Previous to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 there were but 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 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)|
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 again the work of the Society, 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 heroic effort the Society met for the first time in its temporary building, 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 greater 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 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 stored in temoprary buildings until the third building is completed;
1896-1931, Society’s Building (third), Dearborn and Ontario Streets.
1932-Present, Current building at North Avenue and Clark Street, in Lincoln Park.
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 temporary buildings being cleared away on the same site, the corner-stone of the new structure was laid with appropriate ceremonies, 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, in the presence of a brilliant and representative gathering, the formal dedication took place.
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Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.