For the second time in its history, the great department store of Field, Leiter & Company burns to the ground on November 14, 1877.
|Field, Leiter & Company's new store opened on October 12, 1868 on State & Washington Streets. This store burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Note the "Vault Lights" in the sidewalks around the building.|
In a pouring rain with every fire engine in the city at work, “It seemed as if the entire city had come downtown to witness the terrible scene.” The first alarm is turned in at 8:04 p.m. after someone sees a fire in the fifth story of the building at the corner of State and Washington Streets. Flames are found in a four-foot space at the top of the building that surrounds the central skylight between the north and south elevator shafts. It does not take long for the fire to spread to the grease on the elevator wheels and pulleys and from there into the elevator shafts themselves, moving downward, floor by floor. Sixteen minutes after the alarm is turned in, a 2-11 alarm is sounded, but the streams of water from the fire hoses cannot reach the top floor of the building. Firefighters are forced to run hoses directly into the interior of the great store, which at its center has an atrium, 40 feet by 90 feet, that extends all the way to the roof. Hoses are dragged up to the third and fourth floors and from those points of attack “the brave firemen played upon the heat and fury of the fire until either stricken down by falling plaster and rafters, suffocated by the smoke, or driven from their positions by the heat.” It isn’t until 3:00 a.m. on the 15th that the fire is finally brought under control. Two firefighters die in the effort to extinguish the blaze.Chicago Daily Tribune, November 15, 1877 - Evening Edition
“The destruction of such an amount of property could not but be regarded as a dire calamity at such a time as this, and so, as the news flew around, people left their firesides, their theatres, their billiard-tables, and everything, to get to the scene of action.”Men are put to work by November 18th bracing the fourth floor which looked “as though it might come down at any time in a huge avalanche, and bury anybody who might be so unfortunate as to be within reach of even its shadow.”
|Field, Leiter & Company store that burned in 1877.|
|Interstate Industrial Exposition Building on Michigan Avenue at Adams Street looking east.|
|Field, Leiter & Company store that opened in 1879.|
Read the brief business background of Marshall Field with an 1839 Illustration of the future site of the Marshall Field & Company Store.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.