Charles Butler’s efforts to bring his brother-in-law out of his depression appear to have been successful, for following Ogden’s return to his native Walton, NY, after having completed the sale of Butler’s lots in the summer of 1835, he seems to have decided to start a new phase of his life by moving the majority of his family, for whom he had been financially responsible since his father’s initial stroke in 1821, to Chicago. In William Butler Ogden, the new town was gaining what any city needed to grow into an important political and economic entity: a successful, resourceful, shrewd, and experienced thirty-year old businessman, a proponent of railroads who had deep pockets and powerful political connections, that following Martin Van Buren’s election as President in the coming November, reached all the way to the White House, via the Albany Regency’s Democratic patronage machine. Ogden would help to build the city and, correspondingly, reap the appropriate benefits of doing so, for as we will see, what was good for Chicago, would also be good for William Butler Ogden.
He made his return trip to Chicago with his younger brother, Mahlon, late in the spring of 1836, in order to procure one of the canal’s construction contracts. While William had forgone his youthful hopes of becoming a lawyer due to the death of their father, he had made sure that younger Mahlon would succeed in becoming an attorney. After Mahlon had completed his law studies back home in Geneva, NY, the Ogdens’ political connections with the Jackson administration had secured him a clerk position in the office of Noah Haynes Swain, then the U.S. District Attorney in Columbus, OH. Mahlon had accompanied Charles Butler on his return visit the prior year to the NorthWest and was eager to join his older brother in carving out a new life in Chicago. In order to encourage the success of the upcoming June 20 sale of canal lots, the canal commissioners had awarded the first construction contracts for the Chicago, or Summit, Division of the canal on June 6, 1836, just two weeks prior to the land sale. Ogden, in partnership with one of his Walton business partners, Harry Smith, who had married one of Ogden’s cousins, a daughter of Ogden’s Uncle Daniel, was awarded a $200,000 contract to build a portion of this section of the canal. Finally, on July 4, 1836, a grand parade from the Public Square to Canalport where the canal was to begin (the corner of Ashland and 29th), marked the official start of the project. Judge Theophilus Smith opened the dedication ceremonies by reading the Declaration of Independence. Following the usual speeches and groundbreaking by local dignitaries, the proceedings ended with a closing address by current Canal Commissioner Gurdon Hubbard.
The same day that Ogden had been awarded one of the canal contracts, he was also elected to the town’s Board of Trustees that led to his long-time relationship with the town’s Clerk, Ebenezer Peck, one of the G&CU’s founders. At about the same time, Ogden established his real estate management company, the Ogden Land and Trust Agency as an agent for Eastern land speculators, in a small building in the North Division on Kinzie near State Street. Contrary to the majority of Chicago’s land speculators, Ogden preferred property in the city’s North Division to that in the South, as did other businessmen who did not have their primary place of business located in the South Division. From here, Ogden would manage the investments of not only Butler’s American Land Company, but would expand his own clientele to nearly 100 investors, who were primarily located along the East Coast.
Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago, 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.
Kogan, Herman and Lloyd Wendt. Chicago: A Pictorial History. New York: Bonanza Books, 1958.
Masters, Edgar Lee. The Tale of Chicago. New York: Putnam, 1933.
Putnam, James William. The Illinois and Michigan Canal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918.
Scammon, J. Young. “William B. Ogden,” Fergus Historical Series, No, 17. Chicago: Fergus, 1882.
Tallmadge, Thomas Eddy. Architecture in Old Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.
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