CHICAGO AS IT WAS AND IS.
By Edwin O. Gale.
[Vol. 13, 1909], Illinois State Historical Society.
It was a beautiful morning on the twenty-fifth of May, 1835, when the brig Illinois cast its anchor some half a mile from Fort Dearborn, and birch bark canoes, yawls and lighters assembled to transfer from the tiresome craft to the uninviting shore the timid immigrants and their household treasures. As the first vessel of the season, our modest sail excited a great deal of interest, especially among the Indians, who succeeded in inducing a few fearless whites to accept their services. Their light canoes scarcely ruffled the placid lake as their dextrous paddles brought them swiftly to the shore. The writer, being but a trifile over three years of age at this eventful period, does not recall the landing nor does he distinctly remember many of the circumstances that occurred while the mass of the Indians still lived in Chicago, for the majority of the red men moved, under the terms of their treaty, to Iowa in the fall of 1835 and 1836. But for a number of years, straggling bands from Wisconsin and Michigan frequently arrived to sell pelts, maple sugar and the ornamented handiwork of the skillful squaws, which surviving girls and boys of that period joyfully remember. As we pass from these happy experiences of our childhood and recall the floating years of three quarters of the century, which mark the marvelous progress of that early Chicago with its six hundred, venturesome whites and eight times that number of its passing aborigines, it seems like a fairy tale or a fabulous story conceived by some gifted romancer.
Among the most prominent young people of our earliest days were the families of Jean Baptiste Beaubien, familiarly known as Col. John Beaubien, and his younger brother Mark, the children of whom were among our most constant playmates. Alexander, the son of John, was born January 28, 1822. Although ten years the senior of the writer, yet time on its fleeting wing commenced in a few years to obliterate the difference in our ages, and so mutual and earnest a friendship had been established that when he died, as an honorary pall-bearer I served my friend. It was on the twenty-seventh of March, 1907, that this veteran of 85 years closed his eyes upon the marvelous city- the fifth in size of the world-which claims some two and a half million citizens, while when he first beheld the light of day the hamlet contained but one white family - the Kinzies- beside his own. His cherished mother, Josette Laframboise, saved from the Fort Dearborn massacre, had been a useful and esteemed member of John Kinzie's household. She had an Indian mother, but, as the second wife of John Beaubien was beloved and venerated by their children.
Our friend inherited the tastes and attributes of his mother's progenitors, and he told me that in 1833, at the age of 11, he shot and killed a black bear in the timber where Franklin street and Jackson boulevard now are. By 1840, game became too scarce in Chicago to suit the tastes of the Beaubiens, and the family removed to the Des Plaines, returning to the city in 1855.
One bright Sunday morning in 1844, Alexander, with his brother Philip and four other comrades, chased a gray wolf through the Des Plaines timber for a long distance. When the foaming horses, panting dogs and nearly exhausted victim at length reached my father's farm, now the site of Galewood, I hastily mounted a horse and joined in the chase with a fresh, powerful dog. We soon had the wolf killed, and I, being the youngest boy there, Aleck gave me the "brush," much to my pride and delight. Years ago that farm was taken into the city.
But to return to the advancement of Chicago and vicinity. Schoolcraft, who attended the Indian council in 1821, in the north side grove; opposite the fort as a protection, states that "all the white men living between Chicago and the Mississippi as far north as Green Bay were present, and there were less than twenty in attendance." Even as late as 1825, there were but thirteen taxpayers in the place, their aggregate possessions being estimated at $8,947, upon which they were assessed one per cent, yielding the munificent sum of $89.47. That practically included most of the personal possessions held in our present county of Cook, organized in 1831. Today, the wealth is placed by the Board of Review at over two and one-third billion dollars ($2,375,078,435.)
The county of Cook previous to 1831, included the present counties of Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake and McHenry. The thirteen illustrious patriots who grandly paid $89.47 taxes in 1825, took great pride in organizing the county in 1831. Two years after that commendable event, they felt that it would be a proud duty to stimulate their fellow voters to convert the modest trading post into a legal town. Therefore, on the 10th of August, 1833, twenty-eight of our energetic fathers met in Peter Pruyne & Co.'s drug store on Water street and in spite of one opposing the measure, twenty-seven favored it, and five days after the incorporation every man of them again assembled and of the patriotic number thirteen were so earnest in the good cause that they were willing candidates for office. J. V. Owen, Medore Beaubien, John Miller and Dr. E. S. Kimberly were elected as trustees.
It required four years after the organization of the town and two years succeeding our arrival before Chi-ca-GO, blossomed out as a city. When the town first dawned upon us there was not a foot of sidewalk in the place nor anything to denote a street excepting the stakes of the surveyor, James Thompson, who was appointed in 1829, by the canal commissioners to survey the section of canal land one mile square bounded by Chicago avenue, Madison, State and Halsted streets. Thompson reported that he only found seven families in the place outside of the garrison, and he naturally concluded it would not require so much land for such a town so he placed the limits between State, Des Plaines, Madison and Kinzie streets. In locating the lots, which the commissioners considered of more importance than indicating where the streets would ultimately be, should they ever be needed- Thompson was so successful in surveying that in the following year on September 27, 1830, 126 of the plated lots, 80 by 180 feet, were sold by the commissioners, bringing from $10.00 to $60.00 each, the average price being $34.00, making in the aggregate $4,284.00. (The sales of 1907 were about $175,000,000 in the city.) Nor did the closing sale of canal lots add much to the construction of the canal, the establishing of our highways or the improvement of our unfortunate streets even in the canal section. Nor can we today say that we ever felt exalted on account of the condition of our mirey streets and alleys.
Our present superintendent of streets, Michael J. Doherty has prepared a table showing that where we had no streets nor alleys in early days, we now have 4,100 miles, of which only about a third are paved, while of the paved streets and alleys only a little over a third are in good repair. He estimates that $700,000.00 or $800,000.00 is needed at once for repairs. "If the Legislature will give Chicago a chance to raise the money the improvement will begin soon," he says in his report. In order that the legislative body might form some opinion as to the volume of the city traffic, the mayor and the street superintendent, one day put men on eleven of the sixty-four city bridges to count the number of vehicles that passed over them between 7:00 o'clock a. m. and 7:00 o'clock p. m. The number was 56,349. Of these 10,916 were street cars, 2,070 automobiles, leaving a total of 43,363 vehicles drawn by horses. Of the latter 28,213 were one horse teams and 15,150 two horse teams, without a single Indian pony and its rider to remind us of the early thirties, when our floating log bridges were used mostly by them.
Before we cross any of the bridges that we have had our attention drawn to we are naturally inclined to view in memory the river with its modest charms as its old time mirrored surface reflected the beautiful trees and bowing flowers that clustered along.its banks, while the innocent waters flowed for many years down stream e're the Guthries educated them to flow up. Previous to that event it was the custom of a few useful water men to drive their two wheeled one horse carts into the river and load their reclining hogsheads with long handled wooden pails as they stood on the shafts. They usually obtained their supply for the scattered settlers from the most convenient places in the stream, delivering to their customers, as a rule, for ten cents a barrel. That the treacherous winds roiled the lake water was the usual plea for furnishing from the river. But those useful watermen, horses and carts no longer meet the requirements of the people.
Even the little hydraulic mill at the foot of Lake street, with its twenty-four horse power engine, pumping 1,250 barrels in fifty minutes, and its ten foot cedar logs with three and one half inch bore that supplanted the faithful watermen in 1840, in spite of our admiration, soon failed to meet the wonderful demand of our rapidly growing city. The constantly increasing consumption of water seems incredible. In the month of August, 1900, more than ten and one-half billions (10,685,709,442) gallons of water were used. It is estimated that the quantity taken in that month would fill a square quarter of a mile in the lake to the depth of one-eighth of a mile. In 1905 there were pumped more than 150 billion (150,254,419,682) gallons yielding a revenue of nearly five millions of dollars ($4,092,559.24.) In 1907, 165 billions of gallons were pumped, with the expenditure of nearly three hundred million pounds of coal (272,218,300.) The collection amounted to more than four and one-half million dollars ($4,510,000.) The Stock Yards alone require nearly one billion gallons a year. And what is of more importance, the city health department reports that "Chicago's water supply is now among the best and purest of any large city on earth."
The canal that we previously referred to has long sice retired fromni business, but its successor, the drainage canal, is inclined to take still another step in advance, as Lyman E. Cooley, one of the country's leading authorities on canal construction and costs, shows with statistics accumulated during a life time of experience with canal work that the deep water way now so earnestly considered would secure to the city of Chicago by the power to be developed eighty millions of dollars, beside the value of the canal from a sanitary point of view and as a commercial proposition. Those who have lived in Chicago three-fourths of a century are not inclined to doubt any statement of the future progress of our city. And if some of us may have forgotten our glorious canal celebration of July 4, 1836, and do not at this hour feel like saying much about canals, they may wish us briefly to say something about Chicago railroads.
Let us consider the first railroad that ventured in Chicago, the Galena and Chicago Union, (consider the significance of that Union) which was chartered by the State Legislature in 1836, when railroads were hardly known, and about the time when no one could pay five miles fare. But how proud we were on July 10, 1848, when the first strap rail was laid. It is true that we were greatly afraid of railroads and the city council made the terrible thing go outside of the city limits, clear out to Halsted street (now claimed to be the longest street in any city), to protect us from probable catastrophes. It was treated as dangerous as shooting prairie chickens would have been on State and Twelfth street a few years before. How we hurrahed when the engine pioneer showed that it could actually move, and on October 26, 1848, drew two cars seven miles, to Sand Ridge, now Austin.
Our friend, W. H. Stennett has for years been making a profound study of the development of that road, now called the Chicago and Northwestern, and has given us in the perfect history, "Yesterday and Today," 1905, many statistics, from which we learn that the system proper "covers over nine thousand miles of main track; that it has cost $335,000,000.00; that it earns $65,000,000.00 per year; that it furnishes work for nearly 40,000 employes, and promptly and generously pays them in wages about $30,000,000.00 per year, and sustains at least 225,000 souls. A pretty good growth from strap iron, and this is yet more impressive when we consider that with the other railroads entering here the records of Dec. 31, 1902 proved Chicago to be the greatest railroad center in the world, and the statistics compiled by the Railway Age show that 1,839 trains enter and leave the city every 24 hours, 1,190 passengers and 649 freight. With the freight is included much material for the stock yards. Bearing in mind that our city claims to be the greatest grain, lumber and wholesale dry goods market on earth, it may surprise our people engaged in those lines to know that it is maintained by the men doing business in the Stock Yards that they do more and handle a larger volume than all of the others put together. I am not prepared to prove this statement, but $650,000,000.00 a year is a pretty good mark. They also say that they employ 75,000 men. If that be true, allowing that each employee represents a family of four persons, it follows that the number who derive support from that 320 acres is greater than the population of the entire State at the time of my arrival, which in 1835, was 272,427. Their records show that from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 creatures are slaughtered there annually for the collection of which more than 250,000 cars are sent all over the country.
Archibald Clybourn, who supplied the northern garrison and the people of Chicago in early days with meat drove his cattle in on foot. As sheep, hogs and calves could not be driven any distance, the neighboring farmers brought in the few they had in wagons, but the Hoosiers, as the Indiana husbandmen were called, were mostly depended upon for these supplies, as well as for hams, bacon, poultry, eggs, butter, lard, cheese and the fruit, which they brought in their covered wagons many of them being the old time Pennsylvania mountain wagons drawn by eight or ten yoke of oxen, or five or six span of horses. These prairie schooners as they were called, were especially attractive to the boys when loaded with enticing peaches and apples, as was frequently the case. But Prairie Schooners all have left, they sail our streets no more. They came with centers downward swayed, curved up both aft and fore. Their sunburnt owners, lank and tall, no more we see today; The snap of their loud-cracking whips, forever's passed away. And on the lake shore, where at night their flickering fires glowed, And care upon their homely fare was earnestly bestowed, Where we the frying bacon heard, the coarse corn dodgers saw, Where we the fragrant coffee smelt and heard the horses paw, That spot by them deserted is, yet those familiar scenes By pioneers will cherished be, though scarce then in their teens.
©2006, K. Torp