Monday, June 11, 2018

The History of the Chicago Historical Society.

Founded in 1856 and incorporated in 1857 by an act of the state legislature, the Chicago Historical Society and its collection grew and opened its first building at the NW corner of Dearborn and Ontario Streets.

Before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, there were only two libraries in Chicago open to the public. One of these was that of the Young Men’s Association, organized in 1841. The other was the Chicago Historical Society Library, founded in 1856, which may be said to have had a continuous existence for over 160 years, for although the entire collection, amounting to 100,000 volumes, manuscripts, and pamphlets, was destroyed on October 9, 1871, yet before the end of November of that year, active steps had been taken to resume the work.
The First Chicago Historical Society building at the NW Corner of Ontario and Dearborn Streets (1868-1871)
Sister societies in all parts of this country, and even abroad, contributed their publications and duplicates, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston placed a room in its new fire-proof building at the disposal of this Society, to which the various donations were sent until a safe place of deposit could be provided.

Very considerable collections were soon made and forwarded to Chicago, only to be consumed in the Chicago Fire of July 14, 1874. Undismayed by this second calamity, a few enterprising and cultured men, true to the brave and sterling qualities for which Chicago has become famous, stood together and began the work of the Society again at a time when men of less exalted ideals would have felt justified in turning their whole attention to the re-establishment of their own homes.

As the result of such a heroic effort, the Society met for the first time in its temporary building on October 16, 1877, with the nucleus of a third collection and with a prestige heightened by these vicissitudes. It was even possible to reassemble the more significant portion of the rare books and newspapers destroyed, for members of the Society contributed their personal copies of these works, and hundreds of volumes in the Library bear the autographs of pioneer citizens.

The Society has occupied the following locations: 
1856-68, Newberry Building, northeast corner of Wells and Kinzie Streets; 
1868-71, Society’s Building (first), Dearborn and Ontario Streets; 
1872-74, Number 209 Michigan Avenue; 
1877-92, Society’s Building (second), Dearborn and Ontario Streets; 
1892-96, Collections were stored in temporary buildings until the third building was completed;
1896-1931, Society’s Building (third), Dearborn and Ontario Streets.
1932-Present, the Current building at 1601 North Clark Street at the intersection of North Avenue in the Old Town Triangle neighborhood in the Lincoln Park community. 

In 1892, the Henry D. Gilpin fund, having by careful investment more than doubled itself, and the legacy under the will of John Crerar having become available, it was determined to solicit from its members subscriptions for the erection of a permanent fire-proof home for the Society, on the site at the corner of Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street so long identified with its history. To this appeal, the members responded with their unfailing liberality.

The cornerstone of the new Chicago Historical Society structure was laid with appropriate ceremonies on November 12, 1892, 21 years after the Chicago Fire. The organization built a massive stone edifice designed by Henry Ives Cobb, which housed the Gilpin Library and exhibition spaces. On the evening of December 15, 1896, the formal dedication took place.

And... the Excalibur Nightclub building was not used as a morgue for the Chicago Eastland disaster. This is a common misconception, but no evidence supports it.

The temporary buildings being cleared away on the same site, the cornerstone of the new structure was laid with appropriate ceremonies on November 12, 1892. The organization built a massive stone edifice designed by Henry Ives Cobb, which housed the Gilpin Library and exhibition spaces. On the evening of December 15, 1896, the formal dedication took place in the presence of a brilliant and representative gathering.
In the late 1920s, the trustees began planning a new $1 million museum to house its growing collection and to celebrate the city’s centennial. Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the Romanesque Revival building opened in 1932 in Lincoln Park at Clark Street at North Avenue.
That building has been the organization’s home ever since, with various additions, renovations, and improvements. In 1972, the Society unveiled a modern limestone addition by Alfred Shaw and Associates. It was renamed the Chicago History Museum in September 2006.

Are you looking for the history of the Chicago Public Library?

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

1 comment:

  1. It makes me sick when I think of the real early documents that were lost. I toured the present facility and thought it was great!


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