Meanwhile, McCormick’s attack from the rear had forced the First Presbyterian Church to take stock of its predicament.  Even though their new building designed by Van Osdel was only six years old (having been dedicated in September 1849), the surrounding neighborhood had significantly changed during this relatively short period.  While its membership had already far exceeded the seating capacity of their new building, many of its members had joined the residential flight from the encroachments of the city’s growing business district and had moved precisely to the vicinity of McCormick’s South Church.  Why would those who had Presbyterian leanings that had moved into the new neighborhood make the long trek north on Sunday mornings when the South Church was right around the corner?

In addition, the recently completed Courthouse across the street had not improved, but actually aggravated the congregation’s deteriorating neighborhood situation.  Although Van Osdel’s design had unquestionably enhanced the visual quality of the church’s surrounding environment, the newly enlarged visage of the Courthouse on the Courthouse Square became a lightning rod for civil protest and violence during the turbulent times that preceded the start of the Civil War.  For instance, on the morning of Sunday, April 22, 1855, the congregation found loaded cannons, of all things, across the street from their building, aimed at the two northern approaches to the Courthouse Square.  Mayor Boone, a member of the Know-Nothing Party who had won the last election on an anti-immigrant platform, had instigated a fight with the city’s growing German community.  Intended as a direct reproach to the Germans who had arrived with their traditional Sunday beer-centered social customs, Boone ordered the selective enforcement of a long-ignored city ordinance that prohibited the operations of saloons on Sundays.  The mayor made it perfectly clear that this was to apply only to those establishments that dispensed the foreign beverage, but not to saloons that sold “American” whiskey.  The first Sunday that the ordinance was enforced saw the arrest of over two hundred Germans in violation, with the case set to be heard on the morning of Saturday, April 21 by Justice of the Peace Henry L. Rucker, whose office was located across from the Courthouse.

In defense of their comrades, a column of some three hundred Germans marched into the Square to the rhythm of a fife and drum prior to the hearing.  Having proceeded to vent their anger at the judge and the mayor, the crowd withdrew to the northeast corner of the Square and blocked the intersection of Clark and Randolph (which was directly opposite the steps of the First Presbyterian Church).  The situation worsened during the afternoon as people, many of whom were now armed and were either sympathetic to the plight of the Germans or simply looking for adventure, added to the ranks of the mob that had in the meantime retreated across the Clark Street bridge to the North side to regroup,  By 3:00 P.M. the rabble had once again worked up the nerve to make an attack, and proceeded once again to the Courthouse.

Meanwhile, the mayor had been informed of the throng’s intent and began marshaling his forces.  As the mob started across the bridge, the mayor had the bridge’s tender swing it open, thereby helplessly isolating more than half of the horde above the river’s waters.  The time gained by this maneuver permitted the police to position themselves in the best strategic locations before the Mayor ordered the tender to close the bridge.  In the ensuing melee, people on both sides were wounded, and the crowd was once again forced back off the bridge.  Taking no chances, the mayor had brought in cannons during the evening that were positioned to cover the approaches to the square, should the Germans try to break through police lines in the coming light.  Hence, the First Presbyterian Church, like all of the churches in Church Row, found itself in the midst of the “lager beer riots,” that it must be admitted, was not the ideal setting in which to conduct a Bible study.

John M. Van Odsel, Courthouse Square bounded by Clark, Washington, La Salle, and Randolph (looking north). Note the circular retaining wall erected to protect the basement windows when the street grade was raised. The additional floor and a larger cupola had been added in 1858. Photograph taken on May 2, 1865, with the Courthouse decorated in mourning following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The line of mourners to view Lincoln’s casket flows down the stairs. (Lewis, Remembering Chicago)

The effects of Chesbrough’s proposal, then under discussion, to raise the grade of the city’s streets also had to be taken into account by the Presbyterians.  The raising of the streets around the Courthouse Square by an additional five feet had also negatively impacted the Courthouse.  In addition to reducing the available daylight to the basement, it also had the overall effect of shortening the courthouse’s silhouette.  These issues, in addition to the continued increase in the city’s population, brought to Van Osdel the commission in 1858 to add a 25’ high fourth floor and a grand cupola over the center of the building that housed an observation balcony accessed by an iron staircase.  Washington and Clark Streets were slated to be raised at least between eight to ten feet in the near future.  Not only would this block out the sun and air to the important spaces in the basement of the First Presbyterian’s church, but even more devastating would be the shortening effect this would have on the all-important steeple.  A ten-foot increase in the grade meant a ten-foot shortening on the church’s tower. 

Raising the Presbyterian’s building to the new grade was apparently not an option at the time, for while raising a five-story brick hotel was one thing, keeping a heavy, 163’ tall masonry and wood tower plumb while being jacked ten feet in the air was a feat no one was ready to attempt, or at least pay for.  The biggest incentive to relocate, however, was undoubtedly provided by the huge increase in commercial activity throughout the business district at this time.  As business and industry supplanted the church’s surrounding residential neighborhood, the quality of the everyday environment about the church had deteriorated.  A local observer commented that it simply was not conducive to developing the appropriate frame of mind for worship when one had to “wind one’s way to the sanctuary through barricades of petroleum, molasses, salt, tea, and fish barrels, empty soap boxes, stacks of heavy hardware and such.”  This may have been the case, but the increase in business activity had also caused a corresponding increase in the value of the congregation’s property.

As construction of the South Church finally started during the summer of 1855 on McCormick’s lot with the help of McCormick’s money, the New Schoolers apparently felt pressured to respond in kind and in July, the Westminster Presbyterian Church (NS) was formally organized with the intent to construct a church on the lot in the North Division that had been purchased two years earlier.  Not having the resources of a McCormick, however, had put the New Schoolers at a distinct disadvantage.  Worse still, the First Presbyterian congregation had overextended itself six years earlier when it finally succumbed to the building fever in Church Row: an extravagance for which the congregation was still paying.  The church’s Session took a calculated look at the converging forces on the congregation, and in the fall decided to sell their relatively new edifice and use the windfall from their lot’s recently-inflated value to help finance a major building campaign in direct response to McCormick’s challenge.  The large profit gained from the sale of the church’s lot at the southwest corner of Clark and Washington would be used for four items: first, to pay off the remaining debt the congregation still owed on the building it was about to sell; second, to build a much larger building closer to the S. Michigan/Wabash residential district; third, to finance a building for the new Westminster congregation on the north side; and lastly, to help fund the purchase of a lot and construction of a church for the Third Presbyterian (NS) Church that had been sputtering in the West Division since its organization in 1847.

W. W. Boyington, First Presbyterian Church, Wabash between Van Buren and Tyler (Congress), 1856. The two towers were added in 1859. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

The congregation had little trouble in finding a buyer for such a piece of prime real estate and in November 1855 purchased a lot on Wabash between Van Buren and Tyler, immediately to the north of McCormick’s South Church, to offer as clear a choice as possible to the area’s Presbyterians.  Following the lead of Terrace Row, the congregation hired Boyington, and not Van Osdel, to design their new church.  Boyington’s prior design experience enabled him to respond to the stylistic desires of his diverse clientele, as was evident in his early Chicago projects.  Rather than repeating the “Italianate” language of Michigan Terrace, he produced what was referred to as a “Norman Style” design in Athens marble that utilized a vertical accent with round-headed windows.  The design included two magnificent towers that faced the lake.  The south tower was planned to be much taller than the north one, an asymmetrical composition undoubtedly inspired by the new building of the church’s cousin congregation: Renwick’s trendsetting Second Presbyterian Church, that also fronted Wabash Street, just six blocks farther north.  Once again, however, the congregation’s ambition far exceeded their resources, so that the towers would have to wait for better times, since the cost of the project sans towers was $115,000.  The new First Presbyterian Church was dedicated on October 15, 1857, concluding the congregation’s retreat from the city’s business district.

from Peck Court, ca. 1866-71. From left to right: First Baptist Church, Boyington, 1866 (note that the 225’ high spire was not constructed); Wabash Avenue Methodist Episcopal, Boyington, First Presbyterian, Boyington, and St. Paul’s Universalist, Boyington. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

With the precedent of a protestant congregation abandoning the Courthouse Square for the quiet confines of Wabash thus established, it didn’t take long for the remaining churches to follow suit.  In contrast to the Roman Catholic tradition of “the parish,” the Protestant churches were not necessarily tied to a geographic area, therefore, they were relatively free to pick up and move with their members. In October 1855, the First Universalist Church had welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Samuel B. Mason.  He was so popular that the congregation quickly outgrew its small building on Washington, only a half block east of the former First Presbyterian Church.  The Universalists followed to the letter the pattern set by their former neighbors.  In 1856, they sold their property and used the profit to purchase the northwest corner of Wabash and Van Buren, just a half block north of where the new First Presbyterian Church was under construction and used the remaining money to build their own Boyington-designed building.  The congregation who had started Chicago’s steeple chase in 1844, used this opportunity to regain its short-lived prestige by erecting a 175′ high tower of stone and timber, five feet higher than the Baptists’ three-year old steeple.  Boyington’s stylistic abilities were apparently put to the test by the congregation who, while wanting the more traditional single, central tower characteristic of Chicago’s churches, also liked the Gothic imagery of Renwick’s Second Presbyterian Church.  Hence, Boyington incorporated pointed arched-windows in the rock-faced exterior of Lemont limestone. As the Universalist’s building was to be smaller than the new First Presbyterian Church, not only did it cost half as much ($60,000) and was dedicated five months earlier on May 7, 1857, but the Universalists did not have to wait more than two years for their tower.  The newcomer, Boyington, had quickly surpassed Van Osdel’s long-held reputation of having designed Chicago’s tallest buildings, a reputation he would maintain for the next thirty-five years of his career.

W. W. Boyington, First Universalist Society’s St. Paul’s Church, Northwest corner of Wabash and Van Buren, 1856. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

The deleterious effects of the rapid increase in business activity were not limited solely to the Courthouse Square, however, but were spread along the entire main branch of the river.  Another church that moved in response to these changes was St. James Episcopal, that had remained at the corner of Wabash between Illinois and Michigan (now Hubbard) Streets on the north side of the Main Branch since it had been erected in 1835.  The congregation voted in 1856 to relocate five blocks farther north to the corner of Wabash and Huron, rather conveniently to the block immediately across Erie from William Ogden’s estate.  Edward Burling was commissioned to design a more accurate Gothic Revival design than had been the original building.

Edward Burling, St. James Episcopal Church, Wabash and Huron, 1856. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)


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

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

Dedmon, Emmett. Fabulous Chicago: A Great City’s History and People. Canada: McClelland and Stewart, Ltd, 1981.

Jevni and Almini. Chicago Illustrated. Chicago, 1966.

Sloan, Tom L. B., The Architecture of W.W. Boyington, Northwestern University, M.Arts, 1962.

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


The centerpiece of this new neighborhood was Terrace Row located on Michigan Avenue, facing the lake, between Jackson and Van Buren, designed by a recently arrived addition to the city’s growing architectural community, William W. Boyington.  He had come to Chicago in November 1853, abandoning a flourishing practice in Massachusetts at the age of thirty-five in order to cast his lot with Chicago’s burgeoning construction boom.  In addition to the customary background in carpentry and construction, Boyington apparently had also received some architectural training in New York City that had helped to point him toward the design side of the profession, in which he had easily excelled in his native Massachusetts.  He had become quite facile in producing buildings in a variety of historical styles that he would prove in Chicago as he quickly accrued a series of projects, making his workload comparable to that of Van Osdel’s within two years of his arrival.  The commission for such a high profile project as Terrace Row gave Boyington the opportunity to exhibit his talents to the city’s elite, a number of whom were committed to move into the project upon its completion.

W.W. Boyington, Terrace Row, block of Michigan bounded by Van Buren and Tyler (Congress), 1856. The Panic of 1857 prevented the completion of the project, only eleven of the planned fourteen townhouses were built.

In contrast to Chicago’s traditional single-family house, these families had opted to experiment with an idea that was very much in vogue in New York City at the time: the attached row house.  The project was intended to comprise of fourteen attached four-story walk-ups.  Boyington avoided the inherent monotony of similar projects by breaking the composition into a central pavilion of two five-story units that was flanked with corner pavilions that also comprised of two five-story apartments.  Athens marble and a bracketed cornice lent an appropriate air of sophistication to the building that afforded its residents an unobstructed view of the lake (and, eventually, the puffing IC trains).  Such a grandiose project and investment by some of Chicago’s leading families seemed not only to guarantee the success of the surrounding area’s residential development, but also served to acquaint these people with Boyington’s talent that would quickly net a series of projects for him in the immediate neighborhood.

W. W. Boyington, McVicker’s Theater, Madison, between State and Dearborn, 1857.

As Boyington started the construction of Terrace Row, one of America’s leading comedic entertainers, James H. McVicker, had returned to Chicago to build the best theater house in the west.  McVicker had made his theatrical debut on John B. Rice’s stage on March 2, 1848, where he joined the stock company, eventually becoming the manager of Rice’s rebuilt theater following the fire in 1850.  A few years later he went on tour, first to the east coast where he established his reputation that eventually thrust him across the ocean to play to European houses in 1855.  The following year he returned to the states and established a theater in St. Louis, only to be drawn back to Chicago in March 1857.  McVicker chose a site south of Rice’s theater, on Madison between Dearborn and State Streets and spared no cost in erecting a design by Boyington that had a final price of $85,000 (by comparison, Rice had spent $11,000 to rebuild his theater).  Boyington planned a freestanding (there were alleys on all three sides) three-story structure of red brick and stone trim.  The first floor contained stores while the upper two floors contained offices and clubrooms that fronted on the street.  Boyington completed the elevation with flanking corner pavilions that rose an extra story above the roofline.  Entrance to the theater was gained through a central lobby, 30′ wide and 40′ deep, from which stairs led to the auditorium that could seat 2500 theatergoers.  Upon entering the theater, theatergoers were greeted by a poignant painting on the stage curtain of Farnum’s Rock Island Bridge over the Mississippi River  The doors opened on November 5, 1857, with a performance of the comedy “Honeymoon” to what quickly became a Chicago landmark. (McVicker was so successful with the new theater that John Rice was forced to eventually admit defeat and tear his theater down in 1860 and replaced it with a business block.)


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

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

Gilbert, Paul T., and Charles L. Bryson. Chicago and Its Makers. Chicago: F. Mendelsohn, 1929.

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

Sloan, Tom L. B., The Architecture of W.W. Boyington, Northwestern University, M.Arts, 1962.

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)


Despite the two cholera outbreaks, Chicago’s population, now being fed by the direct railroad links from the East, continued to grow at its breakneck pace.  When the first Michigan Southern train pulled into town in 1852, the city’s population had been 38,733.  With both the Michigan Southern and Michigan Central bringing people directly to Chicago, 1853 saw an additional 22,000 newcomers swell the ranks of the city to 60,662 (one of every three persons on the streets that year had just moved into town).  By 1857, the population had swelled to 93,000 and as the city’s population continued to grow, construction of new housing had moved farther and farther away from the noise, dirt, and hustle and bustle of the river’s commercial district. The population explosion fueled by the railroads had wrought both a massive reconfiguration of Chicago’s residential pattern and a parallel increase in commercial activity to the center of town, that also vied for new space upon which to locate.  Property values in the business district soared.  The increased hustle and bustle of business, with its accompanying noise, filth, and crime, had a considerably negative impact on the residential atmosphere of Chicago’s original residential neighborhoods in the South District, especially those adjacent to “Church Row.”  

S. Water Street, looking west from Dearborn. The area was the center of the wholesale trade in sugar, spice, groceries, tobacco, and hardware. (Gilbert, p. 177)

As the polluted river was often viewed by many to be one of the major sources of the city’s health problems, the recent cholera outbreaks only provided extra incentive to move out, away from the river as far as possible. A favorite location was farther south on Michigan Avenue, facing the lake for the obvious immediate view, and possibly, the healthier breeze off the lake.  Those who either were not quick enough to snap up a lakefront property, or could not afford the price of one, settled for being close to the lake and its elite residents by moving to Wabash Street.

Michigan Avenue, looking south from Jackson Street, ca 1861-71. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)
Wabash Avenue, looking south from Eldridge Court, ca 1870. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

As mentioned earlier, the First Presbyterian Church was the last congregation in Church Row to have replaced their original building, having started construction in the fall of 1848.  The Second Presbyterian Church had responded in kind with the construction of an even larger edifice outside the confines of Church Row in the following year.  Although this congregation had split from the First in 1842 because they did not share Rev. Bascom’s strident abolitionism, they still had at least one thing in common with the mother congregation: they were both “New School” Presbyterians.  The Presbyterian Church in the U. S. in 1837 had split over doctrinal issues into two branches:  the “New School” (NS) that disagreed with those who stood firm for a more orthodox doctrine, who continued as the “Old School” (OS) Presbyterians. One of the major differences was on the issue of slavery, to wit: in 1845 the Old School reaffirmed its position of non-interference in the issue of the day, beating back a proposal by abolitionists within the church to return to the church’s earlier anti-slavery stance of 1818.

It had been New School Presbyterians who had been at the forefront of Chicago’s settlement, and it wasn’t until May 1848, that the number of Old School believers had reached the critical mass needed to call a pastor.  This group found the Rev. R. H. Richardson willing to serve, and gathered in the Rush Medical building on May 28, to hear his first sermon.  Three days later, Cyrus McCormick, a pious soul and staunch Old School Presbyterian, had returned to Chicago for his first view of the new factory that Gray had erected during his absence.  On August 26, in the thick of the first harvest season as the primary manufacturer of his machine and embroiled in the legal battle with Gray and Ogden, McCormick characteristically still made time to participate as one of the twenty-six charter members who organized the North Presbyterian (OS) Church of Chicago.  They immediately commenced building a one-story wood frame church with Gothic trappings (including a “pepper box” steeple) at the northeast corner of N. Clark and Michigan (now Hubbard) Streets. The North Presbyterian Church was finished in November 1848 and Richardson was formally installed as its pastor on November 19.

The fortunes of the new church so closely paralleled those of the McCormick clan that by 1852, the congregation began construction of a larger building at the southwest corner of Illinois and Wolcott (State) Streets.  McCormick, meanwhile, having won international distinction with his reaper at the 1851 World’s Exposition in London, ascended so quickly to the top echelon of Chicago’s power elite that he began to quietly formulate his “Great Church Enterprise.”  McCormick firmly believed that the Presbyterian Church (OS) and the Democratic Party, with members in both northern and southern states, were primarily responsible for holding the Union together in the face of the slavery issue.  Believing that the emerging NorthWest would cast the deciding voice over the issue, McCormick devised a plan to strengthen, with his own money if need be, the teaching of orthodox Old School Presbyterianism throughout the NorthWest, and thereby, had hoped to preserve the status quo in the country.

In response to the success enjoyed by the Old School congregation in the North Division, the two New School congregations in the South District purchased a lot in 1853 on the north side of Ohio, between State and Dearborn, with an eye towards the eventual formation of a NS congregation in the midst of the OS stronghold.  McCormick’s reaction was characteristically combative: he purchased a lot on the south side intending to donate it for the start of an OS congregation in the South Division where the New School had reigned since 1833, when Jeremiah Porter had first set foot in Chicago.  McCormick had an ulterior motive, however, in the purchase of the south side lot.  By 1854, he had become dissatisfied with Rev. Richardson’s preaching and quietly organized a movement to form a second Old School congregation in which he could have more direct influence on its doctrinal direction. Understandably, McCormick did not wish to publicly embarrass the pastor and thereby split the congregation, nor did he care to burn his own bridges. With apparent altruism, therefore, McCormick, along with brother Leander, sister Mary, and other North Church members, presented a petition to the church’s Session on November 12, 1854, to organize an Old School church in the South Division for which he offered to donate a lot as the site of the new church if the petition was approved.

The Session approved the plan on November 24, and the congregation was formally organized as the South Presbyterian Church on December 19.  McCormick supplied liberal financial support in getting the new congregation started, including the donation of the lot and half of the money needed to construct the church building, a one-story frame edifice that could seat 400 people.  The lot that McCormick supplied for the South Presbyterian Church was nowhere near the existing Church Row, however, but rather a full six blocks farther south at the southwest corner of Tyler (Congress) and Wabash.  Rather than directly confronting the two NS Presbyterian churches on their home turf along the Washington Street corridor, McCormick’s real estate savvy had recognized the changing residential pattern of Chicago’s upper class, and he simply leapfrogged over the existing churches and planted his new church in the midst of the city’s emerging elite residential section along Michigan and Wabash, that up to then did not have a Presbyterian church within walking distance.


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

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick- Harvest: 1856-1884, New York: The Century Co., 1930.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– v.I, II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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


Another possible cause for the cholera problem was thought to have been the insufficient burial of dead bodies in the city cemeteries.  Two cemeteries, one in the North and one in the South, had been established by the city in 1835.  The north cemetery had originally been located near Chicago Avenue, east of Clark Street, but as the city grew outwards, it was relocated in 1842 to a plot of 80 swampy acres along the lakefront centered around North Avenue that at the time was thought to have been sufficiently removed from the city limits for health concerns.  This was divided into a Protestant burial ground in the northern half, and the southern portion that contained a Catholic cemetery (that had been originally purchased in 1843 by Rev. de St. Palais), a Jewish cemetery, a general city cemetery, and a potter’s field.  The south cemetery had been originally located near the lakeshore at 23rd Street. Following the 1852 reappearance of cholera, a group of nine business leaders, including J. Young Scammon, Norman B. Judd, and Ebenezer Peck, sensing the opportunity in this type of real estate investment, purchased 183 acres at what is now 67th and S. Cottage Grove Avenue and incorporated the non-sectarian Oak Woods Cemetery on February 12, 1853.

In 1857, Dr. John H. Rauch had been brought to Chicago in 1857 from Iowa to be a professor at the Rush Medical College, of which Ogden was its primary benefactor and the president of its Board of Trustees. Beginning in the Fall of 1858, Rauck had embarked on an unceasing campaign railing against the health hazards posed by the City Cemetery, that was reinforced with a petition to Common Council signed by “prominent citizens who resided on the north side.” That November, Common Council appointed a special commission to study the cemetery issue.  Ogden wasted precious little time in duplicating his partner Scammon’s new cemetery on the northside.  He partnered with John H. Kinzie in obtaining 350 acres at what is today the southwest corner of Ravenswood and Peterson, planning to build the city’s second private cemetery, Rosehill Cemetery. In less than three months after Council had appointed the Cemetery Commission, Ogden formally incorporated Rosehill Cemetery on February 11, 1859.  Four days later the commission recommended to Council that burials in the current City Cemetery be halted and negotiations with the Rosehill trustees take place to coordinate the transfer of burials.  On March 8, Council approved the commission’s recommendation, Ogden by that time had already managed to have the country’s leading botanist, William Saunders of Philadelphia, whom he had chosen to design the cemetery’s landscape, travel to Chicago to inspect the land so he could start designing a plan for its new function.  The cemetery was consecrated on July 28, 1859, thus the entire process from Dr. Rauck’s initial speeches to the cemetery’s consecration took less than nine months: a prime example of the “efficiency” with which Ogden ran his business operations. Curiously, Ogden had offered the presidency of the cemetery to local attorney, Thomas Barbour Bryan, who was known to be interested in improving the city’s cemeteries ever since his son had died in 1855 but had graciously declined Ogden’s offer.

Bryan had been born in Alexandria, VA, had studied law at Harvard, and upon graduation had migrated to the burgeoning metropolis of Cincinnati to establish his law practice.  He recognized the investment potential that Chicago offered, however, and moved to Chicago in 1852, establishing the firm of Bryan & Hatch, and began to expand his investments into real estate and banking.  Following the 1854 cholera epidemic, over 2000 bodies had been temporary disinterred in 1855 in the hope that this might impede the return of the disease.  One of these bodies had been Bryan’s recently deceased son, who was aghast that his son’s body had been disturbed. Following the emotional upset caused by the disinterment of his son’s body, Bryan began to appreciate the need for a better burial option than what the city currently offered.  Coincidently at this point in time, Cincinnati, Bryan’s former residence, was making news with the announcement that it was undertaking a complete redesign of its non-sectarian cemetery, Spring Grove.

Cincinnati had established its reputation as the horticultural center of the West with its many landscaped estates in suburban Clifton, Nicholas Longworth’s famous Catawba grape vineyard on Mt. Adams that would become Eden Park in 1869, and the publication of the magazine Western Horticultural Review.  A group of Cincinnati’s business leaders had established Spring Grove Cemetery in 1845 that was the largest cemetery in the world at this time.  In the same year that Bryan had left Cincinnati, Prussian immigrant landscape architect Adolph Strauch, who had learned his art under the gardeners at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace and would soon become America’s leading landscape designer following the premature death of Alexander Jackson Downing in 1852, had moved into town and established his practice.  Two years later, in late 1854 he had been contracted to redesign the grounds of Spring Grove.  He would transform it into a veritable Garden of Eden and America’s premiere cemetery employing his theory of a “landscape lawn plan,” and in the process change the nature of American cemeteries from one of fenced in plots sporting a crushing number of monuments and statues, to an open, parklike arboretum that minimized the number of monuments placed within the landscape. Strauch had been brought to Chicago by the Board of Oak Woods Cemetery on the southside to design its landscape in time for the first burial to take place in 1860.

While Bryan was accessing his options regarding a new cemetery in Chicago, he had also bought a tract of land of over 1000 acres to the west of Chicago in an area that at the time was known as Cottage Hill, whose name would be changed in 1869 to Elmhurst.  Choosing not to live in the city proper, but to commute to this suburban location via Ogden’s G&CU, Bryan set out to replicate the landscaped estates he had seen in Cincinnati, naming his estate “Bird’s Nest.”  The following year, his good friend, painter George P. A. Healy purchased some of Bryan’s property and moved in next door.  Healy, who had been born and raised in Boston, had travelled to London and Paris at the age of twenty-one in 1834 to study painting, where, over the course of the next two decades, he had become quite famous at portrait painting, Louis-Phillippe, then the King of France, being among his subjects and admirers.  He had been brought to Chicago in the fall of 1855 through the invitation of Ogden who had made his acquaintance in Paris during his visit to the World’s Fair while on his European excursion. Promising a bright future with a number of commissions, Ogden had invited him to stay over the winter of 1855-6 at Ogden Grove, hoping to entice a renowned artist to grace the streets and salons of Chicago.

With the precedent of Spring Grove and other major cemeteries back in the east, Bryan, sensing the possible profit to be had from this type of real estate business, purchased sometime between late 1858 and early 1860, some 86 acres in the North Division, centered around what is today’s intersection of Clark Street and Irving Park Road. In early 1860, he invited Healy, Ogden, Ogden’s brother-in-law and partner, Edwin Sheldon (Sheldon had married William’s sister Francis in 1846, and was a partner, along with Mahlon Ogden, in Ogden, Jones, and Co. in 1850), and Sidney Sawyer to join him in incorporating Graceland Cemetery on June 27, 1860, in what would become Chicago’s premiere cemetery.  During his initial planning of Graceland, Bryan had engaged the services of Swain Nelson, a Swedish immigrant landscape gardener who had moved to Chicago in 1852, to assist with the necessary preliminary road and grading issues. Once the cemetery was formally incorporated, the Board followed Ogden’s precedent in Rosehill and commissioned William Saunders to also design Graceland’s overall plan, placing Nelson in charge of overseeing its actual construction. Now, all that was left to do was to have Common Council actually enforce the ban on new burials in the City Cemetery and the demand for burial plots in the new cemeteries would skyrocket.  The ever-faithful Ezra McCagg, Ogden’s partner and brother-in-law, was sent out to innocently start a petition campaign to have the city stop burials in the City Cemetery and to dedicate it as a city park.  Unfortunately, with the start of the Civil War this issue was pushed to the backburner.


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

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

Cropsey, Eugene H. Crosby’s Opera House: Symbol of Chicago’s Cultural Awakening. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1999.

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

Funigiello, Philip J.,  Florence Lathrop Page,  Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1994. 

Tishler, William H., Midwestern Landscape Architecture, Urbana: University of Illinois, 2000.

Vernon, Christopher, Graceland Cemetery: A Design History, Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2011.

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

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


Owners of existing buildings that were in good repair and in no need of rebuilding, however, faced an altogether different prospect: how were they to modify their building in response to the eventual change in street height?  This issue was compounded by the fact that by 1857, the city’s building inventory had grown to include a much greater number of larger, multistory buildings than just the few large hotels, like the Tremont House.  With the improvement in the economy starting in 1848 and fueled by the population explosion made possible with the coming of the railroads, the types of businesses had begun to diversify and correspondingly increase in size.  The demand for office space by professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and bankers, once sufficiently provided by a small room or two in one of the hotels, had so increased in Chicago by 1855 that a new typology of building, the four-story office block had started to make its appearance on the city’s streets.

Marine Bank and Fire Insurance Building, northeast corner of Lake and LaSalle, 1856. Note the wood buildings immediately across the street. (Chicagology)

These were quickly replacing the original two-story wood frame buildings that the city’s founders had erected and, correspondingly, were changing the scale of the city’s urban fabric.  In order to be fireproof, these buildings were constructed with masonry bearing walls, either in stone, brick, or brick with a stone veneer.  The ground or street floor would be designed to accommodate a number of rental stores that would benefit from large windows for display purposes.  The building’s entrance to the upper floors needed to be celebrated, usually with a pediment or portico. An owner wanting to spend as little money as possible would encourage his architect/builder to simply design a four-story masonry box (a flat-roofed palazzo) and treat the windows as simple, repetitive openings with a arched-head, such as Theodore V. Wadskier employed in the Major Block at the southeast corner of Madison and La Salle. Wadskier had been born in St. Croix in the Danish West Indies and educated at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.  He came to the U.S. in 1850, first practicing in Philadelphia, before moving to Chicago in 1857.  

T. V. Wadskier, Major Block, southeast corner of Madison and LaSalle. (Gilbert, p. 406)

If the client or the architect had any artistic pretensions, the architect could manipulate the windows in a number of different ways to achieve a visually richer effect.  One such technique was to group two windows with a separating column, such as was done in the Marine Bank and Fire Insurance Building erected by Ogden and Scammon at the northeast corner of Lake and La Salle.  

Marine Bank and Fire Insurance Building. Note the difference in the design of the windows on the LaSalle (paired) elevation vs. those on the Lake (single) Street façade. (Jevni)

This building was also one of the first exterior uses of Chicago’s local Lemont limestone that would soon accrue the appellation of “Athenian Marble.” A different window detail involved treating the windows as if they were the openings within a continuous arcade.  If the pier that supported each arch was extended down into the next story, unbroken by the floor below, such as in Speed’s Block on the east side of Dearborn, just north of Madison, the façade would be given a distinct vertical emphasis, making it look taller than it actually was.  These were the typical design solutions one finds in Chicago’s early “business blocks.”

Otis L. Wheelock, Speed’s Block, east side of Dearborn, just north of Madison. (Chicagology)

Later in 1857, the inherent solution to the problem of raising the elevation of the streets upon which these buildings fronted was to be seen occurring at the northeast corner of Dearborn and Randolph.  J. D. Jennings had contracted James Brown from Boston to literally lift his store up to the new level.  This was done with screw jacks that temporarily raised the building off its foundation.  The requisite stone retaining wall was then built at the edge of the street, a new basement was excavated under the floating building, a new foundation wall was constructed up to the underside of the building, and the jacks slowly lowered until the store rested comfortably at its new grade. If a building could be lifted, there was also nothing stopping an owner from simply moving it to another site and then selling the old site for a tidy profit:

“I have seen even three-story buildings travel down the street… seldom drawn by more than one horse.  Often the entire width of a street is blocked by a house that is out for a walk,,, Moving the house does not necessarily mean that those living in it must move out.  I have seen houses on the move while the families living in them continued with their daily tasks, keeping fire in the stove, eating their meals as usual, and at night quietly going to bed to wake up the next morning on some other street.  Once a house passed my window while a tavern business in it went on as usual.”

The Chicagoan whose name first comes to mind when the raising of the city’s buildings is mentioned is George Mortimer Pullman, one the city’s ablest businessmen, who is better known in American history as one of the developers of the railroad “sleeping car.”  Pullman was born near Buffalo, NY, where his father had a building-moving business, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the construction of the Erie Canal.  The elder Pullman had even patented a device for transporting buildings on wheels.  Young George took to the business, gaining a reputation as a troubleshooter who would personally resolve problems as quickly as they arose, and upon the death of his father in 1853, took over the business just in time to take advantage of the state’s widening of the canal in 1853-4.  In January 1859, the wife of the owner of Chicago’s Matteson House had visited Pullman’s hometown of Albion, NY, and through the course of polite conversation had mentioned Chicago’s “high grade” program and her husband’s problem in finding a contractor willing to attempt to raise such a large, heavy building.  

Raising the Briggs House to the new grade. (Kogan and Wendt, Chicago: A Pictorial History)

Like everything else he ever attempted, the twenty-eight-year-old Pullman wasted no time in travelling to Chicago, where he was eventually successful in getting the contract to raise, what at that time would have been the largest building in the city ever attempted to be elevated.  The five-story, all-brick Matteson House stood at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Randolph.  It took Pullman’s crew 800 screw jacks and only ten days to raise it the necessary five feet to meet the planned elevation of the intersection.  The quick and professional manner in which he executed the task established his reputation and launched his career as the city’s premiere building raising contractor.

In less than a year later, Pullman was one of three contractors employed to attempt another first: the raising of an entire block all at the same time: the buildings that were on the north side of Lake Street, that ran the entire 320’ distance between Clark and La Salle.  Characteristically, Pullman took charge of the most complex of the three contracts, the raising of the five-story, all-masonry Marine Bank.  Pullman’s biographer Liston Leyendecker succinctly recorded the entire process:

“After signing the contract to elevate a structure, workmen dug near the existing foundation and cut holes into it in order to place heavy timbers or blocks under the building.  Next, they set screw jacks in place and adjusted them.  The size of the jacks depended on the job; for instance, those used to raise the block that included the Marine bank ran three inches in diameter and had a three-eighth-inch thread.  Once the screw jacks were set, Albert (Pullman’s older brother), equipped with a whistle, would join the roustabouts beneath the building, while George would stand in the street, whistle in mouth.  When Albert whistled and George answered, each laborer followed a prearranged sequence (six hundred men turning six thousand screw jacks):  He gave each of his screw jacks a quarter turn, returned to his original position, and repeated the procedure.  New timbers replaced old each day as the buildings rode.  Meanwhile, other employees built up the foundation to the floor sill or installed temporary supports until the masons installed permanent footings at completion… (they) lifted the block four feet and eight inches in five days.”

The month following the completion of this job, April 1860, saw the same three contractors hired to raise the row of eight, four-story brick buildings that were across the street on the south side of Lake Street.  And then finally, in January 1861, it was time for the queen of all of Chicago’s hotels, the Tremont House, to be raised the six feet required for it to meet the new level planned for Dearborn.  Although George was out-of-town on business, brother Albert was quite capable on his own to complete the job on March 17, 1861, less than four weeks from the firing on Fort Sumter.

The Raising of the Northside of Lake Street between La Salle and Clark Streets, 1860. Following the successful completion of this pioneering job, the three contractors (one being George Pullman) commissioned artist Edward Mendel to produce this lithograph, which they used for further advertising. (Heise and Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise)

The only real problem with this process was that if there was an existing building at either side of the new building, it and its accompanying sidewalk would be at the lower, existing street elevation.  Stairs would have to be built between the old and new sidewalks to allow pedestrians to negotiate the city’s streets.  As the years progressed, and more buildings were constructed to the new height:

“uncertainty over the height of the streets led to a notorious capriciousness among Chicago sidewalks.  Builders with varying ideas about the height of the new grade constructed their walks at different levels.  Frequently it was necessary to walk from one sidewalk level to another several times in a single block, a hazard not without problems for the hoopskirted women.  It was with justification that periodic signs warned the pedestrian to “Use Your Intellect.”  In a small visitor’s guide, aptly titled “Tricks and Traps of Chicago,” feminine tourists were cautioned about “sidewalk oglers” who loitered near these sidewalk stairs hoping to catch the sight of a lady’s limb.  The author gave a hint of some keen scrutiny on his own part by saying that “it was the remark of observant travelers that in no American city do the ladies present more divine charms of limb than those of Chicago.”  He attributed this on the basis of “strictly scientific principles,” to the fact that Chicago ladies had so much exercise in going up and down the steps in the sidewalks.”

View of Clark Street, 1857. Note the change in the levels of the sidewalk between the buildings that were built at the new street grade and those that still remain at the old elevation. (Andreas, History of Chicago)


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

Dedmon, Emmett. Fabulous Chicago: A Great City’s History and People. Canada: McClelland and Stewart, Ltd, 1981.

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

Leyendecker, Liston Edgington, Palace Car Prince: A Biography of George Mortimer Pullman, Niwot, CO: Univ. of Colorado, 1992.

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

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


Against this backdrop, drastic times called for drastic measures.  On February 14, 1855, the state legislature incorporated a municipal Board of Sewerage to address the issue.  It was to be comprised of three commissioners, one elected from each of the city’s three divisions.  Former Mayor Ogden (having returned reinvigorated from his recent European sabbatical where he had studied how the Europeans had addressed the problems Chicago was facing) represented the North Division and characteristically took control over the new Board’s actions.  In the following month, the March municipal election saw Dr. Levi D. Boone elected mayor, further attesting to the overall level of concern of the general public.  One of the first acts of the new board was to encourage Common Council to pass an ordinance that established an official elevation of street grade.  Such a survey of the elevations of the city’s streets had been conducted in 1854, probably in anticipation of some future attempt to address the sewer problem.  This utilized as its point of reference the official elevation of the low water level of the river that the Canal commissioners had set back in 1847.  In March 1855, Council passed an ordinance that finally established a legal elevation for the existing grades of the city’s streets.  Then at the urging of Dr. (now mayor) Boone, Ogden’s Board of Sewage appointed Ellis S. Chesbrough in December 1855, as the city’s chief engineer, charged with the responsibility to develop a plan to address the city’s sewage crisis. Chesbrough had been the Chief engineer for Boston and was known for his design of the Boston water system, only one of the two municipal systems then in existence in the U. S. (the other being New York’s that had been designed by John Jervis prior to his start with the Michigan Southern).  

Chesbrough immediately perceived the solution to Chicago’s situation to be the raising of the city’s streets to an elevation that would permit sufficient slope in the sewers to utilize gravity to provide drainage to the river; hence, he became an advocate of “high grade” from the start of his employment.  On December 31, 1855, he presented his report and plans to the Board for its action.  The two important proposals of his report were:

1. to design a system of sewers that had a sufficient slope toward the river for gravity drainage.  This would obviously necessitate the raising of some of the city streets in concert with the slope of the sewers in order that the sewers remained underground.  Chesbrough wanted to establish the crown of the South Division, the intersection of State and Madison, at an elevation of 14′ above datum, with the streets sloping toward the river at 6″ per block.

2. a recommendation to drain the main interceptor sewers of the system into the closest outlet, be it the river or the lake, rather than design the system so that the main sewers carried all the city’s sewage directly to the lake.  This was a straightforward recognition that the latter plan had a higher total cost than the former.  To minimize the effect of the sewers on the city’s drinking water, however, Chesbrough proposed to route all the North Division’s sewers to the river; none emptied directly into the lake where the current would pull the effluent past the new Water Works’ inlet.

The Board of Sewerage had two reservations regarding Chesbrough’s “high grade” proposal: first, they feared that not enough fill was available to raise all of the city’s streets to the level that Chesbrough specified.  Second, there was general concern about the impact of such a scheme on the city’s buildings, for undoubtedly, many buildings would need to have their front doors raised because the sidewalks at the new street level would intersect the existing ground floors at midheight or higher.  The cost to their owners of retrofitting these buildings to the new grade was viewed as politically unacceptable, so the Board forwarded to Council a compromise lower elevation that not only required less fill, but whose impact on most of the existing buildings could be ameliorated within the run of the stairs that led to their first floors.  This lower elevation was adopted by Council in the Spring of 1856, and sustained by Judge Caton on May 26, when he refused to grant an injunction to a group of effected landowners who were demanding to be reimbursed by the city for the damage that their property would sustain from the planned raising of the streets.

Chesbrough wasted little time in starting construction of the plan, and by the end of 1856, over six miles of sewers had been built before the onset of winter. In order to study the best that European cities had to offer at the time, Council sent Chesbrough to Europe during the winter of 1856-57. Upon his return, he again sought approval of the “high grade” elevation, citing two new factors: first, experience with the new sewers was revealing that the bottom of the basements of new buildings designed to meet the new street elevations could be dug below existing grade as much as one and a half to two feet deeper than had ever been thought possible.  This unexpected new source of fill dirt could provide some reassurance to those who worried that there was not sufficient fill to build the streets to the “high grade.”  Second, the 1856 compromise height brought the elevation of the streets immediately adjacent to the river to a height that permitted the construction of basements only from five and a half to six feet high, which obviously was not of much commercial value to their owners.The campaign during the spring of 1857 to raise the elevation of the streets above the level of the 1856 compromise pitted many of the city’s various special interests against one another.  The mayoral election in March 1857, saw “Anti-Nebraska” Republican “Long John” Wentworth victorious and his first official act was to appoint a Board of Engineers to address the street grade issue.  On April 9, 1857, the Chicago Tribune came out against the “High Grade” proposal with an editorial that summed up the opposition’s arguments: 

“What effect is this new grade going to have on buildings already erected in this city?  The streets and sidewalks must be raised some seven feet above the natural surface level.  In other words, every house now built must be raised about the height of the Mayor (Long John) above its present foundation, or be entered through doors cut in its second story… We should say that $2,000,000 would be a low estimate of the damage that would be done to present structures!… It will be a costly job to raise all the streets and sidewalks of Chicago six to eight feet within the space to be drained by sewers–a space of more than 1,200 acres.  Where are the millions of cubic yards of earth to come from to fill them up to the second stories of the present buildings?  And how many millions of dollars is it going to cost the tax payers?  What sort of ‘up and down’ sidewalk will the establishment of the ‘new thirteen or fourteen feet grade’ create during the next twenty years?  Because it is all bosh to say that a uniform system of level sidewalks, corresponding with the proposed grade can be established short of many years.”

Owners who had just completed new buildings during the past year were also crying foul, because, in good faith, they had set their buildings at the 1856 level, yet they, too, would have to incur the cost of this new increase.  Even the owners of Lake Street’s businesses, who had supported the previous year’s rise in the level of the streets, were now protesting the idea of any further increase of height.  The change in grade the year before had had little impact on their area because it was, for all practical purposes, already at that elevation.  The proposed increase in 1857, however, was going to have an effect even on their buildings.

Against the obvious cost of the construction of the new streets and the corresponding price of making the existing building stock respond to the rise in street level, Council had to weigh the advantages of a viable sewer system, space to run water and gas mains, and the as-of-yet appreciated commercial value of usable basements in all buildings in the business district.  In truth, however, there was no other choice for Council but to put the future health of all of Chicago’s citizens ahead of the short-term concerns of the property owners who were going to be impacted by Chesbrough’s “High Grade.”  On May 4, 1857, Common Council, encouraged by Mayor Wentworth, reluctantly approved a plan that was to wreak havoc on the downtown’s streets and sidewalks for the next decade, but eventually would prove to be Chicago’s saving grace.  Literally, the entire city was about to be “pulled up by its own bootstraps.”Chesbrough’s plan was quite straightforward: new buildings would start construction with the erection of a stone retaining wall (at the time called curbwalls) at the outer edge of the sidewalk to hold back the extra dirt needed to bring the street up to the new elevation. The city was willing to let owners build beyond their lotline, the inside edge of the sidewalks, in order to reduce the amount of fill it needed to pay for to raise the street levels.  The owner of the building would then be permitted to use the space under the sidewalk between the curbwall and the building’s foundation as an extension of his basement.  Temporary sidewalks would be placed over this space until the street was brought up to the new level.  This design also helped to clean up the city’s streets as it eliminated the area under the old wooden sidewalks that tended to avoid any clean-up and had, consequently, harbored a build-up of offending pollutants.


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago- vols. 1&2. 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.

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

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