Colonel John S. Wilson began his restaurant in Chicago in 1873 establishing Wilson’s Oyster House in the basement of the Morrison Hotel at 21 South Clark Street. He was the first and only caterer in Chicago to have live lobsters shipped to the Chicago market to be served. In 1875, the name was changed to the Boston Oyster House.
|The first Morrison Hotel at the corner of Clark and Madison Streets in Chicago. 1907|
The cashier was a young man of likable personality. His name was Charles E. Rector. Later he became manager of the establishment. Then he gave up his connection with Colonel Wilson to accept a position as head caterer for a railroad. He later opened a oyster house of his own at Clark and Monroe Streets. His restaurant, Rector's, soon eclipsed the Boston Oyster House in popularity and became the Mecca of Chicago's night life. Seeking new worlds to conquer, Rector opened a restaurant in New York City that became equally celebrated.
|Boston Oyster House Restaurant, Chicago. 1908|
Then, in 1899, Harry C. Moir became manager of the Boston Oyster House and the old eight-story Morrison Hotel that rose above it. Prominent citizens continued to gather there. Writers came. That old Kentucky philosopher, Opie Read, sat here and talked with friends in the days when he was a newspaperman and before he became famous as a novelist. Senator James Hamilton Lewis dined there frequently, whiskers and all, and Edward F. Dunne, before he became governor of Illinois. Finley Peter Dunne, creator of "Mr. Dooley," and the late Fred A. Chappell, writer and philosopher, were other frequenters. And there are many who recall the International Live Stock shows of those days, when the stockmen and cowboys from the wild west would wind up a night amid the bright lights of the Loop with a 6 AM. breakfast at the Boston, consisting of two dozen oysters on the half shell.
This place continued through the years in its basement location. In 1925 a new Boston Oyster House blossomed forth under the auspices of Gus and Fred Mann, well-known Chicago restaurateurs. It was decorated to look like a ship's cabin — at a cost of $200,000. But alas, the Mann brothers were unable to get a return on their investment and the Boston Oyster House once more fell back into the hands of Harry Moir.
The Boston Oyster House offered no fewer than 42 oyster selections, divided among "select," "New York counts" and "shell oysters." In 1893, a dozen raw oysters were 25¢. If you ordered the same dozen fried the price doubled to 50¢. The most expensive were broiled oysters (60¢ a dozen with celery sauce, or 75¢ with mushrooms).
|A Menu - Click for a larger image.|
The Boston survived several changes of ownership and locations until it floundered during the great depression and shut its doors.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MORRISON HOTEL IN CHICAGO
The Morrison Hotel was named for Orsemus Morrison, the first coroner in Chicago, who bought the site in 1838 and in 1860 built a three-story hotel with 21 rooms on the southeast corner of Clark and Madison Streets. Destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, this was replaced by an eight-story building.
In 1911 Harry C. Moir, who had bought the property from Morrison's nephew, built a 21-floor, 500-room hotel. The hotel was expanded by 650 rooms in 1918. In 1925 it was further expanded, adding a 46-story tower. The hotel had 1,800 rooms in 1931. A fourth, 21-story section was then added, bringing the number of rooms to 2,210, but was sold in 1937, becoming the Hotel Chicagoan.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.