Monday, October 5, 2020

The Pickwick Stable and Farm was located in Downtown Chicago in 1857.

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 the elder Henry Horner, in 1857, and Pickwick Lane, now a short alley, led to the farm's horse barn.

Horner, a German-speaking Czech immigrant from Bohemia, was one of the first Jewish immigrants in Chicago. He arrived in 1840, only 22 years old, at the same time as at least three Bavarian Jews who came as part of a larger German emigration.

Horner was a young man with an education, a library full of books, and almost nothing else when he arrived, so he began working as a clerk in a clothing store. However, he was intelligent, hard-working, and enterprising and soon opened his own wholesale and retail grocery business at Randolph and Canal Streets. This area of the west side across from Wolf Point was near the early center of town, and there were market gardens and farms to the west. Horner served a clientele that included pioneers moving westward, and business steadily improved. 

His background made Horner and the German immigrants, many of whom had similarly come from well-to-do, professional or intellectual families with mothers and sisters who were respected members of their communities, vastly different from that first group of pioneer settlers:  the trappers, traders, half-breeds [1] and voyageurs such as Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (the "du" of Point du Sable is a misnomer. It is an American corruption of "de" as pronounced in French. "Jean Baptiste Point du Sable" first appears long after his death), Jean La Lime, the Beaubien brothers, Antoine Ouilmette, Billy Caldwell, Gurdon Hubbard, and the Kinzies. In fact, they had more in common with the moneyed, intellectual Yankees like first mayor William B. Ogden and his brother Mahlon, Ogden’s brother-in-law, Charles Butler, the Newberry brothers, J. Young Scammon, and Isaac Arnold, the boosters and investors who not only built the city but brought culture to it. That is, they shared much with one huge exception:  Ogden and his White Anglo-Saxon Protestant friends had come to Chicago with money to buy a considerable amount of land for themselves and others, which allowed them to make a whole lot more money quickly, first from buying and selling real estate, then from other businesses that their real estate profits funded. In contrast, Horner and most other immigrants came with nothing and had to make their fortunes from scratch. The successful immigrants’ prosperity rarely approached the considerable wealth of the "Old Settler’s" who arrived before 1840.

In November 1847, Henry Horner became one of the organizers of the city’s first synagogue, the historic KAM Temple that stood on the east side of Clark Street where the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building at 230 S Dearborn Street is now. The current Pickwick Stable may or may not have been originally built for horses, but it’s spent far more of its life converted into a succession of restaurants and cafés. By the 1890s, it was known as Colonel Abson’s Chop House, an intimate eatery popular with politicians, bankers, and actors of the time. Thereafter, it had a variety of tenants and names:  Pickwick Café, Robinson’s, 22 East, and the Red Path Inn, among others. The current Pickwick Stable may or may not have been originally built for horses, but it’s spent far more of its life converted into a succession of restaurants and cafés. By the 1890s, it was known as Colonel Abson’s Chop House, an intimate eatery popular with politicians, bankers, and actors of the time. Thereafter, it had a variety of tenants and names:  Pickwick Café, Robinson’s, 22 East, and the Red Path Inn, among others. elder Horner was also one of 22 business organizers of the earliest iteration of the Chicago Board of Trade – as was the omnipresent entrepreneur William Ogden, who no doubt knew Horner through business because Ogden knew everyone who helped make the city grow and, therefore, mattered. The Commercial Exchange, as it was first known, opened in March of 1848 in rented rooms on the second floor of a flour store at 101 South Water Street (on Wacker Drive at the corner of Wabash Avenue, today), only half a block north from the business district on Lake Street. The opening of the I&M Canal that year and the flood of incoming grain that McCormick’s reaper made possible demanded a more organized way of dealing with agricultural products, and the exchange was the answer.

That was also the same year the recently orphaned, 19-year-old Hannah Dernberg of Zeilhard in central Germany arrived in New York. She was tall, statuesque, and well educated, from a prosperous, distinguished, and intellectual family. Her great-grandfather had been the rabbi of Hanover, and she’d grown up with books and without anti-Semitism – but a resurgent German nationalism had driven out or killed many Jews, especially in Bavaria, so that she was the last Jew left in her village. Hannah could see that she wouldn’t be allowed to be a teacher there; so there was nothing left for her in Germany. But Horner biographer Charles J. Masters notes that she was also “capable, energetic and independent.”  So, she decided to emigrate, arriving in New York in 1948 and making her way alone to Chicago, where Horner was by now a respected member of the business community. They met. Less than a year later, in 1849, they were married.

Chicago flourished during the 1850s, and as Henry’s business grew, he and Hannah became more involved in the city’s growth and development. They were key participants in founding some of the oldest Jewish organizations (Hannah was a charter member of a women’s group known as the Johanna Lodge). Horner’s business interests broadened, and he became a prominent figure in local banking. Hannah made him a good partner: a strong personality with leadership qualities, she soon took over the day-to-day operations of the grocery business, looking for ways to improve it and freeing her husband to focus on new business ventures, his other activities, and his books. Far from being territorial, Henry welcomed her good business sense and was happy to hand over much of the responsibility.

Hannah became an adviser to and organizer of the local Jewish community. Always interested in giving a hand up to new Jewish arrivals, she was a one-woman de facto social service agency. She offered them orientation and help in finding housing, work, and needed services; she lent them money; she even provided matchmaking services and advice on fitting into the community  Hannah was Jane Addams half a century before Jane Addams – in fact, she was Jane Addams on steroids, except Hannah kept kosher. And while active in business and tireless in charity work, she still managed to give Henry 11 children, starting with daughter Dilah in April 1851, and often ran the grocery business with a baby clinging onto her shoulder.

Hannah seemed to do nearly everything well. The only big mistake she made was in early 1871, in allowing a social acquaintance to introduce her recently arrived nephew to the 20-year old Dilah. The woman neglected to mention that her handsome nephew, Solomon Levy, a Bavarian Jew and successful importer many years older than Dilah, had left San Francisco because his beloved fiancée had just died, and the grieving man couldn’t bear to remain there. It also didn’t help that he was a bully who would abuse his wife, but nobody realized that yet. Levy met and married Dilah that spring, on impulse and on the rebound, and their marriage was tempestuous from the start. As the old adage warns: Marry in haste, repent at leisure. And repent Dilah did, almost immediately, for she and Levy began to argue soon after their vows were said. Their 12-year marriage would be one long trial for both.

Hannah quickly saw the marriage was a huge mistake. Levy, in turn, decided to move his new household away from the Horners as soon as possible, relocating himself and Dilah to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue, just north of 12th Street (12th Street was renamed Roosevelt Road on May 25, 1919). Levy also had trouble working in the Horner family business (he’d joined it just after the wedding) and taking orders from or having to answer to a micromanager mother-in-law who was only half a dozen years older than he was, despite the fact that Hannah had successfully run Henry’s grocery business for more than two decades, with his blessing.

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 stated online. See burnt district map below.

Although Henry Horner the elder and Hannah lost their home, their business, and all of Henry’s precious books and papers in the Great Fire of 1871, at least they had family nearby and a way to rebuild. Dilah and her husband had just moved to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue north of 12th Street less than a year before the fire, and their dwelling survived. Henry and Hannah moved around the corner from Dilah to Park Row, an east-west side street tucked in west of Michigan between 11th and 12th Streets, near the 11th Street Illinois Central train station. Hannah relocated their grocery business, and Henry shifted it to all wholesale. However, Henry never completely recovered from the fire: his library was gone, his peace and calm had been shattered, and he increasingly suffered from asthma attacks, probably due to smoke damage to his lungs.

As far as anyone can tell, the elder Horner still owned the land after the great fire, and he was living in the city only a few blocks south of the stable site during the recovery. It appears that he rebuilt on the same spot. An avid and scholarly businessman, he wasn’t a man to let an opportunity escape him.

Despite their bitter arguments, Dilah and Solomon managed to produce three sons – James, born in March 1872 while the family was still rebuilding; Sidney, in 1873; and little Henry. Alas, the 60-year-old Henry senior never met his namesake, having died of a brain hemorrhage (probably a stroke) during the autumn of 1878, whereas baby Henry was born several weeks later on November 30. Shortly after young Henry’s birth, Solomon Levy broke with his in-laws’ firm and started his own export business; this didn’t improve matters between him and Dilah, and their marriage continued to be rocky for the next five years.

Abused but strong like her mother, Dilah didn’t suffer in silence. By 1883, she’d had enough and took her sons, moved into her mother’s house, and found herself a divorce lawyer. This was considered a drastic move and was generally discouraged back then, especially in the Jewish community. Dilah’s life would be a matter of public record. Nevertheless, the judge not only found that the marriage was beyond repair but that Levy was also “guilty of extreme and repeated cruelty” to Dilah and granted a divorce. Yet despite that, custody of James was awarded to his father because established legal precedent then required the judge to give the first-born son to the father, and that was too ingrained a practice for him to make an exception. However, only James would keep his father’s surname:  when Dilah moved in permanently with her mother, she and her two other sons retook the Horner name. Thus, the governor-to-be grew up in his grandfather’s house with his grandfather’s name.

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.

Henry’s grandson, Horner the younger, was the first Jewish governor of Illinois and a liberal. A judge and a reformer, the bachelor civil servant and attorney served two gubernatorial terms (1933 to 1940), during which he enacted much of the state’s social safety net that helped many Illinoisans survive the Great Depression.

The current Pickwick Stable may or may not have been originally built for horses, but it’s spent far more of its life converted into a succession of restaurants and cafés. By the 1890s, it was known as Colonel Abson’s Chop House, an intimate eatery popular with politicians, bankers and actors of the time. Thereafter, it had a variety of tenants and names: Pickwick Café, Robinson’s, 22 East, and the Red Path Inn, among others.
In the 1890s, Fannie Abson ran a restaurant, Colonel Abson’s English Chop House (1872-1900), in the building at the end of Pickwick Lane. This restaurant is 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 Abson, 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. Fannie Abson joined in her suit, either then or at a later date, by Hannah Horner, the widow of the Henry Horner and the grandmother of the future Illinois Governor.

NOTE: Wholesale grocer, grain merchant and pillar of the early Chicago Jewish community, Henry Horner, the grandfather of Henry Horner, born Henry Levy, (1878–1940) served as the 28th Governor of Illinois, from January 1933 until his death in October 1940. Horner was the first Jewish governor of Illinois.

Research 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, east of the Chicago River, survived the 1871 Chicago Fire burnt district.

In the aftermath of the fire, new structures were erected on the lots around Pickwick Place, and, a Judge stated: “A two-story brick building was built upon the Stables 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.
22 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois.
Today the building is the home of the Hero Coffee Bar. It's the smallest structure in Chicago's Loop by far, measuring, 19' wide by 19' deep and really adds to the alley’s quaint appeal.
Some interesting finds:
William Abson owned another restaurant; "Abson's English Chop House" at 125 North LaSalle (Today; 613 North LaSalle), 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 embarked that 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. No mention of the use or reason for renting.

NOTE: The Rappleye Plating & Mfg., Co., 16 Custom House Place in Chicago took out an ad in the June 23, 1894 ⁨⁨Reform Advocate⁩⁩ Newspaper. Custom metal plating in Gold, Silver, Brass, Bronze, Copper, and Nickel.

NOTE: There is a mention of Henry Limback, owner of the Citizens Brewery, located at 16 Custom House Place.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


[1] Half-breed; a disrespectful term used to refer to the offspring of parents of different racial origins, especially the offspring of an American Indian and a white person of European descent.

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