The private alley "Pickwick Place" originally located at 57 Jackson Street (22 East Jackson, after the 1911 Chicago Loop Street renumbering), was part of the "Pickwick Farm," in the downtown district. Court records show that a wood-frame building was built for Henry Horner in 1857, and Pickwick Lane, now a short alley, led to the farm's horse barn.
NOTE: The present building is not the original stable building. Nor did the original stable survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, no matter how many times this inaccurate information is written online.
On July 9, 1897, a Cook County judge ordered Fannie Abson and Hannah Horner to remove a gate (called a “storm door” by the judge) that they had erected to block access to Pickwick Lane, later named Pickwick Place.
In the 1890s, Fannie Abson ran a restaurant, Colonel Abson’s English Chop House (1871-1900), in the building at the end of Pickwick Lane. This restaurant had been open for more than four years because it’s mentioned on February 1, 1893, in a Tribune story about a fire in an adjacent building.
The story read in part:
"William Abson’s English Chophouse at the head of Pickwick Place was just to the back of the burning building. The chophouse occupied two floors, and Mr. and Mrs. Abson reside in the 3rd floor. They were frightened by the fire, dressed hastily, and got out of the building."
In December of 1893, another Tribune article notes that Fannie, listed as the proprietor of the Colonel Abson’s English Chop House (no mention is made of William), has sued for an injunction to stop F. H. Brammer and two other men from interfering with her use of the lane. She was joined in her suit, either then or at a later date, by Horner, the widow of the wholesale grocer Henry Horner and the grandmother of a future Illinois Governor of the same name.
Researches by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks determined that the first Henry Horner had owned property adjoining the lane, including a stable that was on the land then occupied by Abson’s Chop House. The Commission’s report also indicates that the stable survived the 1871 Fire, but, based on the Judge’s 1897 ruling, that doesn’t appear to be true.
In reaching his decision, the judge states that he relied on a report prepared by Walter Butler, a Special Commissioner appointed to look into the charges and counter-charges. Throughout his ruling, the judge refers to the site of Abson’s Chop House as “the Stable lot.”
In 1855, this land was occupied by what he described as “a two-story barn.” But, according to the judge, that structure and everything around it was razed by the 1871 Fire. The improvements surrounding the alley remained substantially in the same condition from the time they were built until they were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.
Note: No buildings on Jackson Street survived the 1871 Chicago Fire burnt district.
In the aftermath of the fire, new structures were erected on the lots around Pickwick Place, and, the judge states, “A two-story brick building was built upon the Stable's lot several years after 1871.” In 1892, it was enlarged by the addition of a third-floor — the floor where William and Fannie Abson were living when they fled from the blaze next door.
The bottom line for Fannie Abson and Hannah Horner was that the judge ruled against them, determining that the other property-owners along Pickwick Place had the right to use the lane. So the “storm door” that limited entrance to the lane only to pedestrians was a violation of their rights. It appears that the two women appealed the judge’s decision, but there’s no indication of any further court action.
Today the building is the home of the Hero Coffee Bar. It's the smallest structure in the Chicago Loop by far, measuring, 19' wide by 19' deep and only adds to the alley’s quaint appeal.
Some interesting finds:
William Abson had another "Abson's English Chop House" at 125 North LaSalle (613 North LaSalle, today), Chicago. Dates unknown.
June 23, 1897, Inter Ocean Newspaper reports that Mr. and Mrs. William Abson booked on the White Star Line steamship Britannic to Europe leave the same day.
November 16, 1902, Inter Ocean Newspaper reports William Abson rents 16 Custom House Place (Federal Street), 25x100 feet, in Chicago from Mrs. Maud M. Rappleye for 5 years.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.