Friday, December 2, 2016

The Green Tree Tavern and Inn, Lake and West Water Streets, Chicago, Illinois. A first hand account of an overnight stay.

The Green Tree Tavern was built the same year Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833[1]. It was located at Wolf Point on the Northeast Corner of Lake and West Water Streets (Now Canal Street), Chicago, by Silas B. Cobb for James Kinzie (the second son born to John Kinzie and his first wife Margaret Mckenzie Kinzie) as a two-story frame building and opened by David Clock.

James Kinzie also lived and sold merchandise in part of the building. The Green Tree Tavern was an addition to the old Wolf's Point Tavern that was run at an early date by Elijah Wentworth. Later, Edward Parsons was the proprietor of the Green Tree Tavern. Renamed Stage House in 1835, then renamed to the Chicago Hotel a few years later. John Gray, of Grayland, Illinois, a beautiful Chicago suburb, was the landlord at the Chicago Hotel from 1838 to 1841. Still, later it was renamed the Lake Street House.
At the Green Tree, we were spared the ceremony of registering because they had no book for that purpose. Nor was it certain that we could find accommodation until our host had returned from the kitchen, whether he had gone to consult with his efficient wife, who performed the never-ending duties of housekeeper, landlady, meat and pastry cook, scullion (a
 servant assigned the most menial kitchen tasks)
, chambermaid, waitress, advisor, and personal attendant upon all the ladies and children who took shelter under the Green Tree; while her liege lord filled the many positions of Boniface, clerk, bartender, butler, steward, walking encyclopedia, and general roustabout.

The momentous council was at length ended and we were assigned a room adjoining the one we had first entered, which was the bar, reading, smoking, and reception room, ladies parlor, and general utility place, in one. Our room was about 12x12 feet with two 6x8 foot windows, two doors, two beds, two red pictures, two chairs, a carpet worn in two, and was altogether too dirty for the comfort of persons unaccustomed to such surroundings. Placing our hand luggage and two trunks inside, we returned to the family room and public rendezvous and took observations.

On the east and west sides of the seemingly prehistoric whitewashed walls and board partitions were the inevitable puncheon benches. Scattered around in a more informal manner was an assortment of wooden chairs. Near the north end was a bar counter useful not only to receive the drinks but umbrellas, overcoats, whips, and parcels. The west end of the bar was adorned with a large inkstand placed in a cigar box filled with No. 8 shot, in which were sticking two quill pens — steel being unknown here, though invented in 1830. This end of the counter afforded the only opportunity in the establishment for a young man to write to the girl he left behind, standing up to his work like a prizefighter with a host of backers and seconds around him to see that he had fair play. Near the inkstand were several tattered newspapers, the latest giving an account of a great snowstorm in Boston. At the other end of the counter were a dozen or more short pieces of tallow candles, each placed in a hole bored in a 2x4 block fortified by sixpenny nails, standing like mourners around the circular graves in which they had seen so many flickering lights pass away into utter darkness.
Hanging in a row against the wall were large cloth and leather slippers, which the guests were expected to put on at night, that mud might not be tracked to every part of the house. Under the counter were a large wooden boot jack and a box containing two old-fashioned boot brushes and several pieces of hard, raw tallow, black from the application to boots. There was also a collection of old-fashioned, perforated tin lanterns. Though not equal to their glass descendants, they were a great improvement on the lanthorns [2] of ye olden times, and certainly very useful in enabling one to distinguish the difference between the necessary stepping-blocks in the streets and the altogether unnecessary mud puddles. 

There was also to be seen the indispensable tinder box, used fifty times a day, at least, for lighting pipes, when the old, rusty, bar stove was taking its summer vacation. Above the tinder box was one of the old-fashioned, square, cherry, veneered Connecticut clocks. On the glass door beneath the dial plate was a purple horse drawing a blue plow, which a man with a green coat and yellow trousers was guiding. The men of the Nutmeg State were giants in those days, judging by this specimen, who was taller than the apple tree in the corner, which, in turn, was loaded with fruit larger than the man's head. Beneath the tree was a monstrous bullfrog, considerably larger than the crimson calf beside it. The ablutionary arrangements were exceedingly primitive, consisting of tin washbasins, soiled towels, small mirrors, and toothless combs. Several dishes of soft soap were arranged along the back of the water trough. Though pretty strong for washing the hands of a "Tenderfoot," it was in great demand after greasing boots or applying tar to wagon axles.

In the middle of the room, standing in a low box filled with lake sand, was a large stove used in winter to good advantage not only for the warmth imparted to the room but for furnishing hot water for toddies, shaving, and washing as well. On the right side of the door going into our room was a Cook County License, costing $5, which permitted the recipient to keep an inn and tavern.

The license contained printed regulations as to prices:
For each ½ Pint; Rum, Wine, or Brandy - 25¢ 
For each Pint; Rum, Wine, or Brandy - 37½¢ 
For each ½ Pint Gin - 18¾¢ 
For each Pint Gin - 31¼¢ 
For each Glass of Whiskey - 06¼¢ 
For each ½ Pint Whiskey - 12½¢ 
For Cider or Beer: 1 Pint - .06¼¢; 1 Quart - 12½¢
For Breakfast and Supper - 25¢ 
For Dinner - 37½¢ 
For Horse single feed - 25¢ 
By the time we had read our fate in the license figures, we were called to supper by a large bell, which was run by our host in a manner that required no explanation as to its meaning. In the dining room were two tables, the length of the room, covered with green checked oilcloth, loaded with roasted wild ducks, fricassee of prairie chickens, wild pigeon pot pie, tea, and coffee, creamless, but sweetened with granulated maple sugar procured from our red brethren. These furnished a banquet that rendered us oblivious to chipped dishes, flies buzzing or tangled in the butter, creeping beetles, and the music of the Mosquito Band. We paid no attention to pewter spoons and pewter castors containing such condiments as mustard in an uncovered pot and black pepper coarsely crushed by the good housewife, or to cruets with broken stoppers filled with vinegar and pepper sauce. Our appetites put to flight fastidiousness and, even though the case knives and forks had never been scoured, we took it for granted that they were washed after every meal and we paid strict attention to our own business, and soon after tea retired.
Written by Edwin O. Gale in 1835.

The Green Tree Tavern survived the Great Chicago Fire because it was on the west side of the Chicago River. The conflagration consumed the east side of the north and south branches, jumping the river from the south to the north. See Burnt District Map.
Green Tree Tavern on Milwaukee Avenue,
between Fulton and Lake Streets, Chicago circa 1880s
In 1880 the Green Tree Tavern was loaded on rollers and moved away from its historic stand at the northeast corner of Canal and Lake streets and dumped down on the new, unhistorical thoroughfare called Milwaukee avenue.

It was given the address of 33-35-37 N. Milwaukee Avenue, which today is at the 200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, between Fulton and Lake Streets.

The structure was in poor shape before the move. Impertinent trade had sheared off the corners, leaving only a disjointed wreck of a building, with a quivering chimney atop. 

A tottering, paralytic old wreck, sway-backed, with the windows all askew and the clapboards rattling in the cool night winds. It was demolished by 1903.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] The first plat of the town of Chicago was filed in 1830. Chicago was incorporated as a town on August 12, 1833, with a population of about 350. With a population of 4,170, the town of Chicago filed new Incorporation documents on March 4, 1837, to become the City of Chicago and for several decades was the world's fastest-growing city.

[2] Lanthorn is an old British word that is defined as a lantern. 


  1. It seems that the writer was not favorably impressed.
    Interesting and an excellent description.
    Surprisingly somewhat describes a stay that I had in a small English town while in the U.K. No two rooms were on the same level among other oddities to this person. Chuck J.

    1. I am impresssed with the story because James Kinzie was a son of my 4th great grandfather John Kinzie. James was quite a character and later moved on to other adventures. I do have a picture of his grave stone.


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