Friday, November 18, 2016

Courthouse Square, Chicago, Illinois. Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1866

Chicagoans built their first court house in 1835 at the southwest corner of Clark and Randolph streets. They replaced it in 1848 with a second court house, located at the northwest corner of Clark and Washington. Like the first, this building was one story atop a basement that was built above ground. Municipal and county affairs were also conducted in other nearby buildings.
Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1866
Pictured here is the city's first combined Court House and City Hall, originally constructed in 1853. The view is from the northwest corner of LaSalle and Randolph Streets. Just south of the Court House, on the southeast corner of LaSalle and Washington streets, is the Chamber of Commerce.

The Court House occupied, as the Chicago City Hall and Cook County Building do now, the entire downtown block formed by Randolph, Clark, Washington, and LaSalle streets, though its footprint was small enough to allow the block to include a good deal of landscaping, which gave what was called Court House Square the appearance of a park.

The designer of the 1853 structure was John M. Van Osdel, who also built the previous court house. Van Osdel was born in Baltimore in 1811 and moved to Chicago in 1836 at the behest of the enterprising William Ogden, who became the first mayor the following year, when Chicago was incorporated as a city. Van Osdel and William W. Boyington, who arrived in 1853, were the leading pre-fire architects of both commercial enterprises and private homes.

Never an aesthetic triumph, this building grew clumsily along with Chicago. It was originally two stories and an above-ground basement. With the raising of the surrounding grade in the late1850s (Raising Chicago Streets Out of the Mud in 1858), the city added five feet of fill to Court House Square, partly burying the basement. It soon added a third floor and the cupola, with a spiral staircase leading to an observatory balcony 120 feet high, which served as a fire watchman's walk.

Note the street car. According to the 1871 Chicago city directory, at the time of the Great Chicago Fire the West Division railway ran its cars east and west along Randolph at five-minute intervals between State Street and both Robey Street (now Damen Avenue) and the city limits at Crawford (now Pulaski Avenue).

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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