Chicago; home of the Bears, the Cubs, and other sports wildlife. The headquarters for some of the most famous names in the crime and the umbrella organization American Library Association. The opponent in the on going debate between New York vs Chicago style pizza. The birth place of the department store and other famous mercantile dynasties. Chicago; a study in contradictions.
From its earliest beginnings as a pungent marsh, nicked named “Checagou” by the natives for the stench of rotting wild onions, the location was prime real estate. In the late 1600s, Europeans saw the place with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads of fortune and converts. Settlement was rather slow going however, which was just fine for those frontiersmen. Almost 100 years later, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable establishes a trading post, an Afro-Haitian man who quickly makes a bundle in this endeavor.
In 1803, Federal soldiers arrive from Detroit, Michigan to construct Fort Dearborn. By 1825, Erie Canal opens and Chicago becomes a major trading center seemingly overnight. 1831, a bridge is erected to connect the north and south sides of town. What a concept! This was an enormous deal for the town’s folks. Two years later the population explodes! So does the property value. A certain townhouse plot is bought for $300 and turn around and sold for $60,000 the very next year. 1837, Chicago garners “city status”. It only took seven years for the population to soar from 50 residents to 4,200. In 1848, the city now is World Trading center in commodities with the establishment of the Chicago Board of Trade. About 20 years later the residents of the city back a little known candidate for the upcoming presidential election by the name of Abraham Lincoln. Ever heard of the fellow?
Then, in 1871 *cue the ominous music* Chicago erupts into the most infamous conflagration in United States history (it certainly was not the largest in causalities or property damage, but it is the most famous). The Great Chicago Fire lasted three days! In the end, 300 were dead, 100,000 were homeless and $200 million in property laid in rumble. The courthouse burned in twenty minutes. A row of 40 townhomes burned to the ground in a record seven minutes. 18,000 buildings were reduced to ash. Legend has it the fire was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but in 1997, the City of Chicago, pardoned the bovine after the re-investigation. In a twist of irony, the Chicago Fire Department Headquarters now sits on the site of the O’Leary barn; which was the first building to burst into flames (and where the accused cow resided).
As horrific as the conflagration was, it did result in safer building codes in America, as well, as fire procedures, and public education regarding prevention (technology helped with this). Chicagoians were made of stern stuff and within six weeks, 300 buildings were in various forms of construction. Bigger, better, and safer edifices.
1886, Haymarket Riot ensued. Discontented workers went on strike and almost rewrote the book on labor unions as a result. The riot was not pretty and Chicago still was locked in a power struggle. 1889, Frank Llyod Wright, a local architect designs Oak Park, creating a stir in the design world. Jane Addams establishes Hull House and social work is given its heroine. Many of these “half-way houses” sprang up over the city and other metropolis adopted the practice. By 1890, the population was officially over 1 million inhabitants. Three years later . . . the World’s Coumbian Exposition set the stage for the happenings recounted in the book The Devil in the White City. See? Chicago, Illinois is practically a 19th century city!