Sunday, May 14, 2023

Early Chicago Gleanings from a Family Memoir.

The parties usually began about half-past seven or eight o'clock, and "the ball broke" generally about eleven or twelve o'clock. When there was no dancing, it ended at ten or eleven o'clock. 

In later years, we indulged at times in sleighing parties. We would send word to a country tavern, some ten or twelve miles from the city, hire several double sleighs and take a violinist along. Then when we arrived, we would have a dance followed by a good supper and, after supper, more dancing. It was often two o'clock in the morning before we reached home. These enjoyable occasions were always chaperoned by some married couples. 
The 'Saloon Building' at the southeast corner of Clark and Lake Streets in Chicago.

The only literary association in the city was the "Young Men's Association and Library." It had a small room in the third story of the Saloon Building where its meetings were held and its few books were kept. This was Chicago's first attempt at a library. An occasional lecture was arranged by the members of this association. In later years, it was reorganized under the direction of E. B. McCagg, Edwin C. Larned, F. B. Cooley, myself and others when a new course of lectures was inaugurated. These were delivered in the State Street Hall, a new assembly room, the first lecture by George William Curtis, of New York, on "Alcibiades," a character Mr. Curtis treated in his finished and elegant oratory style. After Mr. Curtis came Bishop Alonzo Potter of Pennsylvania, on "The Character of George Washington," a good, moral, fatherly kind of address, which he closed with the remark, which we often repeated afterward, "If you want to be as Washington was, you must do as Washington did."

In 1842 and '43, the Catholics had a small one-story frame church on the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Madison Street, which was later moved to the rear of the lot and turned into a school-house to make room for the brick church of St. Mary, which was burned in the Great Fire. On the southeast corner of Clark and Washington streets was the frame Methodist Church; on the same site, a few years later, they built a brick church destroyed in the Great Fire. On the north side of Washington Street, about midway between Clark and Dearborn streets, stood the neat frame church belonging to the Unitarian Society, of which the Rev. Mr. Harrington was pastor. On south Clark Street, between Washington and Madison streets, stood an old, one-story church, the First Presbyterian, the Rev. L. F. Bascomb, pastor. On La Salle Street, on the southeast corner of Washington Street, was the First Baptist, an old one-story frame building. On Randolph Street, about a hundred feet east of Clark, stood a neat, new modern church, the Second Presbyterian Church, of which the Rev. Robert W. Patterson was pastor.

On the north side of the city, at the southwest corner of Cass and Illinois streets, stood the original St. James's Episcopal Church alone in its glory. It was a small brick building in the Gothic style, quite simple in its exterior. The interior was remarkable for a mahogany pulpit and altar screen built for $2,000. The first rector of this Church was the Rev. Isaac W. Hallam. The new St. James's was built on the southeast corner of Cass and Huron streets, and the old brick church was sold to the Presbyterians. The Great Fire later swept away the comparatively new building, the tower alone remaining standing. 

In continuation of church memoranda, I might say that the south-side Unitarian Society divided the value of its Washington Street property, giving to its west-side Church a portion and the rest to the north-side Church, which was then under the ministry of the Rev.Robert Collyer. The Unity Church congregation built a neat frame church on the northeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Dearborn Street, where I remember hearing Ralph Waldo Emerson preach one Sunday morning.

The Fourth Presbyterian was the first Church of that denomination started on the North Side. Messrs. Wadsworth, Woodbridge, Hoge, Dorman, McCormick, Mason, Miller, and others were prominent among its members under the Rev. Mr. Richardson, pastor. Their first meeting house was built on the east side of North Clark Street, between Illinois and Indiana streets. This was several years later moved to the southeast corner of State and Illinois streets, at which time the Rev. Dr. Rice was pastor. They moved later into a new brick church on the southeast corner of Cass and Indiana streets. The old Church was turned into a sales stable for horses and carriages. Both the old and the new churches were destroyed in the Great Fire.

For some years, another Presbyterian church existed the Westminster Church, on the southeast corner of Dearborn and Ontario streets, under the charge of the Rev. David Swing. These two churches were found to be too close to each other, so they united as one Church, the Fourth Presbyterian, under Professor Swing, in the new stone church built after the Fire, on the northwest corner of Rush and Superior streets. Professor Swing retired from the Fourth Church and, in later years, became a noted independent preacher. The Rev. Dudley Chase, son of the Right Rev. Philander Chase, the first Episcopal Bishop of Illinois, founded the Church of the Atonement as the first Episcopal church on the West Side. It was built on the northeast corner of Peoria and Washington streets. Bishop Whitehouse reorganized the Church afterward, becoming the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. 

David Swing (1830-1894) was called to the Fourth Presbyterian Church in 1866. In 1874 he was tried for heresy and acquitted, but, as a consequence, resigned from his pastorate and withdrew from the Presbyterian ministry.

The first theater with any pretensions of respectability was built by John B. Rice, a one-time mayor of Chicago and representative in Congress from the Chicago district, a man of good character and good sense and much esteemed as a citizen. This theater was built about 1846 on Randolph Street east of Clark. Later Mr. Rice built a larger theater on Dearborn Street, where the Rice Block now stands, which was finally made over into stores and offices about the time McVicker built his theater before the Fire. The Crosby Opera House, built about 1864-65 and said to have cost $700,000 ($13,028,000 today), equaled anything of its kind in the United States.

In the Randolph Street Theater, the best people were to be seen. The day's noted actors and singers appeared, and Italian opera was produced there.

There is much talk nowadays about Chicago's variable climate. The weather changed when I came in 1842 and was just as frequent and violent as they are now. The only difference is that the atmosphere seems more cloudy or darker. Very little coal was used when the city was small, with no manufacturing. There was scarcely a boiler in the whole town. No steam, no engines, no steam tugs, and wood was the only fuel, so our atmosphere was beautifully clear and pure and was one of the delights of life. There was no sewage in the river, packing houses, or anything of the kind. The lake winds, the prairie winds, and the water were all pollution-free, and Chicago, at that early day, was an excellent place to live. It was rarely sweltering in summer, and, however cold the winter might be, a stout, large, air-tight, sheet-iron stove with a chunk or two of wood would keep us warm night and day. 

The coldest weather I ever experienced in Chicago was the long, bleak winter of 1842 and '43, and again in January of 1864, when the thermometer marked 30 F. below zero in and about Chicago. The night of January 2, 1864, there had been a very heavy snowstorm, and the morning of the 3rd opened intensely cold and with a heavy gale blowing the drifting snow in every direction. My wife's sister, Mrs. Samuel Greeley, died that day. I wanted to get a carriage to take my wife to the house on Hinsdale Street (Chestnut Street today) near Wells Street. The livery stableman would not send a carriage out because the weather was so bitter. He let me have a cutter, however, one horse and plenty of buffalo robes, in which I managed to drive my wife up to her sister's house and return to the stable as quickly as possible. On the same night, the regiment in barracks at Wright's Woods, opposite the forks of the Graceland and Lakeview roads, broke camp and started for the city to save themselves from freezing to death. In the morning, some of them were seen straggling down North Clark Street, and all the sleighs and horses that could be gathered were sent up to get them into town.

Before railroads began operating out of Chicago, there was quite a furor for Plank Roads to overcome the bad condition of the dirt roads, turnpikes, they were called, made from mud thrown up from the side ditches in the spring and during the rains. These new roads were made of three or four inches thick planks and a foot or so wide of the required length, laid on stringers and spiked down. All toll roads were: the Milwaukee Plank Road, the Northwestern, the Southwestern, and the Blue Island Pike roads. When railroads came into operation, they were abandoned.

Chicago's first wooden block pavement was the original "Nicolson pavement" on South Wells Street, between South Water and Lake Streets. Samuel S. Greeley, a civil engineer, laid this initial stretch of wooden block pavement; it was a good, honest job and wore well for years. The patentee, a Mr. Nicolson of Boston, had never been able to do much with it. Chicago soil was well adapted to it, and from its introduction here has come the extensive use of this kind of pavement in many cities of the United States. Mr. Greeley made known the pavement for the patentees, and the first thing the patentees did was to part with a large portion of their interest and deprive Greeley of the benefits justly due to him in its introduction in the West.

Among the early residents of Chicago, whom I knew, was Walter L. Newberry, whose name is perpetuated by the Newberry Library. A few years after I came to Chicago, he married a Miss Clapp of Lenox, Massachusetts, and lived in the Hunter House on the southeast corner of Illinois and Rush streets. Afterward, he built a house on the northeast corner of Rush and Ontario streets, where he lived until he died. His death occurred on a steamer going to Europe. He left a widow and two daughters. The end of these heirs released his large fortune for use in founding the reference library, which now bears his name. 

Another old resident was Justin Butterfield, an eminent lawyer from western New York who owned the half block on the northwest corner of Rush and Michigan streets, adjoining John H. Kinzie's property. His residence was a two-story frame house, double front, with a large garden. His eldest daughter married William S. Johnston, and the youngest daughter, Ada, married Mr. White. Old Justin Butterfield was said to know more law than any man in Illinois and could refer to books and pages from memory. He was a rough and surly man in manners, as a general thing, and never noticed anyone in the streets unless it might be some professional friend or client. 

He was said to be a man of wit, quick at repartee and cynical, but certainly, he was not agreeable to deal with. It was related to him that when he was defending Joseph Smith, the Mormon, at Springfield, the courtroom was crowded with ladies, Mr. Butterfield opened his address with these words: "I rise to defend the prophet of the Lord, surrounded by his angels."

John H. Kinzie, son of old John Kinzie, one of the first white settlers in Chicago, was one of the early residents I knew well. Kinzie's Addition was named for him. He lived in a two-story brick house on the northeast corner of Cass and Michigan streets, with a barn and garden. There was nothing remarkable about John H. Kinzie except that he was one of the old inhabitants. In 1842 and '43, he was the registrar of the Land Office, his office being on Kinzie Street near State Street. I brought a letter of introduction to him and presented it there. Mrs. Kinzie was a woman of intellect and influence. Their daughter, Nellie, married a Mr. Gordon of Savannah, Georga, and a son, Arthur, who commanded a colored regiment during the Civil War. There was another son, George, who was in the regular army. The Kinzie house was a headquarters for Episcopalians, Mr. and Mrs. Kinzie being chief pillars in St. James's Church. She was the author of Wau-Bun, a book that gave an account of the early days of Chicago and Illinois. Kinzie's estate was small. He generally held some public office. He died in Chicago during the Civil War.

On the block bordered by Rush, Erie, Cass and Ontario streets stood William B. Ogden's residence, a large, double, two-storied, conspicuous house with a portico, columns, and broad steps. There were stables, outhouses, and greenhouses. Initially built by a land company, it was sold to Mr. Ogden during the panic of 1837 and 1838. Mr. Ogden was a charming man socially. His manner was genial, attractive, and gentlemanly, and his conversation intelligent, reflecting the power of keen observation. He was a very agreeable bachelor. He was also a man of great ability, clear-visioned and far-sighted, a projector on a large scale. I knew Mr. Ogden well. He was always courteous and pleasant and, on several occasions, did favors for me, for which I was very grateful. In his seventieth year, he married Miss Arnot, a Elmira, New York maiden lady. He died a year or two afterward at his country place near New York City, "Boscobel," leaving a widow but no children.

On the northwest corner of Dearborn and Ontario streets, in a long, low-frame house, lived Isaac N. Arnold, a lawyer. On this corner, the Chicago Historical Society building stood. Mr. Arnold was a man of acknowledged ability in the law; he was a member of Congress from the Chicago district, an honest, patriotic Republican, and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. He wrote several books on historical subjects, including The Life of Lincoln.

Gurdon S. Hubbard was, after John Kinzie, the oldest settler in Chicago. He came from Middletown, Connecticut, but had been in the northwest country since boyhood. He was a widower when I came to Chicago. He had one son, Gurdon S. Hubbard, Jr. His second wife was his cousin, a daughter of Mr. Hubbard, who lived on the northeast corner of Dearborn and Ontario streets. Henry Hubbard, the father of Mrs. Herbert Ayer, was a son of the same Mr. Hubbard. I knew Henry Hubbard very well, having hunted deer with him and others about 1844 and '45 in the "sag timber" twenty miles below Chicago. Henry Hubbard, or "Hank" Hubbard, as he was called, married a daughter of Judge Smith. She was a sister of Mrs. Dr. Boone and Mrs. Stephen F. Gale. Gurdon S. Hubbard married a second time in about 1850. When I arrived in Chicago, heathen I arrived in Chicago, he was a pork packer, his establishment being next door to my store on South Water Street, near Clark. He was a man of iron constitution. He told me that he once walked seventy miles from early morning to candlelight in one day and beat some famous Indian walkers across the country. He was always a pleasant genian, a good citizen and much respected. He had much to do with the Indians in his early life as a fur trader, and now and then, when we were neighbors on Indiana Street, some of his old Indian friends would come to see him when in town.

On Cass Street, between Huron and Erie streets, lived the McCagg family. I first knew Mr. McCagg as a storekeeper on Randolph Street, not far east of Randolph Street bridge. Afterward, he partnered with John S. Reed in the lumber business. Ezra B. McCagg, the well-known lawyer, was his son. Another son went to the Civil War with a Chicago battery, contracted a disease and died. His name is recorded with others on the Soldiers' Monument in St. James's Church vestibule. He had two daughters, one who married Andrew Brown of Evanston, and another, Miss Caroline McCagg. E. B. McCagg's first wife was the Widow Jones, a sister of William B. Ogden. They had one son, Louis McCagg. 

Another old resident was Monsieur Canda, the father of Mrs. Humphreys and Mrs. Payson and the first Mrs. William Norman Campbell. He owned a large plot of ground on North Wells Street, where he lived when I first came to Chicago in 1842. I made the acquaintance of his daughter, Miss Canda, later Mrs. Humphreys, about 1844 in New York when I called upon her with a mutual friend to get some trifle she wanted to send to her father in Chicago. She was a very agreeable young French lady. She came to Chicago the same fall after my return and married David Humphreys a year later. 

In 1842 the city had about 6,600 people, and the population increased when the resumption of work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. There was a slight increase in population until the railroads reached Chicago and began to build West of the city. Chicago's location demanded railroads, and they came as a necessity. Chicago had not had any better start in a business way than several other lake towns. It had five or six-grain storage warehouses of moderate capacity and stocks of goods in the hands of active, energetic traders, who were always ready to buy whatever farmers had to sell and to pay for them in goods or cash. Still, there needed to be more capital in the town in 1842. Most of the merchants purchased their goods in the East on time twice a year, and about all the money to buy wheat was furnished by the Wisconsin Marine and Fire Company Bank, of which George Smith was the head and Alexander Mitchell, of Milwaukee, the cashier. The rate was 12% per annum on drafts or bills of lading consigned to the Bank's agents at Buffalo, and Smith, on the proceeds going to New York, charged merchants 2½% exchange in New York, which really cost him nothing, while his agents handling the stuff between received their commission on sales of the produce. In this way, Smith, backed by Scotch capital in Dundee, made his money and laid the foundation of his considerable fortune. Then too, he commanded the Galena to lead trade through his Bank there under the direction of James Carter. 

In those distant days in Chicago, the comparatively small circle of business and professional men, and others of note, were generally well acquainted with or known to one another. There would be a good deal of mixing in at a social gathering. Every man in those days stood on his own merits. There were very few conventional restrictions on society. There were really no rich men, although there were a good many people who possessed land who were really land poor. Each one seemed to have but one object in life, and that was to strive for the main chance. He means to live and get along so that, in this respect, all are on the same level. There were, however, some people better educated, more cultivated, and of more intelligence than others, and, as a matter of course, these were more agreeable to meet socially. Still, there were no purse-proud people, nor any fashionable and exclusive, for the simple reason that the people were all poor and everyone was disposed to respect his neighbor. Vice, wickedness and crime were comparatively unknown. 

The Chicago Historical Society was founded in 1856 with the idea of forming a historical library of a general character. A good building was erected on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street to house it. It included a comfortable little lecture hall capable of holding three or four hundred people, while below were the necessary rooms and a spacious library on the second floor. 

Chicago was not a fertile spot at that time for amusements of a public character. There was no restaurant in the city. If one wanted a drink, the only place they could get it was the small, simple bar in the public room of hotels or farmhouse taverns as there were then. Chicago in the forties was a "one-horse" town and had not begun to step forward towards metropolitan proportions and surroundings, with all the evils of a great city.

Unknown Author, Published 1919
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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