5.3. LAUNDERING CHINESE OPIUM MONEY INTO RAILROADS

Following the successful completion of the Granite Rail-Road in 1826, Perkins secretly assembled a group of eight men to promote railroads over canals as Massachusetts’ response to the Erie Canal.  While Massachusetts would be cautious in its initial adoption of the railroad:

“Unlike Maryland, Massachusetts had not secured her railway system by a compromise with a canal, a compromise which was to bring financial disaster.  Nor had she made the mistake of rejecting the railroad for a state system of canals as did contemporary Pennsylvania.  Nor were her railroads, like those of New York, merely auxiliaries or adjuncts to waterways, separate parts of an unco-ordinated whole.  Massachusetts had prudently chosen the transportation method of the future.  In the strategy of commerce her railroads ran toward the proper destinations and for the right reasons.  She entered the new world of the railroad, not handicapped, but on superior terms.”

In 1828, Perkins and his associates, including John Bryant, William Sturges, Horatio H. Hunnewell, John E. Thayer, and Thomas Ward, had carefully crafted their “railraod scheme:’” a system of four relatively short railroads centered on Boston: Boston & Lowell, Boston & Maine, Boston & Providence, and the Boston & Worcester, that had not only made Boston the hub of the nation’s most extensive railway network at this time, but also had made this group of investors a good-sized fortune as they perfected a system of land speculation (buying the land where the tracks and stations would be built, but prior to announcing such plans), investing in government-backed railroad company bonds, typically at bankrupt rock-bottom prices, and arranging overly inflated construction contracts. 

Map of the Early Railroads in Massachusetts. (Kirkland, Men, Cities, and Transportation)

 Nonetheless, it was the connection to the Erie Canal and to the interior, accessible via the Great Lakes, that was of paramount concern to Boston’s commercial interests.  Because of the route’s length and the terrain it traversed, this route would take the longest period to construct, and incurred the greatest difficulty in securing initial commitments from investors.  Therefore, its construction-and-management organization was divided into two companies.  So as not to appear too risky to investors, the first of the two companies, the B&W was chartered in 1831 by its president, Nathan Hale, to extend only the first forty-four miles to Worcester.  As was the case with the other three railroads, land speculation was inherently associated with the scheme.  The land for the line’s Boston terminal had already been purchased by another cover company, the South Cove Corporation, that transferred the parcel to the B&W in exchange for a tidy profit.  The B&W was completed in 1835, and permanently put to rest the fears that its capitalists harbored over the viability of the iron horse.  

With the lack of capital in the United States, foreign capital was essential to the success of the scheme and one of Great Britain’s premiere banks, Baring Brothers had been retained to sell these companies’ bonds on commission.  Baring’s connection with the Boston Concern had been established at least as far back as 1828, for they were the merchant bankers for both J. & T.H. Perkins’ and Bryant & Sturgis’ transactions in China and throughout the world.  While exports carried to China seldom generated sufficient money to pay for tea and silks, specie had become too risky to ship directly to Canton.  Following the end of the War of 1812, London’s bankers had allowed certain American traders with a limited base of capital, sufficient revolving credit to carry on a large volume of business, including opium smuggling.  Among the numerous financial establishments in London, Baring Brothers and Company had been known as “The American House” since the 1770s, when co-founder Francis Baring was made the General Agent for the U.S. Government in London.

The economic collapse of 1825 had bankrupted Bryant & Sturgis’ former London banker, forcing them to seek a replacement.  In 1826, Sturgis picked the husband of his cousin Lucretia, Joshua Bates of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who had earlier that year formed a partnership in London with John Baring, a grandson of Francis.  In 1828, Bates and Baring had merged with Baring Brothers and Company, the same year that Perkins evidently had become a client of Baring Brothers.  Both Perkins and Bryant & Sturgis quickly became the Baring’s favored agents in Canton, being privy to the banker’s financial reports and advice.

Following the merger, the newly-organized banking house decided to expand its American operations.  This called for a full-time resident agent, and Bates, the American partner, suggested a long-time acquaintance from Boston, Thomas Wren Ward.  Ward officially commenced his duties as the Baring’s agent on January 1, 1830,  authorized to market the firm’s name and invest its financial resources as he judged prudent.  As a member of the Massachusetts’ Board of Directors of Internal Improvement, it was logical for Ward to be interested in the construction of the State’s first three railroads.  The intimate, longstanding relationship of Perkins and other wealthy Bostonians who were promoting the railroad, together with British capital, was crucial to the eventual realization of “the railroad scheme.”  At this time, the United States had no industrial capacity for rolling iron rails (which remained the case until the end of the Civil War), therefore, the Bostonians, along with the rest of the country, had to rely on England to supply the needed tracks of iron. In March 1833, Ward assured the success of the Lowell, Providence, and Worcester lines by arranging the consignment of track and other necessary iron products from England through Baring Brothers.

Meanwhile, the British government In 1834, under mounting pressure from independent traders, had revoked the East India Company’s monopoly of the China trade, throwing the door open to any British merchant.  With this increase in competition without a corresponding growth in demand, prices in general and the corresponding profitability of transactions in Canton, including opium, began a steady decline.  Seeing the writing on the wall, the Boston Concern began to look for ways to diversify its investments, in anticipation of its inevitable pull-out from the China trade. Following the Panic of 1837, Massachusett’s state-guaranteed railroad projects, as did Illinois’ projects, went bankropt.  The Boston Concern and their associates seized the chance to buy into Massachusetts’s railroads at rock bottom prices.  Their first concern was to complete the railroad to Albany and the Erie Canal, so they took complete control over the second link in the line, the Western Rail-road, planned as the contunation of the  B&W to the New York state line, and had completed it on October 9, 1841, when the first train made the run from Boston to Albany.  This was possible because at the same time the Bostonians were building their line to the Massachusetts border, a chain of railroads, that had started with George Feathersonhaugh‘s Mohawk & Hudson, (see Chap. 2.1) had also been under construction in New York from Albany to Buffalo, paralleling the Erie Canal during this same period.  (These roads would be consolidated in 1853 as the New York Central Railroad.) 

Map of the Railroads that Formed the “Central” Railroad System in New York State.  (Men and Iron: A History of the New York Central)

Meanwhile, early in 1839 the Chinese government had decided to close down the opium trade once and for all.  General Lin Zexu was sent to Canton and upon his arrival, he surrounded the foreign residences and trading houses with soldiers and armed boats, demanding that all opium be immediately turned over to him to be destroyed.  With no alternative, the beleaguered merchants eventually surrendered their supplies of the drug.  Once released, the British retreated to Macao and retaliated by boycotting all further trade with China, and waited for the British fleet to arrive and the outbeak of the First Opium War in June 1840.  With the flow of opium stopped in 1839, William Sturgis, who was now investment manager for J. & T.H. Perkins’ manager John Cushing, had carefully started to shift the Boston Concern’s “China wealth” into the railroads that promised to open up the West, and eventually, to link Boston directly to the Pacific Coast, and once again to China.

Map of the Early Railraods in Massachusetts. (Kirkland, Men, Cities, and Transportation)

The Western Rail-Road, the second leg of the route to Albany from Boston, meanwhile, had been chartered in March 1833, by the Board of Directors of the B.& W. with the help of people like Abbott Lawrence and textile manufacturers in western Massachusetts.  Under the seemingly auspicious conditions of the near completion of the B. & W. and the start of the two roads in upstate  New York, stock in the Western was offered for purchase in November 1834 by treasurer Josiah Quincy, Jr., with B. & W. stockowners to be given preference in the case of oversubscription.  Immediate offers from rival New York City to buy the entire subscription were rejected with well-merited suspicion.  New York, in turn, refused a counteroffer and eventually contributed nothing to support its competition’s scheme.  Apparently, the 117 miles of the Western’s planned route (which was over two and a half times the length of the B. & W.) and the anticipated problems in crossing the Berkshires still sufficiently scared investors that the stock was not completely subscribed until January 1836.  No one group of investors was confident in the project or financially able to bankroll the estimated $2 million cost, so the organizers were forced to rely on numerous small purchases of stock.  Nonetheless, of the eventual 1,863 subscribers, a mere group of twenty men held over 11% of the stock.  Among those who made the larger investments were the Lawrence brothers (200 shares), Perkins (100), and William Sturgis (50).

With all of the stock subscribed, the company started construction with Thomas Wales as president, William H. Swift as resident engineer, and a Board of Directors that included Quincy, Francis T. Jackson, and George Bliss of Springfield (remember this name).  In addition to these men, the leaders of the Western included the following members of the original “railroad scheme:” Perkins, Hale, P.P.F. DeGrand, and Emory Washborn.  Once again, they decided to pursue state funding to aid the project, as well as to line their own pockets.  In contrast to the 1829 request, however, railroads were now known entities, and this time they were successful, with the State legislature agreeing to a $1 million loan in April 1836.  Newly-elected Governor Everett, an original  investor in the Western, had provided immeasurable support in getting the legislature to subscribe to the additional stock issue.

As with Chicago, where construction of the canal had just started, the Panic of 1837 also threatened the work on the Western, forcing the company to approach the legislature for another loan to continue construction.  Luckily, the request had to be approved first by the Joint Select Committee, which was chaired by newly-elected Emory Washburn.  On February 21, 1838, the legislature approved a loan in the form of $2.1 million worth of Massachusetts sterling bonds bearing 5%, which were to be issued to the company to buy iron rails in England, in return for a mortgage on the company’s assets.  With the lack of capital in the United States, foreign capital was essential to the success of the scheme and the European investor preferred governmental-secured bonds to shares in a high-risk venture.  The London investment banking firm of Baring Brothers was retained to sell the paper on commission.  Considering how risky the project had been perceived by Boston’s conservative capitalists, and the number of American public bond issues that were in default following the Panic, why would England’s most prestigious house of finance even bother with such a questionable deal at the start of a depression?

In November 1842, the last link in the line to Buffalo was completed and Boston, along with Albany, was now in direct rail communication with the Great Lakes, with the trip from Boston to Buffalo taking less than two days. The relatively long period of time it took to make the 483-mile trip was not a result of the speed of the trains, but rather due to the eight times a passenger had to change trains along the route traveled by the nine independent companies. With a through railroad completed to Buffalo in late 1842, Boston could now be in better contact with the newly-opened West, especially with Chicago, for regular steamboat travel between Buffalo and Chicago had been in operation since July 1839, reducing the travel time of a round trip from twenty-two to sixteen days.

FURTHER READING

Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.

Adler, Dorothy R. British Investment in American Railways, 1834-1898. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1970.

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

Beebe, Lucius and Charles Clegg. Hear the Train Blow: A Pictorial Epic of America in the Railroad Age. New York, 1952.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.

Hidy, Ralph W. The House of Baring in American Trade and Finance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Kirkland, Edward Chase. Men, Cities, and Transportation: A Study in New England History (1820-1900) – Volume I. Cambridge, 1948.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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

5.2. THE BUNKER HILL MONUMENT

By 1823, Perkins had gained such a central position among Boston’s mercantile community that on June 7, he led a group of the city’s leading citizens that organized an association to erect a monument to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Although twenty-year-old Havard student Horatio Greenough had submitted an obelisk design in the first competition, a second competition was held that chose a similar stone obelisk designed by Solomon Willard that was planned to be the country’s tallest structure at 221.’

Left: Horatio Greenough, Submission for the Bunker Hill Monument Competiton, 1825. (Wright, Greenough); Right: Solomon Willard, Bunker Hill Monument, Charleston, MA, 1825. (online)

As the Erie Canal was nearing completion, the size of the monument may have been an attempt by Boston’s business community to divert some of the nation’s attention away from the project in New York.  While its cornerstone was ceremoniously laid on June 17, 1825 (the actual day of the battle fifty years earlier) by the Marquis de Lafayette during his triumphant grand tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution, construction actually languished for over a year while a method was devised to transport the heavy blocks of granite utilized in the monument’s design, the four miles from its quarry in Quincy to the edge of Boston harbor. After an attempt to build a canal failed, a builder named Gridley Bryant proposed to build a railroad to do the job.  Although his idea was initially greeted with much skepticism, the support of Perkins, who was to become the president and largest stockholder in the railroad company, was most influential in convincing the state legislature to grant Bryant a charter on March 4, 1826.  Although horses were used for locomotion, the Granite Rail-Road that was completed on October 7, 1826, is generally recognized as America’s first operating railroad (John Jervis’ Stourbridge Lion did not make its first steam-powered run on the Delaware & Hudson until August 8, 1829 (see Chapter 2.2) and as such, established a precedent for further ventures featuring intimate relationships between railroads, tall buildings, and the wealth that Boston had initially gained from the China trade.  However, due to financial problems, it took over seventeen years to complete the monument in 1842, and therefore, it never enjoyed the rputation of being the tallest structure in the country, as Baltimore completed the Phoenix Shot Tower to record height of 234’ in 1828.

Jacob Wolfe, Phoenix Shot Tower, Baltimore: corner of Fayette and Front Streets, 1828. At 234’ tall, it was the tallest structure in the U.S. when completed. The walls are 4.5’ thick at the base. Buck shot is made by pouring molten lead through a sieve at the top. As it falls, gravity forms the drops into spheres, before it hits a tub of cooling water at the base. (Online)

FURTHER REASING:

Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Whitehill, Walter Muir, Boston: A Topographical History, Second Edition, Cambridge, 1959.

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

CHAPTER 5. BOSTON MONEY MOVES WEST (1828-1845)

5.1. THE CHINA OPIUM TRADE: “THE BOSTON CONCERN

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 had connected New York City to the Great Lakes via the Hudson River to Albany, giving New York City a distinct economic advantage over other Atlantic seaports that had been forced to react accordingly.  From the standpoint of Chicago’s history, the most important reaction to the Erie Canal was that of Boston, that at least up to the American Revolution had enjoyed the wealth derived from being the colonies’ leading center of maritime trade and finance.  Since its founding, Boston had been forced into trade to maintain its existence due to the poor agricultural conditions of its soil and climate.  While Boston was physically somewhat closer to Europe, New York City’s location, however, was more central to the growing American population.  In addition, New York had been blessed with much better river access to the markets in the trans-Allegheny hinterland.  The Hudson River and other surrounding natural waterways into the interior gave New York merchants a substantial advantage over their Boston counterparts who were blocked from the interior by the Berkshire Mountains and, therefore, had to rely on coastal shipping to transport their goods. 

During and immediately following the Revolution, Americans found themselves cut off from their favorite beverage, tea, that had been supplied by the British East India Company.  Boston’s expertice at sailing had been developed following the end of the American revolution, when American traders found British ports in the West Indies now closed to them as they were no longer British subjects and were forced to find new ports and products to market.  Top among the new world markets now open to them as they were no longer bound by the East Indian Company’s Royal charter was China. Indicative of the change in economic leadership stemming from the Revolution.  The first ship, the Empress of China, set sail not from Boston, but from New York, to where it likewise returned from Canton in May 1785, laden with tea and silks.  The following year the first ship from New England, the Grand Turk, owned by Salem merchant Elias Hasket Derby, docked at the port of Whampoa on the Pearl River, the sole Chinese anchorage open to foreigners wishing to trade in Canton. Another Derby ship, the Astrea, left Salem in February 1789 with a 24-year-old supercargo or agent, Thomas Handasyd Perkins, who was destined to become Boston’s leading China merchant and one of America’s wealthiest men, and in the process, would establish many of his relatives with fortunes of their own, that would eventually find their way to Chicago as investments.

Thomas Sully, Thomas Handasyd Perkins, 1831. (Boston Athenaeum)

By 1792, Perkins had joined with his older brother, James, in establishing the Boston trading firm of J. & T.H. Perkins, specializing in the China trade.  In 1803 they established a permanent branch office in Canton, that within two years would be headed by their young nephew, John Perkins Cushing. However, just as the company was becoming the leading China trader in New England, Pres. Jefferson dealt a severe blow to the nation’s maritime industry on December 22, 1807 by ordering an embargo prohibiting all American ships from leaving the country for a foreign port, as a response to the ongoing British practice of stopping American ships and impressing sailors into the Royal Navy.

In addition to the logistical problems posed by the trade embargo to J. & T.H. Perkins’ China trade, hard currency and furs from the Pacific Northwest, already dwindling in number from overkilling, became increasingly short in supply, threatening the viability of trading with China.  Fortunately, a ready substitute, opium from India had become so much in demand among the Chinese masses that its profitability more than offset the losses sustained from the reduction in furs.  By 1805 the opium addiction of the Chinese had increased to the point that the drug’s quality was no longer a prime concern. The Perkinses, who had connections to lower grade opium from Turkey, began to enter the drug market.  By 1816, their drug operations were so pervasive that Cushing, their Canton agent, was reputed to have been able to control the price of opium all over China.  J. & T.H. Perkins & Co., along with a related Boston company, Byrant & Sturgis (William Sturgis was another Perkins’ nephew who had also learned his trade working in his uncles’ firm), were so successful in controlling the imports of Turkish opium that their collective actions gained them the title, the “Boston Concern.” 

FURTHER READING

Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.

Hidy, Ralph W. The House of Baring in American Trade and Finance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

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

4.9. VAN OSDEL AGREES TO BE THE CITY’S FIRST PROFESSIONAL ARCHITECT

The loss of the Methodist commission suffered by both architects, even though the final design incorporated ideas provided by both of them, was not unusual at this time, for the profession of “architect” was only a little over a year old in Chicago when the competition was held.  It had not been until the winter of 1844 that the thirty-three year-old Van Osdel renewed his vocation as an architect, after having been asked to do so by the city’s leading builders.  In return for his opening of an architectural office in Chicago, (located on Clark between Sherman’s City Hotel and the original post office), the builders pledged “not to make any drawings, or construct any important building, without a plan [by an architect].”  As the design of the First Methodist Episcopal Church revealed, however, the agreement was not very effective, for “no one had ever used an architect and it was difficult to convince proprietors of the necessity for such a branch of the builders’ business.”

John M. Van Osdel, Rush Medical College, southwest corner of Dearborn and Indiana, 1844. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

            The motivation for the 1844 agreement is not known for sure, but one can surmise that it may have been partially influenced by the upturn in the economy that resulted in the construction of over 600 buildings in Chicago that year.  Van Osdel’s first important design completed under this agreement was for the newly-organized Rush Medical College at the southwest corner of Dearborn and Indiana Streets.  Dr. Daniel Brainard, a newly-trained physician from Philadelphia, had arrived on horseback either in late 1835 or early 1836, set up his practice in the city, and had obtained from the state legislature on March 25, 1837, a charter for a new medical school, that he had named in honor Philadelphia’s foremost physician, Benjamin Rush, who had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Surgeon General of Washington’s Continental Army.  Unfortunately, the economic downturn of the era had postponed his plans for the better part of five years, until the economy rebounded that finally allowed Ogden to donate the land and the money needed to build the school in 1844.  (Ogden would be the College’s first President, a position he retained “for many years.) Along with Ogden’s money came Ogden’s architect, Van Osdel to design the project. For the first medical school to open west of Cincinnati, Van Osdel appropriated the image of a Roman dome from the library at the University of Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson.  The dome surmounted a symmetrical plan that comprised two large lecture halls and a series of smaller rooms for scientific demonstrations.  Van Osdel replaced Jefferson’s entrance of a pedimented colonnade, however, with another Roman element, a monumental brick triumphal arch with a large, recessed portal, establishing a precedent for many of Chicago’s important buildings designed in the nineteenth century.

The Sherman House, northwest corner of Clark and Randolph, 1845. Note the look-out cupola placed on the Clark Street face, as well as the number of chimneys needed for the fireplaces in each room. (Kogan and Wendt, Chicago: A Pictorial History)

            Also in 1844, Francis Sherman added two stories to the City Hotel, that stood directly opposite the courthouse at the northwest corner of Randolph and Clark, and changed the name of the enlarged five-story hotel to the Sherman House. He did this so that it would be larger than the Tremont House so that he could tout it as the “largest and most splendid Hotel in Illinois.”  As if even Sherman had been infected with the steeplemania that was rampant just a block away on the southside of the Public Square, he added a cupola at the front of the hotel, from the heights of which an observer commanded a magnificent view of the surrounding prairie.  More immediate to Sherman’s commercial interests, however, was the view of the lake from the cupola.  From here a man stationed by Sherman could watch for incoming steamers with potential patrons.  Hence, Sherman could send a “runner” to the docks to solicit the patronage of the newcomers, before they could even set foot in Chicago.  A commercial advantage could now be obtained in having a tall structure in town.  In the city’s highly competitive hostelry business, Sherman’s cupola set a standard that the larger hotels quickly emulated.  As the city’s churches were growing steeples, Chicago’s hotels began to sprout miniature Greek cylindrical temples (Athens’ Temple of Lysicrates) from their roofs.

4.10. ALL WORK ON THE CANAL IS SUSPENDED: MARCH 1843

Although Chicago’s exports of grain, lumber, and meat had exploded from a mere $33,000 in 1839 to over $650,000 in 1842 (which figure finally surpassed the value of the city’s imports), this was by no means sufficient to overcome the effects of the worldwide depression of 1839-1842.  At the start of 1841, Illinois was so deep in debt that it was hard pressed to pay even the interest on its debt.  This situation was further complicated when the state’s citizens demanded a reduction in taxes in the face of the depression.  The finances of the state initially faltered in February 1842 when the interest on its $14 million debt amounted to an unpayable $830,000.  The state government briefly bought some breathing space in the spring, only to have its finances completely collapse in June 1842.  Even the work on the canal, that was the only real hope for increased state revenue, was finally suspended in March 1843 after the state had expended over $5 million of borrowed funding on the endeavor, but could not honor the debt interest for 1842.

On the surface, the apparent failure of the canal at this moment would seem to have threatened the real estate holdings of the Bronson/Butler/Ogden group, as well as the investments of the holders of canal bonds, but these same bondholders by this time had perfected a business model that actually relied upon the failure of government-backed internal improvement projects, such as canals and railroads, in order to be able to swoop in and demand a low-ball price of their being granted complete control over the project in exchange for their financial investment that would save the project.  The Chicago canal’s bond holders were represented by three prominent Boston businessmen, Abbott Lawrence, the head of A. & A. Lawrence, the country’s leading textile manufacturer, who would soon be the leading force in the founding of the textile company town of Lawrence, MA, William F. Sturgis, a nephew of Thomas H. Perkins who had grown up in the China trade and eventually became a partner in the firm Bryant & Sturgis, and Thomas Wren Ward, the agent in the U.S. for the London investment banking firm of Baring Brothers & Co.  Boston’s financial investment in Chicago would play a dominant role in the city’s economic development, its architecture, and its overall urban landscape, and therefore, must be appreciated in order to have a broader understanding of Chicago’s history.

FURTHER READING:

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

Ericsson, Henry L. Sixty Years a Builder: The Autobiography of Henry Ericsson. Chicago: A. Kroch, 1942.

Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.

Industrial Chicago-vol. 1: The Building Interests, Chicago: Goodspeed, 1891.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Putnam, James William. The Illinois and Michigan Canal.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918.

Tallmadge, Thomas Eddy. Architecture in Old Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

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

4.8. THE “STEEPLECHASE” BEGINS

Father De St. Palais’ actions had pushed the congregation deeper and deeper into debt.  In addition to the construction of the cathedral, he also purchased the adjoining property, as well as property along the lakefront at the southeast corner of North Avenue and State Street for a graveyard. The city had established a cemetery outside of the city limits in the North Division in August 1835 on ten acres located near Chicago Avenue, east of Clark Street, but this had been quickly engulfed by the city’s expansion.  

Map showing the location of the land purchased by Rev. Maurice de St. Palais in 1843 to be a Catholic Cemetery. (1868 Maps)

The parish of poor immigrants soon found itself in debt to the amount of $5000, at the unheard of interest rate of ten and fifteen per cent.  Although the new building had been sufficiently enclosed (without the steeple) by Christmas of 1843 to hold its first Mass, the financial realities of the parish prevented any further work on the cathedral.  Such was the condition of the Diocese of Chicago when its first bishop, William J. Quarter, arrived from New York on May 5, 1844, to take charge of his flock.  He set the tone of his administration by sizing up the situation and promptly paid off the parish’s entire debt with his own and his brother’s personal funds.  This truly noble act not only finally cemented the congregation, but also allowed construction of the cathedral to revive towards its completion.  On October 5, 1845, Bishop Quarter consecrated St. Mary’s Cathedral, its golden cross and orb atop its spire proclaiming to all the glory of God.

St. Mary’s Cathedral, southwest corner of Madison and Wabash, 1843. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

By the time the cathedral was finally completed, however, there were three Protestant spires fronting the Public Square waiting to greet their Christian cousin.  The First Universalist Church  had been dedicated a year earlier on October 23, 1844.  Located on the south side of Washington Street, next to the First Methodist Church and across the street from the First Unitarian Church, the smaller, 30′ by 45′ building seemed to have taken its inspiration directly from the Unitarians’ building.  Four Doric pilasters supported a Doric pediment, the only deviation being that Ionic, not Doric, columns in antis now framed the entrance.  However, the new building sported a bell tower, probably in response to the design of the cathedral. 

First Universalist Church, south side of Washington, between Clark and Dearborn, 1844. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

 Obviously not wanting to be overshadowed by the newer church, the Unitarians across the street added a much taller steeple  during the fall of 1844, hanging Chicago’s first true fire alarm bell in the newly-completed spire on December 31, 1844, only nine weeks after the Universalists had dedicated their tower.  Chicago’s “steeplechase” had commenced.

First Unitarian Church, with new steeple, 1844. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

Not to be left out of the race, the Baptists had outgrown the Temple Building and thus in need of a larger building, followed suit in moving to the Public Square by purchasing the southeast corner of Washington and La Salle and commenced construction in the fall of 1844 of the First Baptist Church.  Like the other Protestant congregations, it, too, chose to relocate farther to the south, away from the hustle and bustle of the river and closer to the new homes of its members.  Like the Presbyterian site, this corner lot fronted the Public Square, allowing an uninterrupted view of its portico of six freestanding Ionic columns, two more than those of the cathedral’s.  Not wanting to be outdone by either of the new spires in the neighborhood nor by that of the Catholics, the Baptists erected their steeple to a height of 112,’ with the addition of a clock stage which contained four clocks, one for each direction that were framed at each corner by scrolled buttresses. 

First Baptist Church with 112’ steeple, southeast corner of Washington and La Salle, 1844. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

Meanwhile, the Methodists, who had been responsible for initiating the southward move of the Protestant churches to Washington Street and the Public Square, had witnessed all this activity from the confines of their humble original framed building.  With the Universalists’ new church next to them, and the Baptists constructing the tallest spire in town on the adjacent block, the Methodists laid the cornerstone for the new First Methodist Episcopal Church on May 8, 1845.  By November, only weeks after Bishop Quarter had dedicated St. Mary’s, the Methodists had completed an even larger building in all respects, being 66′ by 95′ and seating over 1000.  

First Methodist Episcopal Church with 148’ steeple, southeast corner of Washington and Clark, 1845. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

Andreas stated that two designs for the church were originally submitted, one by Van Osdel and another by a Mr. Sullivan, from which the congregation took the best ideas of each for the final design.  There is no doubt, however, that the congregation liked the steeple of the Baptists, for they basically copied all its features and merely stretched it another 36′ to a record 148.’ Chicago’s steeples had caught up with the height of the “skyscrapers” of the visiting merchant schooners.

The formation of “Church Row” on the south side of Washington, across from the Public Square.

FURTHER READING:

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

Bluestone, Daniel. Constructing Chicago. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Industrial Chicago-vol. 1: The Building Interests, Chicago: Goodspeed, 1891.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago-I. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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

4.7. THE “CHURCH ROW” ACROSS FROM THE PUBLIC SQUARE

Although the city’s population had stagnated at 4000 between 1837 and 1840, as the national economy began to regain momentum in 1844, so had Chicago’s size.  Since 1840, it had taken only four years for the population to double, and one year later in 1845, it had tripled to 12,088.  By 1847, another 4000 had arrived so that Chicago’s population was 16,859.  The four-fold increase in population had caused a similar rise in the city’s building inventory.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the number and size of churches that had sprung up since the economy had started to rebound.

St. James Episcopal Church, on Cass, between Michigan and Illinois, 1836. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

Although Chicago had five buildings located throughout the young town that served as houses of worship prior to the Panic of 1837, only one of these, St. James Episcopal Church, actually looked like a traditional church.  The other four, the Temple (Baptist) Building, the First Presbyterian, the First Methodist, and St. Mary’s, were nondescript, simply-constructed buildings that provided shelter for their congregations to meet.  While the Panic had brought on an initial wave of anger toward and denial of God, as despair and destitution set in during 1838, these spiritual institutions provided the last straw of hope to be grasped by a desperate populace.  The Protestant congregations, with the exception of the Episcopalians, mounted increasingly vigorous “revival” campaigns that ran for months on end and were characterized by overfilled daily meetings for the unemployed.  Conversions occurred en masse, so successful were the ministers.  Untamed Chicago was experiencing a complete reversal under the despair of the depression.  “Gambling tables were ‘almost deserted; the ball-room… as silent as the grave; and the venders of liquid poisons’ complained ‘bitterly of the injury done to their craft.'”

The person usually credited with the turnaround in Chicago’s spiritual climate was Rev. Peter R. Borein, who had been appointed pastor of the First Methodist congregation in the North Division, just as the Panic had reached Chicago.  Borein proved so effective in bringing people to the Faith that he was compared with “Joshua… [who] led them out of the wilderness.”  His unceasing efforts snowballed from a few converts into the wholesale conversion of groups as new members of the congregation, many being residents of the South Division.  Hence, in the summer of 1838 as the size of the congregation soared, it voted, probably at the urging of Rev. Borein to relocate to the south.  The move was made affordable by a gift from a member of the congregation of the lot at the southeast corner of Washington and Clark Streets, diagonally across from the Courthouse and Public Square.  Whereas in 1834, when the congregation had constructed its first building north of the river when the new southern location would have been proclaimed as being too far away from the center of town, by 1838, the South Division had grown in the only direction it had room to, away from the riverbank’s hustle and bustle, so that now the Public Square was almost completely encircled and actually offered the only “open space” on the south side.  Such a space would not only provide a pleasant atmosphere adjacent to the church, one much more appropriate than the noise and filth of the riverfront, but would also be a prominent and prestigious location for the congregation as it was across from the Courthouse.  In addition, the open Public Square would afford an undisturbed vista of the church building from the sidewalks surrounding the Square, a unique condition in the otherwise “street-tunnelled” grid of Chicago’s urban pattern.  Presented with such advantages, the congregation moved their building to the new location during the latter half of 1838.

The other Protestant denomination that had joined in the “revival” fever was the Presbyterians, who under the able leadership of their second pastor, the Rev. John Blatchford, also doubled in numbers, requiring a larger building.  Following the lead of their brethren Methodists, the Presbyterians obtained the southwest corner of Washington and Clark, across the street from the Methodists’ new location, and moved their building from the southwest corner of Lake and Clark two blocks south to the new lot in the summer of 1839, at the same time doubling its length in order to house the expanded congregation.  With this action, what seemed to be a Protestant precinct along Washinton Street across from the Courthouse that would eventually be referred to as “Church Row” began to emerge in Chicago’s urban landscape.

First Unitarian Church, north side of Washington, between Clark and Dearborn, 1840. Illustration modified to remove later steeple. (Andreas, History of Chicago-I)

Even though the “revival meeting” was not in the tradition of the Unitarians who met regularly at the Lake House, they, too, benefited from the religious fervor.  Membership had so increased that by the fall of 1840, they had begun construction on their first building.  Undoubtedly following the rationale of their Protestant siblings of wanting to be closer to the homes of its members, the Unitarians had bought a site on the north side of Washington a few lots east of the northeast corner of Washington and Clark, near the Public Square and, just across from where the Methodists had chosen to relocate.  On May 3, 1841, they dedicated the First Unitarian Church, a well-designed structure whose Greek Revival Doric facade not only differed markedly from the pseudo-Gothic garb of St. James, but also outclassed its two Protestant neighbors with its 42′ by 60′ dimensions.

(Please excuse this draft map, I will update it in time.)

The Catholics at this time, however, were distracted from the religious upswing by internal division.  Father St. Cyr, who had built St. Mary’s into Chicago’s largest congregation, had been reassigned to St. Louis in April 1837.  His successor, Rev. Leander Schaffer, who had ministered to the German-speaking inhabitants (primarily having emigrated from southern Germany) under St. Cyr, died shortly after St. Cyr’s departure, leaving a leadership vacuum within the parish.  A power struggle then ensued between the two major factions of the congregation, the original German-speaking charter members of the parish, now led by Rev. Maurice de St. Palais, and the upstart, newly-arrived English-speaking Irish, who supported Father Timothy O’Meara.  Apparently the animosity between the two groups erupted into full divorce after O’Meara claimed personal ownership of all parish property, including the church building, against the advice of his immediate superior, the Bishop of Vincennes.  O’Meara, however, enjoyed widespread popularity among the Irish canal workers whose muscle apparently had goaded him to such an extreme action.  He eventually had the temerity to unilaterally have the church building moved three blocks south from its original location to the southwest corner of Madison and Michigan, to have the church closer to the homes of his supporters.  De St. Palais’ followers refused to go to the new southern location, opting instead to hold Mass in a rented room in a building at the corner of Randolph and Wells.  The split lasted until August 1840 when Father O’Meara was threatened with excommunication by his immediate superiors and finally agreed to back down.  He was consequently reassigned, leaving de St. Palais in charge of the task of reuniting the two groups.

By this time, the Catholics had caught their Protestant brethren’s revival fervor and the growth in the number of Catholics correspondingly had started to revive.  During the spring of 1841, new settlers had once again started to pour into Chicago, supplying even more fuel for the religious fire and swelling the church rolls to the point of bursting at the seams.  Interestingly, even though the Catholics had been the last to jump onto the revival bandwagon, they were the first to respond to the explosion in membership with the construction of a much larger church building.  In May 1843 the country’s Roman Catholic Provincial Council had met in Baltimore to respond to the growth in its membership nationwide by recommending to the Pope the formation of three new dioceses, one of which was Chicago.  Correspondingly, Pope Gregory XVI created the diocese of Chicago on September 30, 1843.  In anticipation of Papal approval, de St. Palais decided in 1843 to begin construction of a cathedral.  The site chosen was not the block of northside property that Ogden and Newberry had donated in 1839 in exchange for a few Council votes in favor of the construction of the Clark Stret bridge, but the southwest corner of Madison and Wabash, one block west of where O’Meara had unilaterally moved St. Mary’s in the first place and had initially divided the parish.  Seemingly in an attempt to regain some of the lost prestige from the relatively parsimonious construction of St. Mary’s, de St. Palais’ ambition far exceeded the parish’s limited resources.  He embarked on the construction of a structure that was more than twice the size of any church in Chicago, being 55′ by 112′ in plan and having 34′ high brick walls.  It was to be the first Chicago church with a real portico, twelve feet deep, and supported by four freestanding, historically accurate Ionic columns.  The portico faced east, opening onto an unbroken view of the “Public Ground” on the lakefront with the full glory of Lake Michigan only a block away in the background.  The pièce de résistance, however, that was to raise the ante between the local denominations to new heights of competition was that St. Mary’s Cathedral was to sport Chicago’s first steeple.  The battle to own the tallest structure in Chicago had been joined.

FURTHER READING:

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

Bluestone, Daniel. Constructing Chicago. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Industrial Chicago-vol. 1: The Building Interests, Chicago: Goodspeed, 1891.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago-I. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Tallmadge, Thomas Eddy. Architecture in Old Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

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

4.6. THE INVENTION OF THE GRAIN ELEVATOR

During the economically sluggish years of 1840-41, while agricultural production continued to steadily increase, local demand actually decreased slightly due to the population stall and the reduced labor force on the canal.  The corresponding drop in local prices encouraged farmers to seek more lucrative markets in the East and Canada.  Wheat exports increased to 10,000 bushels in 1840 and in the following year to 40,000, an eleven-fold increase in just two years.  The only real obstacle facing the region’s farmers during a trip to the Chicago market was the area’s geography that did cause many a farmer to hesitate.  Chicago was surrounded by the rich agricultural land of the prairie.  Unfortunately, the same characteristics that made the adjacent prairie ideal for farming also made it a nightmare during most of the year for farmers trying to bring their crops to Chicago.  The flat, soft topsoil drained poorly during wet seasons, often turning to mud that offered precious little support to the narrow rims of the heavily-loaded wheels of the farmers’ wagons.  Hence, the drive to Chicago more often than not took an inordinate amount of time and effort.  Therefore, it was profitable for only those farmers who lived within a radius of fifty miles or so to come to Chicago.  Most of the farmers beyond this distance in the south had settled their farms prior to the incorporation of Chicago anyway, and had developed a dependence on either St. Louis and the Mississippi River or Cincinnati and the Ohio River to get their produce to market.  It would take higher prices than those offered in the river cities and better transportation across the prairie mud to entice distant farmers to sever their allegiance to their current markets in the south and come north to the upstart port of Chicago.

From its founding, Chicago’s ambitious leaders had always understood the need for better transportation into the city from the surrounding hinterland.  What was lacking was not the will, but the means to pay for such improvements, to which the unfinished canal bore cruel testimony.  The canal as designed, however, would serve only the southwest. By 1840, the business potential of exporting the agricultural surplus from the burgeoning new farms west of the city had stirred interest in improving transportation from that direction as well.  On June 13, a committee met in the Saloon Building that drew up a report recommending that a turnpike commencing at the western end of Lake Street be built to the sand ridge near the Des Plaines River at Berry’s Point, a distance of some four and a half miles.  This plan was to be financed with subscriptions from private businessmen, ostensibly to prevent competing cities from taking trade “which otherwise would be naturally directed” to Chicago.  While construction on the canal continued sporadically into 1842, the turnpike’s sixty-five foot width steadily pushed westward until it was completed in September 1842, providentially just in time, for:

“Without it, during a portion of the latter part of the past autumn and the commencement of the present winter, the city would have been almost inaccessible, whereas there has been no time that it could not be passed over by teams with such a load as they could travel over any portion of the country with, it has reclaimed a large quantity of valuable land that has been hitherto submerged with water, and has acquainted us with the fact, that the whole of the vast prairie lying immediately west of the city of Chicago, is susceptible of being made with but little expense dry arable land.”

The completion of the turnpike was only one of the factors, however, that caused the explosive increase in the 1842 wheat export crop from the 40,000 bushels of the preceding year to 586,907 bushels. (There is no typo. The increase was over 1400%.)  Improved transportation simply aided distant farmers who were now being lured to Chicago with the promise of a profit higher than what could be obtained at the river cities.  The higher price was a result of Chicago’s lower handling costs that was the direct result of Newberry & Dole’s new system of storing the wheat of all farmers in bulk in a location immediately adjacent to the ships, that further facilitated their new method of bulk loading.  Hence, human hands barely touched the grain, eliminating much of the handling costs that allowed the Chicago grain merchants to offer a price to farmers higher than what they could obtain in St. Louis or Cincinnati.

Farmers within a radius of 250 miles began to line the roads into Chicago with their prairie schooners loaded with wheat for shipment to the East by the empty ships that had brought settlers and imports from Buffalo.  Finally, Chicago had a locally-generated income potential that could start to offset its total reliance on Eastern capital.  Until now, it had been a one-way street with Eastern immigrants using Eastern credit at very high interest rates to buy Eastern manufactured goods that were made only more expensive by the fact that the Eastern ships made the return trip home without any cargo.  This had been very satisfactory to all concerned parties until the Panic hit, that significantly slowed the flow of Eastern credit and immigrants.  The rise in wheat prices brought more farmers to Chicago who usually exchanged their wheat for manufactured goods and supplies (such as lumber that was not indigenous to the treeless prairie, but came from the northern forests in Wisconsin and Michigan) and brought these home in their empty wagons.  A new class of “middlemen” merchants quickly emerged both to process agricultural products for shipment to the East, and to distribute Eastern manufactured goods and Northern lumber.  A synergetic “backhaul” cycle was now established whereby Eastern boats would bring Eastern goods and Northern lumber and return with Western wheat, while the Western prairie schooners would bring the Western wheat to town and return home with Eastern supplies and Northern lumber.

Wheat was the ideal grain for this export cycle because not only could it easily withstand the rigors of being transported along the country roads, but it could also be stored for long periods of time.  Wheat’s storage potential was paramount, for there were a limited number of ships available for the trip to Buffalo (especially in the boom year of 1842) and their availability was further manipulated by an “association” that kept freight rates profitable.  In addition, due to the long distances traversed by the slow-moving wagons, much of the harvested wheat arrived at Chicago following the closing of the navigation season by the onset of winter, that was made all the shorter by the lack of safe harbors along the southern half of Lake Michigan.  Hence, much of the wheat had to be stored in Chicago until the spring thaw opened the lake to traffic once again.

The 1400% increase in the 1842 wheat crop from the year before simply caught the city’s grain dealers completely by surprise, encouraging the hurried erection of several new storage warehouses on both sides of the river along S. and N. Water Streets to process the flood of incoming wheat.  An even more important development in 1842, however, that permitted the successful handling of the bumper crop was the introduction of machinery to replace the bucket brigade that up until then had moved the grain within the warehouses.  Architect John Van Osdel’s name is sometimes mentioned in reference to the invention of Chicago’s “grain elevators.”  In 1841-42, Newberry & Dole built a new grain warehouse on the south bank of the river at the northwest corner of Clark and S. Water Streets.  This building was intended to replace their former warehouse on the north bank in order to avoid the traffic problems in crossing the bridges, as well as to be more competitively located near the Fort Dearborn reservation, which was where farmers typically parked their prairie schooners.

Van Osdel, with little architectural work due to the depression, had returned to New York following the erection of Ogden’s house, where he had been hired in 1840 as an associate editor of American Mechanic (which in 1845 became Scientific American).  He moved back to Chicago in 1841 to become the supervisor of Elihu Granger’s machine shop and iron foundry located on North Water Street.  Granger had arrived in Chicago from New York in the winter of 1836 to build the city’s first flour mill for Lyman & Gage, located on the west bank of the South branch, across from where the Van Buren Street bridge would be built.  In 1839, Granger started his foundry that would eventually fabricate the machinery for elevating grain.  Granger and Van Osdel developed a horse-powered mechanical system for lifting or “elevating” the grain up to the storage bins in the upper floor of the warehouse.  Wagons pulled up close to the front of the building, where the bags of wheat were unloaded and emptied into a receiving hopper, from where it proceeded into the building to a weighing hopper.  A valve at the bottom of this hopper could be opened to allow the grain to flow into a pit below.  This was typically a circular tub with an eight-to-nine foot diameter, which had been sunk seven-to-eight feet deep into the ground and made watertight.  Here the grain collected in order to be picked up by the elevating machinery or “elevator” for short.  The elevator was based on a revolving belt of buckets, a technique that had been derived from a dredging machine.  The entire assembly was powered by a single horse walking on a revolving platform.  The horse-powered grain elevator permitted the efficient processing of the large amount of grain that Chicago was now attracting, and remained the standard technology of the city’s grain merchants for the next six years.  It would be only a short time before the entire grain warehouse was referred to in Chicago as a “grain elevator.”

FURTHER READING:

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

Ericsson, Henry L. Sixty Years a Builder: The Autobiography of Henry Ericsson. Chicago: A. Kroch,  1942.

Industrial Chicago-vol. 1: The Building Interests, Chicago: Goodspeed, 1891.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I.. New York: Knopf,  1940.

Tallmadge, Thomas Eddy. Architecture in Old Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

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

4.5. HENRY CLAY AND THE WHIGS BLOW A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: THE ELECTION OF 1840

Martin Van Buren had spent his entire political career working for the Presidential prize that he had finally won in 1836, easily defeating two Whig candidates (one from the North and one from the South hoping to deny Van Buren a majority of votes).  He had little time to enjoy the prize, unfortunately, as the 1837 Panic had struck within the first month of his inauguration.  As his term lengthened, the economic depression had only deepened.  The Whigs, the recently-formed opposition party to Jackson and his application of Van Buren’s party politics, sensed their moment had finally come.  So sure of victory were they that they scheduled their first ever Presidential convention in Harrisburg, PA, for Dec. 4, 1839, almost a full year ahead of the election, in order to maximize the time they would have to stump for their candidate.  Sen. Henry Clay, who had vigorously opposed Jackson in Congress, and had even unsuccessfully run against him in the 1832 Presidential election, appeared as the early favorite.  Clay had honed a political philosophy, that he had first named the “American System” in a speech he delivered in Congress in 1824, that was based on the Federal government’s active promotion of improving the quality of life in the U.S, through three main ideas: a high tariff to protect and encourage the country’s fledging industries; second, Federal funds to be used directly, not through grants to the individual states, to build and maintain the nation’s transportation systems in order to make it easier for private businesses to grow, as well as to better unify the country’s three geographical sections; and third, a strong national bank to foster the first two.

In a move calculated to shore up his support throughout the South, “Harry of the West” gave a speech in the Senate on Feb. 7, 1839, in which he attempted to clarify his long-held belief that slavery was an evil, but in contrast to the abolitionists’ demand for immediate emancipation, stated that the process needed to be gradual and that it could be made by each individual state, not by the Federal government.   While the speech had its intended result with his Southern supporters, it spread confusion among Northern Whigs, that ultimately cost him the nomination.   Gen. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe who had finished a respectable second to Van Buren in the 1836 election, was the winner on the fifth ballot, with Clay losing all of the northern states except Rhose Island.  In what must be ranked among the greatest political mistakes in American history, Clay, in a fit of self-pity, refused to respond to the convention’s follow-up offer to name him its candidate for Vice-President, leaving it no alternative but to settle on John Tyler from Virginia to balance the ticket.  “Tippecanoe (1811) and Tyler Too” went on to a landslide victory, making it a clean sweep by the Whigs who also took control of both Houses of Congress.  It was a watershed moment in American history, that could have changed the course of the nation.  Only three weeks after his inauguration, however, Harrison came down with a cold from which he never recovered, dying on April 4, 1841, from what contemporary research has determined to have been typhoid fever, thought to have been probably brought on by drinking the water from the nearby Potomac River.  Tyler took the oath of office two days later.

Whereas, if Clay had only swallowed his pride and accepted the Vice-President nomination at the convention, it would have been him, and not Tyler, who succeeded Harrison as President.  Clay, with a Whig Congress, would have been able to enact the enitire American System in its entirety.  Assuming Clay’s results would have been more positive than what actually occurred under Tyler, Clay should have been re-elected in 1844, and as he had not been originally elected in 1840, could have, if the conditions were favorable, had run for re-election in 1848, giving him and the Whigs a potential twelve-year period to recast the country along their political ideals.  One of the most important projects would have been the completion of the  National Road at least to St, Louis (although Congress had approved its extension to Jefferson City, MO, in 1825, the 1837 Panic had ended its funding that had stopped its construction at Vidalia, IL), with a number of branch roads into the North as well as the South (such as Clay’s proposed Maysville Road, intended to link the National Road with Zanesville, OH in the north, and with the Natchez Trace, via Lexington, KY, in the south, that Pres. Jackson had spitefully vetoed on May 27, 1830) binding the three sections of the country.  However, this is mere speculation, and the facts are that Tyler was more of an anti-Jackson than a true Whig, and not only did not believe in much of the Whig platform, but had his own Presidential aspirations that made him confront Clay wherever he could so as to weaken Clay’s chance for a run in 1844 (in which Clay did, nonetheless, get the nomination).  With Tyler fighting Clay’s Congress, not much was accomplished in the next four years while the depression continued to hold back America’s growth.  While the National Road to St. Louis still languished in central Illinois, Chicago’s farmers continued to build up their new farms.

FURTHER READING:

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

Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Henry Clay- The Essential American. New York: Random House, 2011.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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

4.4. THE DEARBORN STREET BRIDGE

Newberry & Dole’s success in the fall of 1839 was no small achievement, for at the time there was no bridge spanning the Main Branch of the river that wagons coming from the south or west could cross to gain easy access to their warehouse.  Sectional jealousies between the North and South Divisions had boiled into open warfare earlier that year that resulted in the demolition of the Dearborn Street drawbridge.  As Fort Dearborn had been erected on the south side of the river, it had been on the river’s south bank that the majority of businesses and residents had initially located simply for the sense of security that the fort provided, thus establishing the dominance of the south side of the river as the city’s business district.  This location was reinforced by the fact that wagons bringing produce from Indiana also came up from the south and east.  The impediment of having to cross the main branch of the river naturally had stopped any farther expansion into the North Division, which had simply reinforced the primacy of the South Division, but in truth, Chicago’s maritime businesses were so desperate for dock space because of the total inability to dock along the lakefront (due to the shallow depth of the lake, its current and fickle waves, and that “pesky” 1836 Canal Commissioner declaration that the lakefront was not to be built upon), that wharves and warehouses were simply jammed onto both banks of all three branches of the river.  Thus, the city’s major urban dilemma resulted: while the river and its businesses were the primary reason for the initial existence of Chicago, in order to take maximum advantage of the limited wharfing space along the river, businesses were forced to locate on both sides of the river.  These businessmen, more often than not, needed to cross the river to communicate with those on the opposite bank, having to originally rely on a ferry to cross to the other side.  The first bridges constructed over the river made the crossing, especially for those riding or driving a horse, a much less cumbersome proposition, but the river was a commercial maritime thoroughfare, so any bridge over the Chicago River had to be movable, in order to permit lake schooners with tall masts to pass by.  

Bridges vs. Masts. These two photographs from the late-1860s illustrate the inherent conflict between Chicago’s maritime businesses dependent upon the river and the city’s land-based pedestrians who needed to cross the river. While one passed, the other was made to wait. (Mayer and Wade, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)

Hence, the nub of Chicago’s problem: maritime businesses needed the unimpeded navigation of the river, while the pedestrian workers of land-based businesses needed easy and efficient travel across the river.  While movable bridges did allow both types of traffic to move within the city limits, when a bridge was opened to allow a ship to pass by, all land traffic was stopped and backed up for some distance.  When a bridge was closed to allow the pedestrian traffic to pass, ships were forced to wait in line until the bridge was reopened.  Nobody, but the municipal patronage-paid bridge tenders, seemed to be happy with the situation…

Therefore, the inconvenience of having to cross a river bridge that more often than not was opened to permit a boat to pass through, only reinforced the complete dominance of the South Division as the city’s business district (it was simply easier, and therefore, better business not to have to cross the river, period).  Although the majority of the wheat came from the south and west, many of the warehouses at this time were located on the north side of the river. The Dearborn Street drawbridge was crucial to the commercial success of these businesses, of which many southside concerns were envious.  In May 1839, the city approved a new floating swing bridge over the river’s south branch at Randolph Street designed and constructed by William Ogden to replace the dilapidated footbridge adjacent to the Sauganash Hotel.  This permitted wagons arriving from the west to enter the South Division and join those from the ‘Wabash Country’ in northern Indiana in crossing the Dearborn bridge to the warehouses in the North Division. 

Above: Ill. and Mich. Canal Commissioners Map, July 2, 1836. (Online); Below: The “Fort Dearborn Addition to Chicago,” 1839. Note that the Public Ground along the lakefront has been expanded two blocks north to Randolph, and the half block west of Michigan between Randolph and Washington that will be named Dearborn Park. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

In June 1839, the situation between the city’s three divisions continued to deteriorate after the Federal government had auctioned off the land in the Fort Dearborn reservation.  On April 23, 1839, Secretary of War Joel Poinsett had ordered that the land within the reservation be prepared to be sold, and in June the Federal government deeded the fort’s reservation in Section 10 to the City of Chicago as the “Fort Dearborn Addition to Chicago.” This had been correspondingly platted into blocks, lots, streets, while respecting the integrity of the “public ground” that had been first designated in 1836.  Meanwhile, the city’s leading figures had signed a petition asking Pres. Van Buren to postpone the sale fearing that the already depressed real estate market would only be made worse if the fort’s fifty-four acres were made available at this time.  An unspoken fear, however, was even more realistic: nobody in Chicago had enough money to outbid wealthy eastern speculators (many of whom were represented by Ogden), so it seemed to the local populace that the Federal government was simply giving away some of Chicago’s choicest real estate to eastern insiders.  

As Van Buren would soon be mounting his re-election campaign, his advisors were keenly aware (undoubtedly through reports supplied by Ogden) of the political sensitivity of this issue to Chicago’s voters.  Recalling an earlier petition signed by many of the same people in 1835, requesting that the fort be sold but with the provision that some of the land be dedicated as a public park, Mayor Benjamin Wright Raymond had held out for the dedication of the half block on the west side of Michigan Avenue, bounded by Randolph on the north and Washington on the south, as Dearborn Park.  The President’s advisors suggested that he go further by not only approving the Mayor’s request, but, in addition, enlarge Lake Park, to the east of Michigan Avenue, by extending it two blocks farther north from Madison to Randolph, resulting in an unbroken tract of public-owned lakefront that would extend from Randolph south to 12th Street, that was further described as: “The public ground between Randolph and Madison streets, and fronting upon Lake Michigan, is not to be occupied with buildings of any description.”  The remaining Federal land north of Randolph, with the exception of the land immediately adjacent to the the river upon which had stood the fort, was platted and sold in June 1839, fetching a total sum of $106, 042.  This opened up land on the south side of the river for the potential erection of warehouses that would be inherently closer to the location where farmers, who had come from the south and west, parked their prairie schooners while they sought the best deal from among the city’s grain dealers.

Then in July, Common Council voted to demolish the Dearborn Bridge.  The bridge had always been in a state of disrepair since its completion due to a lack of maintenance, often being stuck in the raised position for days while repairs were attempted. Although this created havoc with traffic trying to cross the river between the South and North Divisions, boat captains viewed it as poetic justice, for the bridge’s relatively narrow opening presented an obstacle to them that was not always successfully navigated.  This nuisance had become the favorite focus of invectives by sailors and pedestrians alike.  These concerns played into the hands of those in the South Division, especially the owners of the new warehouses recently erected in the Old Fort Dearborn reservation, who used these complaints in their attempt to isolate the businesses in the North from the farmers coming up from the south or over the Randolph Street bridge from the west.  Apparently, enough aldermen from the South and West Divisions were in agreement over the issue of the demolition of the Dearborn Bridge, that a resolution to that effect was passed in early July.  Not waiting for the bridge’s proponents in the North Division to influence enough aldermen to reverse their vote and rescind the action, a mob assembled at the sentenced bridge just before daybreak the next morning and axed it to pieces.

Earlier in the year Council had, in fact, authorized a replacement for the bridge to be built at Wells Street (that would have been more in line with the fourteen blocks that Walter Newberry owned on the northside along both sides of Wells from Illinois north to Chicago Avenue) with the stipulation that most of the cost be borne by stock subscriptions from property owners in the North Division.  With the Dearborn Bridge intact, however, there seemed to be no need for incurring such a financial burden during a time of such economic hardship, so nothing was done.  All that changed, however, with the swift execution of the North’s only link to the South.  Now the only way for the farmers to get to Newberry & Dole’s warehouse were two rope-operated ferries at State and Clark Streets.  These were large enough to carry two double teams of oxen, but as Ogden lamented over the despair of northside property owners to Arthur Bronson in New York:

“The rent of every warehouse on this side would be reduced all of 1/3 if we have no bridge.  Hoosier oxteams with wheat etc. wont [sic] come over the river on a ferry boat if they can avoid it.”

Ogden, along with Newberry and other northside owners, were close to their wits’ end in trying to devise a way to circumvent the majority in Council that the South and West Divisions had forged in opposition to the North.  Finally, in order to get just enough Council votes to authorize the construction of a replacement bridge to the north, Ogden and Newberry donated the entire block bounded by Chicago, Cass (Wabash), Superior and Wolcott (State) Streets, (where Holy Name Cathedral stands today) to the leaders of the Catholic church in exchange for enough Catholic votes on Council to approve a new bridge.  The tactic was successful for just enough votes were changed to result in a tie, that was broken by Mayor Raymond, who voted for the bridge only after securing assurances from Ogden and Newberry that they would pay for the bridge’s construction.  In deference to Newberry, however, the new bridge was located at Clark Street, a block closer to his holdings.  Ogden, meanwhile, made sure that the new bridge would be constructed on time and to his liking by taking the contract to build what he himself had also designed.  Subsequently, he also ended up having to pay a greater proportion of its total cost because while it was to be financed by the sale of bonds at seven per cent interest, only $2000 of the bridge’s final cost of $3000 was raised, Ogden himself having subscribed for much of that by himself.   Although construction began on April 18, 1840, and was completed by the end of the year, the remaining $1000 had to be absorbed by himself, who viewed the extra cost as a necessary business expense.

Tremont House II, southwest corner of Lake and Dearborn, 1840. (Kogan and Wendt, Chicago: A Pictorial History)

While Council had been fiddling over the Dearborn Street bridge issue, Chicago suffered its first conflagration.  On October 27, 1839, a fire erupted on Lake Street, near to the former site of the Dearborn Street bridge.  Seventeen buildings, including the Tremont House, were destroyed before the fire was stopped with the controlled explosion of an eighteenth building that was in the path of the fire.  The sustained loss was estimated to have been between $60,000 and $75,000 that coming in a depression, was only compounded by the lack of any insurance on the part of most of the building owners. Nonetheless, in December, the owners of the Tremont House, James and Ira Couch, commenced building a larger Tremont House on the southeast corner of Lake and Dearborn, diagonally across Lake Street from the site of the original hotel.  The second Tremont House opened to the public on May 20, 1840.

FURTHER READING:

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

Arnold, Isaac N. “William B. Ogden: and Early Days in Chicago,” Fergus Historical Series, No, 17. Chicago: Fergus, 1882.

Ericsson, Henry L. Sixty Years a Builder: The Autobiography of Henry Ericsson. Chicago: A. Kroch,    1942.

Lutz, Thomas J., Shaping Chicago: James S. Dunham’s Crusade for the River, Michigan: In-Depth Editions, 2012.

Mayer, Harold  M., and Richard C. Wade. Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis. Chicago: University   of Chicago Press, 1969.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– 3 volumes. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Wille, Lois. Forever Open, Clear, and Free; The Struggle For Chicago’s Lakefront. Chicago: Regnery, 1972.

______________. Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago. Chicago: Wilson & St. Clair, 1868.

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

4.3 THE START OF THE WHEAT TRADE

Meanwhile, during the fall of 1838 in Chicago, the first real harvest by the new farmers in the outlying areas and along the canal route, produced a small surplus of grain that was available for export.  The reports by the troops who had fought in the Black Hawk War as they returned to their eastern homes had piqued the interests of their farmer neighbors as well as recently arrived immigrants.  Faced with the facts that their methods were depleating their soil of nutrients but that the value of their land was increasing due to the population explosion and the corresponding growing demand for livestock grazing pasture, many eastern farmers sold their property and moved to the NorthWest in order to make a better living on the virgin prairie. Charles Walker, a successful merchant originally from Burlington Flats in Otsego County, NY, had with his brother, Almand, established in 1836 C. & A. Walker, a “forwarding house” on S. Water Street that enjoyed a brisk trade in Chicago in farm implements imported from the East that he exchanged for grain, meat, and hides from the area’s farmers.  C. & A. Walker would “forward” this produce to the East when they had acumulated a sufficient amount to fill a boat.  Walker made his first shipment of NorthWestern wheat in 1838 when he shipped seventy-eight bushels of the surplus wheat to Buffalo on the steamer Great Western.  The timing of the formation of Chicago’s first grain surplus could not have been more propitious.  Wholesale commodity prices were to rise from a post-Panic low in September 1837 to a high in February 1839 as a result primarily from two successive wheat crop failures in Great Britain during 1838 and 1839 that had helped to encourage American exports and correspondingly reduce the country’s growing deficit in its balance of payments.

A “Prairie Schooner” approaching Chicago along a “plank road.” (Heise and Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise)

The following harvest of 1839 brought Chicago’s first significant surplus in wheat for export to the East.  The wheat brought to Chicago by farmers in their wagons, or “Prairie Schooners” (from a distance across the flat prairie, their canvas covers resembled the sails of a ship), was required to be collected, stored, and eventually transferred to a lake vessel to be shipped along the lake route to Buffalo before winter shut down all lake traffic.  The river cities of Cincinnati and St. Louis were subject to seasonal river levels, that at times during dry seasons, left boats docked a significant distance from the storage/loading facilities higher up the river’s levee.  This meant that bags of wheat had to be moved by hand twice: first, when it was unloaded from the farmer’s wagon to be stored, and again when they were carried down the river bank to be loaded on a boat.  In Chicago, however, the slow-moving river held a constant level, which allowed a different, more efficient system of storing wheat to be developed that eventually reduced shipping costs at Chicago significantly.  George Dole had built Newberry & Dole’s two-story warehouse on the north side of the river, where Oliver Newberry’s younger brother Walter owned land and resided.  The farmer’s wheat was first hoisted to the upper story of the warehouse with rope and pulley by “Irish power,” where it was stored not by the bag it had come in, but by being poured into bins with the wheat of other farmers.  The problem of efficiently loading a ship was solved by a human bucket brigade that transferred the grain from the storage bins to a chute fixed in one of the upper windows.  The chute gradually narrowed until it reached the deck of the ship, where the rivulet of wheat was discharged into boxes holding four bushels.  Here it was weighed and then transferred into the hold of the vessel.  On October 8, 1839, Newberry & Dole shipped 3678 bushels of wheat on the Osceola.

The Osceola taking on wheat (note the chute from the upper floor) at Newberry & Dole’s Warehouse, 1839. (Heise and Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise)

There still remained the issue of the transfer of finances from the purchaser of the wheat to the farmer who produced the wheat.  While the “forwarding houses” had began the practice of exchanging Eastern manufactured goods for Western wheat, as the surplus wheat began in to increase in volume, these “forwarding agents” were happy to store the wheat, for a charge, until the wheat could be shipped as they themselves did not necessarily need, nor want to buy the wheat when it arrived at their facility.  They were primarily “middlemen” or “forwarders,” who transported the wheat to the ultimate buyer, be he located in Buffalo or London:

“As long as wheat fluctuated in price, anyone who owned it for even a short period automatically became a speculator.  He could gain or lose money by events that might happen in any far-away corner of the world, and which would be reflected in the demand for and supply of grain.  When wheat was bought in the autumn with the intention of shipping it east in the spring, as was the case in Chicago, the speculation could be long and perilous.  Ordinarily prices would be higher in April and May than they had been in September and October, but the forwarders could not count on this and, when calculating their profit or loss, would have to include such costs as labor, transportation, insurances and other factors.”

While this process might take over six months while the Great Lakes were frozen, the farmer needed money not only to live on, but also to finance the winter’s and spring’s plantings. George Smith’s sense of timing seemed impeccable, for he had opened his loan office in the summer of 1839, immediately just prior to the first significant wheat harvest.  On January 2, 1840, Smith had advertised:

“On advances for Winter wheat 50 cts; Spring wheat 37 cts. and corn 25 cts. per bushel, delivered at the ware house of G. S. Hubbard & Co,. with authority to ship or sell in the spring for account of the owners, subject to the usual charges for storage, insurance and commission and one per ct. per month for advancing.  If shipped to the East, payment of proceeds will be made at the place of sale, if desired.”

FURTHER READING:

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

Ferris, William G., The Grain Traders: The Story of the Chicago Board of Trade, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1988.

Heise, Kenan and Michael Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982.

Hidy, Ralph W. The House of Baring in American Trade and Finance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Lorenzsonn, Axel S. Steam and Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin: 1831-1861.    Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009.

Smith, Alice E. George Smith’s Money. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1966.

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