A convenient connection for its passengers, however, was not the primary concern in the IC’s final choice of the lakefront route into the Loop, for this route led directly to the mouth of the Chicago River, the heart of Chicago’s commerce, that provided important commercial connections for the two main products of the NorthWest: meat and wheat.  Chicago’s meat-packing industry had grown as rapidly as had the city’s grain trade, leaving the city’s packers with little or no facilities for storing livestock.  The first makeshift cattleyard, the “Bulls Head,” appeared in 1848 at the corner of Madison and Ashland Streets.  This location, however, proved to be very inconvenient for dealers in getting their animals to the city’s various slaughterhouses that were dispersed throughout the city. This problem was greatly compounded with the arrival of the railroads, that not only brought livestock to Chicago for slaughter, but now could also ship livestock to the East, thereby extending the freshness of meat shipped since it would no longer need to be preserved in salt before it was shipped over land.  John B. Sherman, a livestock trader originally from central New York who had recently moved to Illinois with his cousin, Samuel Allerton, was the first to understand what the railroad could do for the meat-packing industry.  He purchased the old Myrick property near the lakefront between 29th and 31st Streets, and commenced laying out Chicago’s first stockyard.  It was no mere coincidence, then, that as the Illinois Central tracks made their way into the center of town, they were laid immediately adjacent to the Sherman yards to facilitate the transfer of animals.

Map of Chicago showing the proximity of John Sherman’s Myrick and Cottage Grove Stockyards to the new IC tracks.

There was also not a more efficient location in Chicago to store harvested wheat for eventual transfer to a lake vessel than the site of Fort Dearborn at the junction of the river and Lake Michigan. In 1855, Solomon Sturges and his two brothers-in-law, C.P. and Alvah Buckingham formed Sturges, Buckingham & Co. to build the city’s largest grain elevator adjacent to the IC station. The following year a second monster structure was constructed immediately to the east of the first one.  These were best described by the Democratic Press:

“The buildings are one hundred and three by two hundred and four feet, and one hundred and twenty feet high.  In the operation of the machinery the grain is elevated one hundred and twenty-eight feet.  The cost of the buildings complete will be about $200,000 each… The brick walls are bound together by massive bolts only a few feet apart, and to give some idea of the amount of timber used, we state that twenty-nine ship loads were used during last summer in the construction of the building now being completed.  Two hundred and thirty-six car loads of grain were unloaded by one of the houses last summer in one day, and the amount of grain handled was between eighty and ninety thousand bushels.  It is safe to say that each house can handle a hundred thousand bushels per day.”

Upper: The Sturges & Buckingham Elevators A and B, 1856. View is from the lake, southeast of the elevators. Note the open doors at either side into which went the railroad cars. Lower: The IC complex with the Elevators in the Background, looking northeast from Michigan and Randolph. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago- vols. 1&2. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Buckingham, Ebenezer. Solomon Sturges and his descendants; a memoir and a genealogy. New York: Grafton Press, 1907.

Chapman, Frederic William. The Buckingham Family; Or the Descendants of Thomas Buckingham, One of the First Settlers of Milford, Conn. Hartford: Case, 1872.

Wing, Jack. The Great Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1865.

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

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