3.3. STALEMENT OVER THE CANAL

Gen. Scott had marched his troops from Fort Dearborn in the summer of 1832 through this fertile prairie that had now been opened for farming.  In the fall, these men had returned to their homes back east with glowing reports of the newly available land, initiating an intense land craze that had Chicago at its center.  Scott had returned home as well, having gained an appreciation for the water route from Buffalo to Chicago and the potential for a canal at the Chicago River. Echoing Cook’s claims made in Congress six years earlier that the canal would be invaluable in wartime, Scott recommended that the War Department take an active interest in getting the canal built.  Undoubtedly, this also strengthened the argument for improving the mouth of the Chicago River along the design proposed by William Howard in 1830 that called for a channel through the sandbar that would be protected by piers extended into the lake.  A young army engineer, Lt. Jefferson Davis, had been sent to evaluate the situation and had recommended this plan over the objections of those who favored the alternate improvement of the Calumet River to the south (where Redfield’s proposed railroad to the Mississippi was to pass by Lake Michigan before heading straight for Rock Island).  On March 2, 1833, Congress sided with Davis and voted $25,000 to cut the sandbar and erect the two piers as originally proposed three years earlier by Howard.

William Howard, Proposed improvements to the mouth of the Chicago River, 1830. (Sprague, JSAH, December 1981)

In the meantime, the canal issue had been thrown into complete chaos when on January 7, 1833, Chief Engineer Bucklin presented his final estimates for the three alternative schemes.  The estimate of the Chicago canal route at $4,107,440.43 was the highest of the three, while a similar canal that connected the Calumet River with the Illinois River would cost much less at $1,601,695.83.  However, Bucklin estimated the cost of a railroad over the Chicago route to be the least expensive at $1,052,488.19.  Bucklin’s study had obviously impressed Governor Reynolds, who foreshadowed Bucklin’s conclusions by telling the Illinois General Assembly on December 4, 1832, that the railroad was “the only practicable mode of connection.”  That body, however, was unable to resolve the issue and later in March 1833, following Congress’ appropriation for harbor improvements, abolished the canal commission altogether and repealed all acts passed since 1829 that pertained to the canal’s construction.  The final cost estimate of over $4 million was viewed as too high for the state to undertake on its own.  More resources would have to be procured from the Federal government in addition to the recently approved $25,000, if construction of the canal was ever to begin.  The State could not afford or was unwilling to appropriate the amount Bucklin had estimated and decided to hold their cards, wanting Jackson and the Federal government to make the next move.  The project was purposefully stalled for the next two years, even as public anticipation of the project fed the nascent town’s population and corresponding demand for land.  Nonetheless, Lt. Davis completed the two piers later that year, extending the northern pier some 1000’ into the lake in an attempt to overcome the strong lake current from reforming the sandbar at the mouth of the river.   But it would be a continuous struggle to keep the river’s mouth clear of new sandbars that were created by the lake’s strong current that formed against the back of the new north pier until its end was reached and then the current would simply begin to silt up the mouth once again, forcing the pier to be extended a little farther north each time in response to the latest sandbar.  

Map showing the growth of the sand deposits against of the north pier. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

3.4. THE TOWN OF CHICAGO

The Illinois legislature had passed an act on February 12, 1831, that clarified the process that a group of people living within the general proximity of each other would have to follow in order to incorporate as a formal town with all of the concomitant legal rights and responsibilities.  The most significant requirement to meet was a minimum population of 150.  If a majority of residents approved of such incorporation at a public meting, an election was to be held five days from when that decision had been approved in order to elect the new town’s five Trustees. During the spring and summer of 1833, immigration in anticipation of the first sale of the canal’s landgrant had more than doubled the area’s population to approximately 350, more than sufficient to qualify to organize under a town charter. On August 5, 1833, a public meeting was held at which an election was held that approved (by a vote of 12-1) to incorporate the Town of Chicago.  On August 10 an election was held at the Sauganash Inn that elected the town’s five trustees as George W. Dole, Madore B. Beaubien, John Miller, E.S. Kimberly, and T. J. V. Owen as the Board’s first President.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago, 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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