histories in three volumes each where one learns about how the city came to be and how it developed.  The chronology of the Catholic Church in Chicago by Father Garraghan gives an unexpected concurrent history of the city that petitioned for and supported the Church. The fourth book by Hoyt is a history of the ups and downs of land values in Chicago which parallels the movement of the people within this great city. The fifth source was published by the Inter Ocean Publishing Company in 1883. Although it has a slight flavor of a chamber of commerce piece with advertising included, it also provides a good introduction to life in nineteenth century Chicago and a detailed look at early industries.

In addition to the five books, I found the Chicago City Directory for 1844 (re-printed and made widely available in 1892) to be a valuable primary source for information on the beginning and rise of Chicago from the 1830s. These words from p. 15-16 of the Directory perfectly describe the reason for Chicago to be situated where it was and the reasons it was destined for greatness: 
“Situated on the waters of the only Great lake exclusively within the United States – being the termination, on the one hand, of the navigation of the Lakes, and on the other, of the Illinois and Michigan Canal – affording great natural facilities for a harbor, by means of Chicago River and its branches – having dependent upon it a region of country vast in extent and of extraordinary fertility, it must always be the dividing point between two great sections of the Union, where the productions of each must meet and pay tribute.”
"Location of Chicago with Respect
 to Water-Way Systems", Hoyt, p. 8.
One of my first questions about Chicago is when it was incorporated as a town. When I explored my sources for the answer, I learned something about the requirements needed for a village to become a town in addition to a sufficient population. Once Chicago had grown past a few fur traders, and wives and children joined the male pioneers, the desire for spiritual guidance grew.  In his book on the Catholic Church in Chicago, Father Garraghan states:  
“Chicago was incorporated as a town in June 1833….”p.36 
But something important for the spiritual growth of the area happened in April of 1833, two months before incorporation. In that month, a group of the leaders of the Catholic faithful wrote up a petition, requesting a priest be sent to Chicago to attend the spiritual needs of the population. (p. 45-46.) According to Father Garraghan, there were 37 male heads of household who signed the petition.  But when you added the family members who were listed after each male, the total came to 128. [The total population of Chicago in 1833 was about 350, Hoyt, p.19] Father Garraghan tells his readers the ethnic background of this group: 
“Catholics other than those of French or Indian stock were few in Chicago in 1833.”
Father Garraghan gives the Protestants their due in his narrative: 
“…the year 1833 saw church organizations regularly established in Chicago for the first time, three churches, Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist being founded during that year….” p. 52
Now we know when the town of Chicago was established and who was there. Although Father Garraghan described the ethnic background of the early Chicago Catholics, he didn’t do the same for the Protestant population.  We do have the August 1833 poll list, and can study the surnames to make guesses about ethnicity. To get a more exact idea of the balance of ethnic groups in early Chicago’s population, we may consult a table created by Bessie Louise Pierce in Vol. 2 of her history:

A History of Chicago, Vol. 1, The Beginning of a City 1673-1848
Bessie Louise Pierce, The University of Chicago,
1937, Chicago, IL. (Vol. 2
 From Town to City 1848-1871,
Vol. 3
 The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893)
 With the knowledge of Chicago’s earliest population, we also want to know where exactly the geographic beginning of our beloved city was. According to the 1844 City Directory: 
CHICAGO, Cook County, Illinois, is situated on the Southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, at the head of Lake navigation, in lat. 41 deg., 45 sec, North, and long, 10 deg., 45 sec. West. The site of the City occupies a level prairie, on both sides of the main stream, and the North and South Branches of Chicago River, and covers an area of about three and a half miles in length, North and South, and two and a half in breadth, East and West, about a mile and a half square of which is already regularly built upon, and the streets opened and graded.” p. 5
A good idea of the size and physical location of Chicago is well depicted on an 1830 map. Wikimedia tells us that for early Chicago research, we are very fortunate that “The Illinois and Michigan Canal Commissioners hired James Thompson, a surveyor…to create Chicago’s first plat (map) 1830.”
By James Thompson [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons 
This is where Chicago began. But for a visual representation of the early city, we have a painting by Edgar Spier Cameron.

Chicago Its History and Its Builders: 
A Century of Marvelous Growth, Currey, 
J. Seymour, The S.J. Clarke Publishing 
Company, Chicago, 1910. p. 11.
In  Chicago’s First Half-Century we read a description of what Cameron’s painting depicts:
 “The first record of a postmaster’s appointment at Chicago is March 31, 1831, and Jonathan N. Bailey, an Indian trader, opened his office on the east bank of the river, in the store of John S.C. Hogan, at the corner of Lake and South Water Streets.” p. 20 
Chicago’s First Half-Century gives us a year-by-year chronicle of the retail/wholesale beginnings and development of Chicago:
 “Philo Carpenter had the first store outside the post in 1833, and later P.F. W. Peck built a store. Both these stores were on Water Street. Carpenter’s was near Franklin Street, or rather where the road turned to go over the river at the point where Lake Street bridge is now located.” p. 92 [only basic provisions were stocked in these stores]
One year later, 1834, again in Chicago’s First Half-Century, we read: 
“In 1834 there were no less than eight stores in Chicago, and the village kept growing. A.G. Burley opened the first crockery store, and he went so far as to build his store on the new street or road just opened, and called Lake Street. Burley’s store was up near the point where LaSalle Street is now located.” p. 92 (see Thompson map above.)
Two years later in the same source we learn: 
“In 1836 the village had grown to the proportions of a town, and there were about fifty stores in the place. There were streets as far south as Madison street, and as far north as Indiana street, with an extension on the West Side of Lake street and Randolph street; and Canal and Clinton streets were blocked out also.” p. 92 
You can see this expansion on Joshua Hathaway’s 1834 map of Chicago:

1834 Map of Chicago by Hathaway,wikimedia
Homer Hoyt in his book One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago, describes a primitive outpost, adding more details to what 1833 Chicago looked like from personal letters:

·       Granville T. Sprout wrote: “In 1833 there was a row of business houses and cabins on South Water Street between State and Wells Street and this was the principal street of the town.1
·        John Bates wrote: “There was nothing on Lake Street… except perhaps the Catholic Church [Old St. Mary’s] begun on the northwest corner of Lake and State.”2
·       Rev. Jeremiah Porter stated: “The corner of Clark and Lake in 1833 was a lonely spot almost inaccessible on account of surrounding sloughs and bogs.”3

But in one year, by 1834, there was phenomenal growth in the number of people in Chicago. According to Hoyt: 
“…its population increased from the 350 of the year before to 2,000.” p. 19
 And Hoyt goes on to describe where the commercial expansion took place:
“The principal growth of that year was along Lake Street, but the corner of Lake and LaSalle streets was still so far from the center of business that the construction of a four-story brick building at that point was referred to as ‘Hubbard’s Folly.’ The construction of a drawbridge over the main channel (of the Chicago River) at Dearborn Street in 1834 had the effect of concentrating business near South Water and Dearborn Street.” p. 19
Chicago’s First Half-Century, p. 16
With all this growth, one might think that the frontier outpost was fast becoming a city. But not according to a letter written by Mr. Enoch Chase describing Chicago in 1834 that Hoyt quotes: 
“Besides the log cabin on the West Side (of the Chicago River) kept by Mr. Stiles, there was a blacksmith shop. That was all. On the North Side were John Kinzie’s house and a few others. On the South Side there was one house south of Lake Street which was situated on the west side of Clark Street….On Lake and South Water streets was the main village. Lake Street boasted one brick block which belonged to Hubbard.” [I added one more sentence from chase’s letter.] “Jim Kinzie’s store, P.F.W. Peck’s store, Harmon’s and Loomis’s [again these stores carried only basic provisions] were all on South Water Street.” 4
Another way to chart where Chicago started and how/where it branched out from year to year is to read Father Garraghan’s history of the building of Catholic churches in the city:
 “St. Mary’s, the first Catholic Church in Chicago, erected in 1833 by Father St. Cyr on the south side of Lake Street near State….” p. 82 
But as the population grew, the first building could no longer hold all the congregants. St. Mary’s moved to a larger space. Below is a photograph of St. Mary’s “in its third and last location, on the south side of Madison Street between Wabash Avenue and State Street.” p. 82.

 Chicago History Museum, ICHi-37096.
J.H. Murphy, photographer
By 1846 there were 1300 Catholics in Chicago, one-tenth the population of the city (p. 119, Garraghan.) Although this number didn’t demand a large number of new churches at the moment, estimates of future growth due to immigration caused BishopWilliam J. Quarter to organize 
“…three additional parishes, St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s. St. Patrick’s Church…stood at the southwest corner of Desplaines and Randolph Streets, on the west side of the river, where Irish immigrants had begun to settle in large numbers.” p. 119
St. Joseph’s was to serve German Catholics north of the Chicago River and “…stood at the north-east corner of Cass and Superior Streets….” (p. 193 Garraghan) while St. Peter’s, also serving the growing German Catholic population, was built south of the Chicago River “…on the south side of Washington Street between Wells and Franklin Streets.”5

Thus from the commercial and religious building in early Chicago, we can chart the growth of the city from its meager beginnings. No one who knows the city of today could imagine how it started one hundred and eighty-four years ago. Those early pioneers had great imagination, fortitude, raw energy, and steadfastness to risk all in such a wild and swampy prairie. With what amazement would they now behold Chicago in the twenty-first century.

1 Granville T. Sproat, letter to the Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1886; letter of Charles Butler, December, 1881, in Andreas, op. cit., I, 129. (p.18 Hoyt)
2 Andreas, op. cit., I, 131 (p.18 Hoyt)
3Andreas, op. cit., I, 300 (p.18 Hoyt)
4 Andreas, op. cit., I, pp. 138-139, Letter of Enoch Chase, August 2, 1883 (p. 19 Hoyt)
5 History of St. Peter’s Church, Chicago, Illinois, Franciscans, Province of the Sacred Heart, Chicago, 1953, p. 32.

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