Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The History of Chicago's "Wigwam" Buildings.

The Eagle Exchange Tavern (later the Sauganash Hotel) is regarded as the first hotel, grocery, and restaurant in Chicago. Built in 1829 by Mark Beaubien, it was located at Wolf Point, the intersection of the north, south, and the main branches of the Chicago River, at Lake and Market Streets (today Wacker Drive). The addition of the frame building became the Sauganash Hotel in 1831.
  1. Wolf Point Tavern opened in December of 1828.
  2. Eagle Exchange Tavern opened in 1829 - Sauganash Hotel opened in 1831 
  3. The Green Tree Tavern wasn't built until 1833.
NOTE: The Sauganash Hotel was named after Billy Caldwell whose history was mostly fabricated.
The Sauganash Hotel was Chicago's first hotel. The log building on the left was Chicago's first drug store.
The newly formed Incorporated town of Chicago elected its first town trustees in 1833 in the hotel's dining room. The building briefly served as Chicago's first theater, and it hosted the first Chicago Theatre company in 1837 in the abandoned dining room. 

Unfortunately, the hotel was destroyed by fire on March 4, 1851, and the Wigwam (an Indian word meaning "temporary shelter") was built in its place nine years later.
The old site of the Sauganash Hotel / The Wigwam Building.
The next Wigwam building was two stories. It was built in 1860 by Chicago business leaders to attract the 1860 Republican National Convention. (The Whig Party was founded in 1834 and dissolved in 1860.) It was constructed of plain pine boards and in some respects both the characteristics of a log cabin and a government building were conserved. It was built as a temporary structure built in little more than a month, and it could accommodate 10–12,000 people. The Antebellum [1] custom was to call a political campaign headquarters a Wigwam. Wigwam is also an Indian word for "temporary shelter."
1860 Republican National Convention in the Wigwam.


The 1860 Republican National Convention was eventful for its nomination of Abraham Lincoln. During the convention, backroom dealing and political scheming played a role in the outcome. Nevertheless, Lincoln, who had stayed in Springfield during the convention, received vehement support and carried the nomination.

NOTE: David Berg started producing his hot dogs in 1860 and sold them at the Convention.

Chicago has hosted the most United States presidential nominating conventions; 14 Republican National Conventions and 11 Democratic National Conventions, in addition to one notable Progressive Party assembly. The 1860 Republican National Convention (the second Republican National Convention) was held at the Wigwam.
Illustration of the Wigwam interior during the 1860 nominating convention. The structure could hold 10-12,000 people. Note the second-story gallery and curved ceiling structure to allow for better acoustics.
The 1864 Democratic National Convention was hosted in a different "Wigwam" built for the convention as a semicircular roofed amphitheater. These were the first Chicago visits for each party's national convention. The 1868 Republican National Convention returned to Chicago, but it was located at the Crosby Opera House.

The building was used for political and patriotic meetings during the Civil War. The Wigwam also served as a retail space until its demolition, sometime between 1867 and 1871.

Following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, another "Wigwam" building at Washington (one city block south of Lake) and Market Streets served as the temporary home for the Chicago Board of Trade.

The 1892 Democratic National Convention convened in a temporary "Wigwam" in Lake Park for Grover Cleveland's third nomination.

Today, the corner of Lake Street and Wacker Drive bears the address and is named "191 North Wacker." This address is in the West Loop neighborhood of the Loop community in Chicago. The 516 foot high, 37-story office tower was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox and built in 2002.
In 2017, the city rededicated plaques gifted in the early 20th century by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which commemorate the nomination of Lincoln at the Wigwam and the Sauganash Hotel.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] The antebellum period refers to the years after the War of 1812 (1812-15) and before the Civil War (1861-65). The development of separate northern and southern economies, the westward expansion of the nation, and a spirit of reform marked the era. These issues created an unstable and explosive political environment that eventually led to the Civil War.

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