The Chicago Fire of 1871, also called the Great Chicago Fire, burned from October 8 to October 10, 1871, and destroyed thousands of buildings, killed an estimated 300 people and caused an estimated $200 million in damages. Legend has it that a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn and started the fire, but other theories hold that humans or even a meteor might have been responsible for the event that left an area of about four miles long and almost a mile wide of the Windy City, including its business district, in ruins. Following the blaze, reconstruction efforts began quickly and spurred great economic development and population growth.
Chicago Fire: October 1871
In October 1871, dry weather and an abundance of wooden buildings, streets and sidewalks made Chicago vulnerable to fire. The Great Chicago Fire began on the night of October 8, in or around a barn located on the property of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at 137 DeKoven Street on the city’s southwest side. Legend holds that the blaze started when the family’s cow knocked over a lighted lantern; however, Catherine O’Leary denied this charge, and the true cause of the fire has never been determined. What is known is that the fire quickly grew out of control and moved rapidly north and east toward the city center.
The fire burned wildly throughout the following day, finally coming under control on October 10, when rain gave a needed boost to firefighting efforts. The Great Chicago Fire left an estimated 300 people dead and 100,000 others homeless. More than 17,000 structures were destroyed and damages were estimated at $200 million.
The disaster prompted an outbreak of looting and lawlessness. Companies of soldiers were summoned to Chicago and martial law was declared on October 11, ending three days of chaos. Martial law was lifted several weeks later.
Chicago Fire: Aftermath
The month after the fire, Joseph Medill (1823-99) was elected mayor after promising to institute stricter building and fire codes, a pledge that may have helped him win the office. His victory might also be attributable to the fact that most of the city’s voting records were destroyed in the fire, so it was next to impossible to keep people from voting more than once.
Despite the fire’s devastation, much of Chicago’s physical infrastructure, including its transportation systems, remained intact. Reconstruction efforts began quickly and spurred great economic development and population growth, as architects laid the foundation for a modern city featuring the world’s first skyscrapers. At the time of the fire, Chicago’s population was approximately 324,000; within nine years, there were some 500,000 Chicagoans. By 1890, the city was a major economic and transportation hub with an estimated population of more than 1 million people. (In America, only New York City had a larger population at the time.) In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, a tourist attraction visited by some 27.5 million people.
Today, the Chicago Fire Department training academy is located on the site of the O’Leary property where the Great Chicago Fire started. In 1997, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution exonerating Catherine O’Leary, an Irish immigrant who died in 1895, and her cow.
While Chicago Burned
By Ann Patricia Duffy
When the fire brigade's general alarm bells sounded on the night of October 8, 1871, most Chicagoans paid no special notice. The summer had been the hottest and driest of many seasons, and October had already seen several fires in the city.
That Sunday, however, a ferocious wind frustrated the exhausted firefighters’ efforts and propelled the flames across the city. By the time the fire died out on Tuesday morning, roughly 300 people were dead, 100,000 were homeless, and Chicago's central business district was destroyed.
Those who fled before the flames never forgot the fear and panic of those days. Nearly 70 years later, one Chicagoan described the night of October 8 for the Federal Writers' Project:
The case of Fuller v. Crosby, heard in 1881. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21, National Archives at Chicago)
Additional eyewitness accounts appeared in newspapers and magazines, but another source of firsthand descriptions can be found in an unexpected source: federal court records in the National Archives at Chicago.
Case 17084, Henry Fuller v. Albert Crosby et al. was heard in the circuit court for the Northern District of Illinois in 1881, a decade after the fire. Crosby was the owner of the Crosby Opera House on Washington Street between State and Dearborn. Fuller accused Crosby of not repaying a loan of $25,000, given to Crosby by Henry's father. Crosby claimed bankruptcy Fuller was contesting that claim.
The opera house was more than a theater it also housed an art gallery that featured several paintings reflecting the style of the Hudson River School. The story of that collection's rescue during the Chicago Fire, preserved in the court case file, gives us a glimpse of the events and reactions of those on the scene the night of October 8, 1871.
Chief usher James S. Osgood and several others were executing the final touches required for the opera house's grand opening on Monday, October 9. The theater had been closed for renovations, and there was still much to do before it could be opened to the public. Osgood and others knew there was a fire in the city, but they continued their work.
A Rush Begins To Save
Valuable Works of Art
Osgood could hear explosions, but it was not until several hours after the alarm sounded that he became concerned. Mr. Garrison (no first name is given in the testimony), the house/financial manager, Crosby, and Osgood left the opera house and walked to the corner of Clark and Washington Streets to look at the fire. "It seemed so distant to them that they didn't feel so much alarm as I did," Osgood recalled.
As they watched, a "brand came over and struck the Court House dome setting it afire." Not being more than a block away from the courthouse, the trio agreed that it was time for action and returned to the opera house.
Saving the art gallery pictures was uppermost in their minds. They took the large pictures out of their frames and lowered them by rope to the street below. The smaller pictures, as many as could be saved, were carried down or lowered via ropes. No one panicked, even though smoke was visible in the building. In his testimony, Osgood recalled that "[t]he inside of the Opera House was not on fire at the time, but we could see that it was on fire [somewhere] there from the smoke coming up from the stage."
The next part of the plan called for the pictures to be taken to the "fireproof" First National Bank building across the street. But there was too much traffic to transport the pictures safely, and a second location was suggested: Garrison's house at 226 South Wabash Street.
According to Osgood, "I picked up two or three strangers, one or two volunteers, I knew their faces," and they began carrying the pictures to the Garrison house, three to four blocks away. At the house, Mrs. Garrison took charge of organizing the storage and placement of the pictures and several statues.
His work completed, Osgood left to check on the progress of the fire. The testimony of almost all those questioned in the case displays similar curiosity but rarely fear or recognition of the magnitude of the fire. Returning to the Garrison house, Osgood suggested moving the pictures to his lodgings near 21st and Prairie to keep them out of harm's way. And so began the next phase, which entailed getting a wagon and team of some kind to move the pictures a distance of about 20 blocks.
Getting a Wagon and Horses
Required More Than Persuasion
Crosby's Opera House before the Chicago Fire. (Library of Congress)
When queried by the plaintiff's attorney as to how he acquired such a conveyance Osgood replied, "Well, I got it the way a good many teams were gotten that night, partly persuasion and partly by force." The wagon carried the artwork to the house of Edward Saunders, the uncle of Mrs. Osgood. By 1:30 a.m. all the pictures were settled in.
Osgood returned to the Garrisons' house to complete a few more tasks. Osgood testified that "the danger seemed to be over at that time, the Palmer House . . . if they could hold out for an hour or two longer they were all right . . . the men were standing around with buckets."
When challenged on the timeline and his assessment of events, Osgood replied, "You know if you were in the city, that there was a great deal of excitement and anxiety."
Osgood was not the only one among the opera house crowd who did not panic at the sight of the fire. Ellery W. Eldridge (a wholesale druggist and friend to Albert Crosby), Crosby's daughter Fannie, and a Charles Crosby (no relation) all made their way around the city that night. Eldridge and Fannie Crosby were in the opera house when the fire bells sounded.
"I sent someone, I don't know who it was, but one of the boys, over to Price's Stable and told them to send me a horse wagon or any kind of conveyance big enough to take four people to the fire, . . . we went to the fire over the bridge," Eldridge related.
For some time they watched the fire and then went to the Sherman House hotel. There, Charles and Eldridge carried down Miss Fannie's Saratoga trunk and other trunks belonging to Charles Crosby. Garrison got a horse-drawn truck to carry the luggage, and they drove to South Water Street to see if Eldridge's store was burning. The store was still safe, and they returned to the opera house.
"We came to the southeast corner of Washington and State, and there we met Mr. [Albert] Crosby and we stopped there quite a while to see the Opera House burn and then the Music Hall . . . and watched the people moving up and around there," Eldridge testified.
The Bread Was Baked,
But How Was it Baked?
Testimony from Fuller v. Crosby, taken 10 years after the fire, was wide-ranging, delving into Crosby's stock in a brewery and a bank. Of the 500 pages of testimony, about 26 touch on the fire. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21, National Archives at Chicago)
Even after those sobering sights, Eldridge and Fannie were not through for the evening. Because the opera house had burned and the Garrison house seemed to be in danger, everyone began the task of removing the Garrisons' furnishings to the lake shore, which at the time was against the eastern side of present-day Michigan Avenue. But first, according to Mrs. Garrison, "We had a little breakfast before it [her lodgings] burnt."
After several trips back and forth, they agreed that they would meet at the Saunders' home if they became separated. That is, except for Eldridge, who once more set "out to see the fire" and, because he was "a pretty good hand with fires," aided the efforts at DeKovan and Canal Streets, the fire's origin.
The plaintiff's attorney, again fruitlessly trying to pin down a timeline, asked Eldridge what he had done early that Monday morning. Eldridge replied, "it was about 5 or 6 a.m. I got a loaf of bread out of a bakery that was down here back of McVicker's Theater and I got a cup of coffee some place down on Wabash, I don't know whose house it was." Eldridge did not clarify if the loaf had been baked by the baker or by the fire.
Mrs. Garrison, when asked to recall what was happening as she waited on the lake shore for the wagon, replied, "I know the houses were burning around us. The wagon could not get through so we had to drag, carry [our belongings] to the Brewery wagon. There was a great deal of confusion."
No doubt there was confusion, but those associated with the opera house expressed no sense of panic. And there seems to have been no real panic generally, as people were able to move about the city center with a certain amount of ease. That some even hired a rig to view the Great Chicago Fire demonstrates a fascination and curiosity about the conflagration.
When asked what time the pictures were taken to the Garrison house, Albert Crosby replied, "Well, I don't really remember, it was very exciting times about that time. I know that."
While the Fuller v. Crosby case did not directly concern the fire, the testimony, with its vivid and detailed recollections of witnesses 10 years later, provides insight into the actions taken during on the first day of the fire.
Once again, federal court records in the holdings of the National Archives have yielded another new piece of history: a small but enlightening story about the Great Chicago Fire in the records of an unlikely source, a legal action for debt repayment.
Ann Patricia Duffy is a lifelong resident of Chicago. In 2006, after 36 years of teaching in the Chicago public schools, she began to volunteer at the National Archives in Chicago. She is most happy to acknowledge all the wonderful people who make volunteering there a very rewarding experience.
Note on Sources
Case file 17084 for George W. Fuller v. Albert Crosby et al. is in the records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois, 1871–1911, Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21, at the National Archives at Chicago.
The recollection of the Chicago Fire recorded by the Federal Writers' Project is available online in the Library of Congress’s American Memory collection: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/oct08.html.
An interesting footnote to the story of the Crosby Opera House is that Mrs. Garrison, who temporarily sheltered the art collection and provided breakfast for her guests before her house burned, divorced Garrison in 1872 and married Albert Crosby.
An eyewitness account of the Great Chicago Fire, 1871
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed nearly 300 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed over $190 million worth of property, and leveled the entire central business district of the city. The fire broke out just after 9 p.m. on October 8 in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary on DeKoven Street. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire was already raging out of control.
John R. Chapin, an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, wrote this first-hand account and drafted two sketches for his employer shortly after the fire. Chapin reported that he was asleep in his room at the Sheridan House when he was woken by a commotion in the hotel’s hallway:
Listening for a few moments, and thinking it must be near morning, I composed myself to sleep again, but was restless, and my mind became gradually filled with a dread for which I could not account. At length, to assure myself, I rose and went to the window, threw open the blinds, and gazed upon a sheet of flame towering one hundred feet above the top of the hotel, and upon a shower of sparks as copious as drops in a thunder-storm.
In his account account, printed in Harper’s Weekly on October 28, 1871, Chapin described his harrowing escape from the fire. From his vantage point across the river, he watched desperate citizens attempt to save their belongings as the flames claimed Chicago’s distinguished buildings. After raging for two days, the fire was extinguished by rain on October 10.
A pdf of the article and images is available here.
I confess that I felt myself a second Nero as I sat down to make the sketch which I send herewith of the burning of Chicago. In the presence of such a fearful calamity, surrounded by such scenes of misery and woe, having within a brief hour barely escaped with my life from the burning hotel, knowing that under my eye human life was being destroyed, wealth swept away, and misery entailed upon untold thousands of my fellow-men, nothing but the importance of preserving a record of the scene induced me to force my nervous system into a state sufficiently calm to jot down the scenes passing before me. . . . Niagara sinks into insignificance before that towering wall of whirling, seething, roaring flame, which swept on, on—devouring the most stately and massive stone buildings as though they had been the cardboard playthings of a child. . . . Vehicles of every kind and character were crossing and recrossing the bridge, bringing away goods of all kinds, and sometimes of the most ludicrous description. Fabulous prices were asked and paid for any thing on wheels. . . . One party had a platform store truck with thee wheels, on which they had piled desks, chairs, cushions, and office furniture to a height of six or eight feet. In trying to get off the track the whole load slid off, and an immense express wagon, dashing along, went over the pile and crushed it into splinters. Here comes a steamer! Back rushes the crowd, and four splendid horses, followed by an engine, whose driver was either wild with excitement or crazy drunk, dashed across the bridge, and, wheeling to the right, took up a position on the edge of the dock. . . . And who shall attempt to depict the scenes of misery, the agony of suffering, among that mass of people which was surging back and forth, to and fro, in every direction, on the west side? In every door-way were groups and families, on the curbs, in the gutters, every where . . . they could be seen huddled around their little all that the flames had spared, with misery depicted on their countenances and with despair in their hearts.
The Official Report
An official commission investigating the fire heard testimony about Mrs. O'Leary and her cow in November 1871. An article in the New York Times on November 29, 1871, was headlined "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow."
The article described the testimony given by Catherine O'Leary before the Chicago Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. In her account, she and her husband had been asleep when two men came to their house to alert them that their barn was on fire.
Mrs. O'Leary's husband, Patrick, was also questioned. He testified that he did not know how the fire started as he had also been asleep until he heard the neighbors.
The commission concluded in its official report that Mrs. O'Leary had not been in the barn when the fire began. The report did not state a precise cause of the fire, but mentioned that a spark blown from a chimney of a nearby house on that windy night could have started the fire in the barn.
The Fire Spread
The conditions were perfect for the fire to spread, and once it went beyond the immediate neighborhood of O'Leary's barn it accelerated quickly. Burning embers landed on furniture factories and grain storage elevators, and soon the blaze began to consume everything in its path.
Fire companies tried their best to contain the fire, but when the city’s waterworks were destroyed the battle was over. The only response to the fire was to try to flee, and tens of thousands of Chicago's citizens did. It has been estimated that a quarter of the city’s approximately 330,000 residents took to the streets, carrying what they could in a mad panic.
A massive wall of flame 100 feet high advanced through city blocks. Survivors told harrowing stories of strong winds pushed by the fire-spewing burning embers so that it looked as if it was raining fire.
By the time the sun rose on Monday morning, large parts of Chicago were already burned to the ground. Wooden buildings had simply disappeared into piles of ash. Sturdier buildings of brick or stone were charred ruins.
The fire burned throughout Monday. The inferno was finally dying out when the rain began on Monday evening, finally extinguishing the last of the flames in the early hours of Tuesday.
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Chicago Fire of 1871 - HISTORY
River, Harbor And Marine
Harbor And River Improvements--The location of the streets of the city, the course of the river and the condition of the sand-bars at the beginning of 1858, varied but little from descriptions given in the first volume of this history. The charts made between 1854 and 1858 by S. S. Greely show the former position of Fort Dearborn, the ancient river bed, the sandbar at its mouth and the grounds and the buildings of the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The distance from the east line of Michigan Avenue, at Randolph Street, to the shore of Lake Michigan (according to the plat of the Fort Dearborn Addition to Chicago) is given at about seventy-five feet. The distance from the same point to the shore line, as laid down by Surveyor John Wall, in 1821, was one hundred and seventy-five feet, continuing northeasterly to a point at the intersection of St. Clair and Illinois streets. In 1836 the west line of the sand-bar was one hundred and fifty feet east of the line of 1821. In the map of 1858 a large area of "made land" is shown on the lake side of the sand-bar. West of "Slip A" was the Illinois Central freight house. Between this building and the old channel of the river was the Michigan Central freight house, and west of it was a second structure of a like character. South of the latter freight house was the passenger depot belonging to the Illinois Central Railroad Company, while, standing on the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and River Street, was the old United States Marine Hospital, sold in 1864. Diagonally across from the Marine Hospital was the block house and two small buildings belonging to Fort Dearborn. The south building, or officers' quarters, stood on what is now River Street, nearly at the foot of Rush-street bridge while the north building stood on land, which was subsequently excavated, and now forms the south channel at that point. The light-house stood on the river bank, just west of Rush-street bridge. The above particulars are given that the general reader may obtain an idea of the appearance of the harbor, the river's mouth, and the surrounding country in the year 1858.
|Wolf Point in 1870|
At this time it was felt more keenly than ever that the outlay should be made by the United States Government rather than by the city, and it was hoped that whatever amount was expended would be refunded from the national treasury, especially as the work was being done under the direction of a United States engineer. A map of the harbor made during August, 1865, shows a channel of thirteen or fourteen feet deep at the mouth of the river, and a sand-bar covered by six feet of water for a distance of one thousand feet in a southerly direction, and having a width of one hundred and fifty feet, at a point twelve hundred feet from the North Pier. During this year the outer end of the pier work was completed, and the dock lines along the Chicago River and its branches were surveyed. The pier was further extended, the channel dredged, and Goose Island, at the confluence of the North and South branches was removed during 1865-66. A channel, fifty feet wide and ten feet deep below low water, was also made in the upper part of the South Branch. During the year ending August, 1866, the formation of another sand-bar across the entrance to the harbor was in its incipient stages, the water shoaling from three to six feet.
The General Government at last had become cognizant of the errors of the past, and made an appropriation of $88,000, which enabled the contractors to extend the pier six hundred feet further to the eastward. While Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. Graham was in charge of the harbor improvements, the War Department granted permission to the Chicago Dock and Canal Company to make an opening through the United States North Pier so as to allow a communication between the harbor, and the ship-basins and canals, which that company had been authorized to build. In 1867, to provide for the required three hundred feet of opening in the pier, the United States commenced to extend the pier, beginning from a point three hundred feet from the shore terminus. The extension was therefore carried out nine hundred feet, to a depth of twenty-four feet of water. During the year ending June 30, 1868, the Chicago Dock and Canal Company, in conjunction with the United States Government, was feebly prosecuting the harbor improvements. Owing to the delay caused by the inclosing of the ship-basin by the Dock Company, the bar at the mouth of the harbor continually increased, and the United States engineer in charge of the works granted the contractors an extension of one year's time. The appropriation made in 1868 by Congress amounted to $35,000, followed by one of $29,700 in 1869. Early during the latter year the channel of the North Branch was dredged to a uniform depth of eleven and one-half feet. At this time the width of the river, at various points, was as follows: At Lake Street, 200 feet Randolph, 170 feet Washington, 165 feet Madison, 155 feet Monroe (North side), 163 feet Monroe (South side), 133 feet Adams, 127 feet Jackson, 133 feet Van Buren, 200 feet Tyler, 130 feet Harrison, 127 feet Polk, 115 feet Taylor, 130 feet Twelfth (North side), 155 feet Maxwell, 142 feet Mitchell, 139 feet Sixteenth, 143 feet Seventeenth, 135 feet Eighteenth, 118 feet. When the proposition was made to give the main river a uniform width of two hundred and fifty feet, and the branches a uniform width of two hundred feet, the measurements given above were ascertained. It was necessary to widen the main river only below Rush-street bridge.
|Looking down the River from Clark Street Bridge|
The expenditures for harbor and improvements by the city from 1861 to 1871 were as follows : 1861, $291.25 1862-63, $507.99 1863-64, $30,255.67 1864-65 $52,097.51 1865-66, $115,840.95 1866-67, $25,351.58 1867-68, $23,830.58 1868-69, $82,405.63 1869-1870, $65,485 12 1870-71, $120,265 08.
|Chicago Harbor in 1870|
Dockage. -- In early times the navigation up the North Branch was accomplished as far as Chicago Avenue and up the South Branch to Eighteenth Street. With the construction of the canal the South Branch was improved a mile and a half beyond Eighteenth Street. Next, the North Branch was deepened and the dockage extended. Then, as has been already noticed, came the demand for a uniform width of the river, so that the dock lines, which had heretofore followed the curvature of the banks, were straightened. By 1869, when this latter improvement was progressing, the wharfage of the city amounted to nearly twelve miles. The dock system had been especially extended in the West Division along the South Branch. In 1870-71 the improvement carried on at the mouth of the harbor by the Government, the Chicago Dock Company and the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and which has been previously commented upon, added greatly to the pier and wharfing facilities of Chicago.
The Marine.--The narrow muddy inlet called the Chicago River, has made Chicago one of the largest ports of entry in the United States. When the navigation of the great lakes was primarily instituted, it was the only place from St. Joseph River, in Michigan, to Milwaukee, a distance of more than two hundred and fifty miles, where a vessel could be loaded or unloaded or find shelter in a storm. It was the only accessible port, and hence destined to become the commercial center of the vast Northwest. The early growth of the marine is detailed in the first volume, and the improvements of the harbor are given elsewhere in the present volume. With those improvements, the shipping interests of Chicago continued to grow yearly, until, before the year 1871, there were annually entered at this port a greater number of vessels than at the ports of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charleston and Mobile combined. And this, notwithstanding the fact that the harbor of Chicago is closed for at least three months of the year.
We here present some tables which illustrate the growth and vast extent of Chicago's lake commerce and, although such details are necessarily unattractive, they will well repay a study by the admirer of historical statistics.
The lake tonnage enrolled at the port of Chicago in 1858 amounted to 8,151 tons in steam vessels and 58,771 tons in sail vessels. Estimating the value of the steam vessels, completed and rigged and equipped for active service, at $35 per ton, the value of these two classes of tonnage amounts to the sum of $2,383,025. In addition to these there was the canal tonnage, amounting to 152 canal boats of about 15,000 tons. Estimating the canal boats at $1,000 a piece, the value of the whole would be --
The number of vessels owned in Chicago in 1858 was:
The arrivals and clearances at the port of Chicago for 1858 were :
The value of the lake commerce for 1858 was as follows :
Some further statistics of receipts and shipments of the principal articles of commerce will be presented in the table for the year 1871. The figures for 1858 and 1871 we present as fully as they can be obtained, in order that the commerce of the first and last year, comprised within this volume, may be contrasted.
The following tables, obtained from the United States Custom House and from the Board of Trade of Chicago, show the constant and rapid growth of the lake commerce.
Owing to the destruction of records in the great fire, the arrivals and clearances for 1859, 1860, and 1861 are not obtainable. Those for the years here given present very compactly the increasing activity of the Chicago marine.
The registered, enrolled and licensed tonnage, at the port of Chicago, was as follows for the years mentioned :
1858, 67,001.23 1859, 68,123.39 1860, 78,816.05 1861, 85,743.66 1862, 108,357.42 1863, 126,684.40 1864, 160,241.07 1865, 75,444.41 1866, 86,685.33 1867, 95,336.05 1868, 100,753.71 1869, 104,314.38 1870, 93,625.49 1871, 93,918.97.
The following are the imports and exports, as exhibited by the records of the Custom House, for the years specified :
The number of vessels owned in Chicago in 1871 was as follows :
Estimating their value upon the same basis as those for 1858 are estimated--
This indicates a growth of one-third in thirteen years not at all comparable to the mighty extension of railroad transportation in the same time, but nevertheless a very constant and substantial growth.
The following table illustrates more strikingly the vast growth of Chicago's lake commerce. It gives the receipts and shipments of the principal articles of commerce for the years 1858 and 1871 :
|Cured meats, lbs.||155,600|
|Broom corn, lbs||963,850|
The following shows the dates of the opening of navigation at the Straits of Mackinac for the years specified : 1858, April 6 1859, April 4 1860, April 26 1861, April 25 1862, April 18 1863, April 17 1864, April 23 1865, April 21 1866, April 29 1867, April 23 1868, April 19 1869, April 23 1870, April 18 1871, April 3.
Marine insurances are made from April to November, including both months.
THE SKJOLDMOEN.--On the 16th of July, 1863, one of the smallest crafts that ever crossed the Atlantic, the sloop "Skjoldmoen," commanded by Captain L. Wesenberg, arrived at the port of Chicago, from Bergen, Norway, which latter port she left on the 12th of April, arriving at Quebec on the 2d of July, and reaching Chicago on the afternoon of the 16th of July, occupying ninety-four days in the voyage. She had a rough and stormy passage, but made good sailing time. She was a vessel of 55 tons burden, sixty feet long and forty-eight feet keel, and was said to be the smallest vessel that ever crossed the Atlantic. She certainly was the smallest vessel that ever crossed the Atlantic and arrived safely at the port of Chicago. She brought to a Chicago firm a cargo of herrings, stock fish, anchovies, and Norwegian cod liver oil.
On the 31st of July following, she cleared this port for Christiania, Norway, with a cargo of flour, pork, hides, hams, tobacco and kerosene lamps. Although the freight was of this varied character, the amount of each was small.
SHIP BUILDING has never been an extensive industry in Chicago, for the reason that owing to the high prices of labor and materials vessels could be more cheaply built elsewhere. There have been, however, a number of ship-yards more or less flourishing, and some very fine vessels have been built. The following are among the prominent firms engaged in the business from 1858 to 1871: Akhurst & Douglas, Doolittle & Miller, Miller & Hood, Miller Brothers, J. W. Banta, Miller, Frederickson & Burns, Orville Olcott, Fox & Howard and 0. B. Green.
The tug "George B. McClellan," named in honor of the future General, then the vice-president of the Illinois Central Railroad, was launched from the shipyard of Martin, Green & Co., June 20, 1860.
The "Union," the largest tug in the harbor except the "McQueen," was launched from the yard of Miller & Hood. She was built for Messrs. Redmond and John Prindiville, and blew up in 1862 in the lake near the entrance to the river, killing Thomas Daly, the captain, Thomas Boyd, the harbor master, and the fireman. Captain John Prindiville was on board of her but escaped unhurt. The tug "J. Prindiville," one of the largest and most powerful tugs afloat, was built at the yard of Miller & Hood for Captains John and Redmond Prindiville, Captain Joseph Nicholson, and Mr. John Ebbert, and launched May 8, 1862. She was commanded by Captain Nicholson, and was employed in towing vessels between Lakes Erie and Huron and also in wrecking during the summer and in the fall in rendering assistance to vessels in distress near this port. The propeller "Lady Franklin" was built at the yard of J. W. Banta for J. T. & E. M. Edwards, and was launched March 11, 1861.
A complete list of the vessels built at our shipyards prior to the great fire is now unattainable, but since 1873 the Board of Trade reports contain a list of the vessels annually built and documented at the port of Chicago. They show an average of about twelve vessels of various classes. It is more than probable that the average for the years prior to 1871 was larger than this.
DISASTERS.--The perils of "those who go down to the sea in ships" are amply complemented by the perils of those who sail upon the waters of the great lakes. The long list of lake disasters tells a frightful story of hardship and danger and loss of life. Of vessels owned in Chicago alone, from fifteen to twenty are lost annually, with many lives.
We here give a brief account of some of the greatest of these disasters:
The propeller "Troy," commanded by Captain Byron, and owned in Chicago by A. H. Covert and John B. Warren, carrying a cargo of wheat to Buffalo, was wrecked on Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron, opposite Goderich, October 19, 1859. In a storm, a heavy sea struck her and broke in her gangway, and she foundered in a short time. The crew and passengers, including the wife of the captain, got safely off in the boats but all foundered in the heavy sea. No one was saved but two deck hands, who were swept across to Goderich on pieces of the wreck, and these made the shore.
THE LOSS OF THE LADY ELGIN.--The most terrible disaster that ever occurred on the great lakes was the loss of the steamer "Lady Elgin," on the 8th of September, 1860.
The "Lady Elgin," one of the largest vessels of her class, was a Canadian built boat and was launched in 1851. She was three hundred feet in length, of one thousand tons burden, and had a reputation for speed that made her a great favorite with the traveling public and excursion parties. Before the completion of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, she carried the Canadian mails along the lakes, but after the completion of that road she was sold to Gurdon S. Hubbard & Co., of Chicago, and employed by them in the Lake Superior and Michigan trade. She carried the mails, freight and passengers to points on the lakes between Chicago and Bayfield, Wis. The captain of the steamer was John Wilson, of Chicago, who commanded her from the time she changed ownership. He had an extensive experience in lake navigation, and was a popular and favorite master.
On Thursday the 6th of September, 1860, on her voyage from Milwaukee to Chicago, she took on board a large party of excursionists at the former place, who intended to make a trip to Chicago and return. Among them were some of the most prominent Irish citizens of Milwaukee, several public officers, and a large number of the members of the military companies of that city. On Friday, near midnight, the steamer left the Chicago dock for her northern destination, taking with her the Milwaukee excursionists and a number of other passengers. Including the crew, three hundred and ninety-three persons were on board when she started as the vessel steamed swiftly northward, music and dancing ruled the hour, and all was mirth and gaiety in the salon cabins.
At two o'clock in the morning, the vessel was off Waukegan, about ten miles from shore, and the passengers were at the height of their merriment. Without, the night was threatening, rain was falling and the wind blew freshly from the north. Another vessel was also nearing the same point it was the schooner "Augusta," laden with lumber and bound for Chicago, she sailing south by east under all sail, except the gaff top-sail, and was making eleven knots an hour. The steamer had all her lights set, the schooner had none. The watch of the schooner saw the lights of the steamer for at least half an hour as the vessels were rapidly rushing towards each other. The officers of the steamer were totally unconscious of the schooner's presence, for it could not be seen from the deck. For twenty minutes the captain and crew of the schooner actually gazed at the vessel they were about to run down without making one effort to avoid it. The rule of navigation was, that vessels going north should pass vessels steering south to the larboard side but the captain of the "Augusta" seemed determined to pass the "Lady Elgin" on the starboard side, and with the full view of the steamer before him it was not until within three to five minutes of the collision that he ordered the helm "hard up." Whether the order was obeyed, or whether the vessel steered so badly that she would not answer her helm on such short notice, is uncertain, but her course remained unaltered, and coming straight on she struck the steamer on the larboard side, knocked a great hole in her, and then glided swiftly off into the darkness, five minutes after the collision being totally lost to sight. At this moment the wind grew into a gale and the waves commenced running high. The hole was below the water line, and, though everything was done by the captain that could be done, nothing could stop the rush of water into the hold. After the crash of the collision the music and dancing ceased of course, but though the lamps were extinguished by the concussion no cry nor shriek was heard. The women stood in the cabins, pale, motionless and silent. No sound was heard but the escaping steam, and the surging of the waves. As the vessel settled, the passengers mounted to the hurricane deck. There were several boats, but only a few succeeded in getting off in them without oars. There was an abundant supply of life-preservers, it is said, but no one seems to have thought of using them. Within a half hour after the collision, the engine fell through the bottom of the vessel, and the hull went down immediately after, leaving the hurricane deck, with its vast living freight, floating like a raft. A number of the passengers jumped from this, thinking it would sink. And now, drifting before the wind and tossed by the waves, the deck commenced to break up, and finally separated into five pieces, to each of which, half submerged, many of the passengers desperately clung, but many, as their strength gave out, sank amid the tossing waves. One portion of the deck, on which the captain was, held twenty-five persons. He was the only one who stirred from the recumbent position, which was necessary to keep a secure hold on the precarious support. He carried a child, which he found in the arms of an exhausted and submerged woman, to an elevated position of the raft, and left it in charge of another woman, but she could not long care for it and it was washed away. He constantly exhorted all to keep silent, and to refrain from moving, and thus save their strength. Clinging to their frail support in silent terror, day broke upon them and found them drifting southward, nearly off Winnetka. The lake seemed covered with floating pieces of the wreck, on many of which one or more persons were still desperately making a fight for life. Soon it became known on shore that a great vessel had been wrecked, and that hundreds of persons were still struggling in the water. Relief parties hurried to the scene from Evanston, from Winnetka and along the shore. At this point there is not much beach and the shore rises abruptly for more than one hundred feet. The surf ran high, but the bolder spirits of the relief parties, with ropes tied around them, dashed through the surf and rescued many who, nearly exhausted, came dritting [sic] near the shore. Among those who distinguished themselves in this way was Edward W. Spencer, now of Rock Island, Ill., but at that time a student in the Garrett Biblical Institute of Evanston. He saved some fifteen persons. The saving of John Eviston and wife of Milwaukee created great excitement. The gallant fellow was seen some distance out on the wheelhouse, on which he firmly held his wife. As he reached the shore the surf capsized his raft, and for several seconds both were submerged. When they rose again to view, the wife was at some distance from the wheel-house, to which Mr. Eviston was still holding. Seeing his wife he swam out to her, and again succeeded in regaining the wheel-house with her. Again the rolling waves carried them toward the shore, and at last the wheel-house grounded. Taking his wife in his arms, the gallant fellow now attempted to wade to the land, but after a step or two sank exhausted in the water. At this moment he was caught by the brave Spencer, and they were safely brought to shore.
From the raft on which Captain Wilson was, not more than seven or eight persons were saved. It, too, capsized in the surf as it neared the shore, but a few regained their hold. The captain, who throughout had behaved with the greatest heroism, succeeded in getting one of the ladies back on it, but a great sea washed them off again, and both were drowned when within a few rods of the shore. Of the twenty-five persons on this portion of the deck when it broke up, eight only were saved. They had been in the water for more than ten hours. It was considerably past noon of that fatal 8th of September when the last struggling survivor was pulled ashore. Of the three hundred and ninety-three persons who had sailed the previous night, two hundred and ninety-seven were lost.
The "Augusta" was a schooner of three hundred and fifty tons burden, was owned by George W. Bissell, of Detroit, and commanded by Captain D. M. Malott, of the same city. After the disaster, her name was changed to "Colonel Cook." The community cast the blame for the catastrophe upon the captain of the schooner, but in the investigation that followed he was exonerated.
Among the lost were Colonel Lumsden, of the New Orleans Picayune, and his family, who were traveling in the north for pleasure. Another distinguished person was Herbert Ingram, an English gentleman, a member of Parliament, and proprietor of the London Illustrated News. He was traveling through the United States, with his son, a lad of fifteen years. His original plan was to cross the prairies of Illinois, and descend the Mississippi to New Orleans. Reaching Chicago, he concluded to first visit Lake Superior, and took passage on the "Lady Elgin" on her fatal voyage. His body was washed ashore near Winnetka on the afternoon of the 8th, just as one of his friends, from whom he had parted the night before, Mr. Hayward, of Chicago, reached the spot. It was supposed that life was not extinct, but all efforts at resuscitation failed. His remains were carried back to England.
It was many weeks before the lake gave up all the victims of this great calamity, but it is believed that all were ultimately recovered.
But the great mourning was in Milwaukee, some of whose best and most prominent citizens were lost. Of all the gay excursionists who had taken passage on the "Lady Elgin" two days before, only about seventy-five returned alive.
Captain Malott, with all hands, was lost in the wreck of the bark "Major," in Lake Michigan, two or three years after the "Lady Elgin" disaster.
Captain Wilson left a wife and two children, a son and daughter. His son was drowned at Cleveland a few years afterward, at the age of fifteen.
November 6, 1861, the propeller "Hunter," Captain Dickson, having been chartered for Buffalo went up the South Branch to the Union Elevator of Sturgis & Co. At three o'clock the next morning the hands came on board intoxicated, and went to the steerage. A moment later the watchman saw smoke coming from the hold near the stack. When the captain, clerk and some of the hands rushed on deck, they found that two of the deck hands who had gone below were not to be found. The flames spread so rapidly that these two could not escape, and were burned to death. The vessel was entirely destroyed, the loss being $40,000.
THE WRECK OF THE SUNBEAM.--The passenger steamer "Sunbeam" was built in the winter of 1862 by Albert E. Goodrich, of Chicago. She was about four hundred tons burden, was elegantly furnished, and was a great favorite with the traveling public. She was used in the lakes Michigan and Superior trade, but in the summer of 1863 plied between Superior City and Portage Lake. On her fourth trip, she left Superior City on Monday night, the 23d of August, 1863, and reached Ontonagon a little before noon on Thursday, where she remained until half-past six in the afternoon. When she started from Ontonagon the wind was blowing freshly from the north, and about ten o'clock grew to a gale. The steamer rode the storm successfully until morning, when she became unmanageable. Her machinery would not work, nor could anything be done with the sail. The crew consisted of twenty-one persons, and the passengers numbered five or six. They now took to the boats, except the pilot, Charles Frazer, who when the vessel careened was still in the pilot house. He got out, and as the vessel went down was left floating on a portion of the hurricane deck. A few moments after, as Frazer was floating on the waves, he saw both boats capsize. Frazer was on his raft from eight o'clock Friday morning until two o'clock Saturday afternoon, without any nourishment except a demijohn of port wine he had caught floating near him. He finally reached the shore, and was the only survivor of the wreck.
Among the lost was W. J. Isham, one of the editorial staff of the Chicago Times. Mr. Isham was the brother of the first wife of W. F. Storey, proprietor of the Times. At the time he took passage on the "Sunbeam" he was returning from his summer vacation. His body was never recovered.
THE BURNING OF THE SEA BIRD.--The "Sea Bird," Captain John Morrison, of Chicago, was a sidewheel steamer belonging to Albert E. Goodrich, afterward president of the Goodrich Transportation Company. She was of about five hundred tons burden, and was built at Marine City, on the St. Clair River, in 1861, for E. B. Ward, of Detroit, and was bought by Captain Goodrich. She was employed in the Lake Michigan trade, stopping at various points along the western shore of Lake Michigan from Chicago to Two Rivers.
In the spring of 1868 she made her first trip of the season, from Chicago to Two Rivers, in the first days of April, and on her return, when off Lake Forest, twenty miles north of Chicago, was totally consumed by fire, on the morning of the 9th of April. Of seventy persons on board at the time, including the crew and passengers, only three escaped.
How the fire originated was never known, but it was supposed to have been through the carelessness of one of the porters, who was observed by one of the survivors to throw a scuttle of coal and ashes overboard, and a very short time afterward the fire broke out in the aft part of the vessel, near the place where the porter had stood. It was a little before seven o'clock in the morning when the fire was discovered, as the passengers were rising for breakfast. The steamer was immediately headed for shore, but the wind was blowing heavily from the northeast, and drove the flames forward, soon stopping the machinery. Rapidly the fire drove the passengers toward the bow, and then over it into the lake. No boats seem to have been lowered nor any effort made by the officers to save life. If there were life-preservers on board, and there presumably were, none were used. Panic seems to have seized officers, crew and passengers alike. Before noon the vessel was burned to the water's edge. The survivors were A. C. Chamberlin and Mr. Hennebury, of Sheboygan, Wis., and James H. Leonard, of Manitowoc.
LOSS OF THE IRON LIFE-BOAT LITTLE WESTERN.-- In June, 1868, Captain James Garrett, Professor LeGendre, and Edward Chester, all of Chicago, completed the building of an iron life boat, in which they declared their intention to make a voyage from Chicago to Liverpool. The vessel was twenty feet long, two feet six inches breadth of beam, and length of keel eighteen feet. The cabin was six feet long and four feet six inches high, furnished with two bunks, underneath which were two tanks for fresh water. The keel was of wrought iron and weighed three hundred and fifty pounds. The center board was of boiler-plate iron and weighed two hundred pounds. The forecastle was water tight, and used as a store room. The cost computed was $1,500.
On Sunday morning, June 21, in the presence of a great crowd that lined the shore of the lake, the "Little Western" made what appeared to be a very successful trial trip, sailing from the North Pier out into the lake about six miles and return. The wind was high and the waves rolled quite heavily, but she answered every movement of her helm, and seemed to give great satisfaction to her owners.
In the afternoon another trip was made toward the Douglas monument. There were on board Captain Garrett, Professor LeGendre, Edward Chester, George Atkins, foreman of the Times newspaper, Henry Chisholm, a reporter of the Times, and a little boy. They left the North Pier at two o'clock, sailing southward. When off the Chicago University, the wind stiffened considerably, and it was thought advisable to stand on the other tack, and make for shore. After sailing shoreward about ten minutes, a sudden squall struck the boat and turned her completely over. Just before the squall struck her, all the passengers were on deck, except Mr. Chisholm, who had retired to the cabin and was reclining on one of the bunks. All were thrown into the water except Mr. Chisholm, but secured themselves on the vessel, which they attempted to right, in which effort they succeeded for a moment, but an adverse wind again striking her, she fell over again. An effort was made to rescue Mr. Chisholm from the cabin but it proved unsuccessful The captain and Mr. Atkins clung to the mast, while the rest held on to the bottom of the vessel. Succor immediately put out from shore, and a tug also steamed to their help. When aid arrived, Captain Garrett was observed to become exhausted, and he died the moment he was hauled on board the tug. He and Mr. Chisholm were the only victims of the disaster.
THE WRECK OF THE ARROW. -- On Tuesday the 16th day of November, 1869, one of the greatest storms of wind, rain and snow came down upon Lake Michigan, and the great lakes generally, that has ever been known. Hundreds of vessels were driven ashore and many lives were lost.
On Wednesday morning the schooner "Arrow," a vessel of two hundred and eighty tons, owned by Michael Brandt, of Chicago, was discovered wrecked off Grosse Point. The vessel was sunk, but the top of her cabin was out of the water, and on this the crew, consisting of eight persons, were discovered. The waves ran high, and no boat could be launched in such a surf as rolled up on the beach. Word was sent to Chicago, and a tug with a life-boat and volunteer crew hastened to the scene of the wreck, where they arrived Wednesday afternoon. The sea still ran high, but the lifeboat was launched, and attempt made to reach the wreck. Scarcely had a half-dozen strokes been made before the boat was stove in, and the crew were thrown into the water. They reached the shore with great difficulty. No other boat could be procured, and nothing further could be done. Fires were built on the shore, to encourage the shipwrecked crew to believe that efforts would still be made, and the tug steamed back to Chicago for further aid.
Volunteers were now called for, and the following party was organized Thursday morning: Captain William Crawford, Captain Freer, Captain George C. Clark, Samuel Marshall, a mate, Mr. Evans, a pilot, and Thomas H. Iverson, a steward of the tug "G. W. Wood." A regular life-boat could not be obtained, but Captain Freer tendered the use of the yawl of the propeller "East Saginaw," and with this the adventurers steamed north, on the tug "G. W. Wood," and reached the place at eight o'clock in the evening. The storm had abated its force, through the waves were still running. The wrecked crew were observed to be still safe on the cabin of the schooner.
Launching the yawl in safety, with great difficulty they got to the leeward side of the wreck. A line was cast on board, and soon every one of the almost perishing seamen were on board the yawl. The word was given, and the oarsmen were about to give way, when a huge wave raised the bow of the boat, tipped it over backward, and threw savers and saved into the water. The crew of the schooner, benumbed with cold and weakened by starvation, were incapable of making the least effort to save themselves, and sank like stones. Four of the yawl's crew, by great efforts, succeeded in getting on the wreck, thus finding themselves in the same position of the crew they had come to save. Marshall succeeded in getting on the capsized yawl, and finally drifted ashore. Iverson, who had shown great gallantry throughout the whole adventure, and who was a fearless swimmer, started to swim to the shore, but the undertow was too strong for him, and he was carried out into the lake and lost.
Those who were on the wreck were obliged to remain there throughout the night, but the next morning, the waves having abated, an old yawl was manned from the shore and the heroic party was saved. Their sufferings through the night had been terrible, but no permanent injury was received by any of them.
LOSSES OF VESSELS IN THE GREAT FIRE.--A number Of vessels in the Chicago River, at the time of the fire, escaped by being towed up the North Branch, but the following were destroyed:
|Schooner "N. C. Ford,"||6,000|
|Bark "Glen Beulah,"||27,000|
|Barge "Green Bay,"||40,000|
JOHN PRINDIVILLE.--There is no name better known or more highly esteemed on all our inland seas and among the old settlers of Chicago than that of Captain John Prindiville, familiarly called the "Storm King" in insurance, marine and yachting circles. He was born in Ireland in 1825, and at the age of eight came to America with his parents who were in comfortable circumstances. His uncle was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. His father, Maurice Prindiville, was about to enter that university but, being of a roving disposition, left school and went to India, where he remained for several years. At the age of twenty-five he returned to Ireland, married, and determined to live quietly at home for the remainder of his life, but the old adventurous, roving spirit was not to be quenched, and he then concluded that America was the country wherein he should live He accordingly came hither with his family. After their arrival, they remained in Buffalo for some time and afterwards lived in Detroit for about two years. Mr. Prindiville, having been educated to no trade or business, speedily got rid of the greater portion of the money he had brought with him from Ireland, and to retrieve his fortunes determined upon coming to Chicago, the then promised land, where he and his family arrived on August 23, 1836. John Prindiville commenced attending the public school on Kinzie Street, between Dearborn and Wolcott streets, then taught by Edward Murphy it was afterward removed east on Kinzie Street, between Wolcott and Cass streets his teachers being Messrs. Dunbar, Calvin DeWolf and A. G. Wilder. He also attended school in the room under the old St. James Church, on Cass Street, between Michigan and Illinois streets,-- which was also taught by Mr. DeWolf,-- finally terminating his educational course at St. Mary's College of this city. He commenced sailing on the lakes when quite young, advancing step by step, until he was promoted to the position of captain. He commanded the schooner "Liberty" in 1845 and, in the fall of 1850, the brigantine "Minnesota," the first American vessel ever allowed to go through the river St. Lawrence. She was loaded with copper ore at the Bruce Mines on Lake Huron, to be transhipped to Swansea in Wales. The position of commander of this vessel was considered, at that time a very important one, involving a larger amount of responsibility than would ordinarily be entrusted to one so young. Captain Prindiville continued sailing until 1855, but later, at intervals, commanded several steamers, the last of which was the "Adriatic," in 1872. He became connected with the insurance business in 1866. For many years he has represented the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, of St. Paul, Minn., and the Continental, of New York. His continued and diversified experience has made him replete with valuable information, which he uses for the benefit of his clients. He has also a large vessel agency and is a prominent official of the Chicago Yacht Club. He was married in 1845 to Miss Margaret Kahlor who died in 1865 after a long and painful illness they had a family of six children three of whom are living. In 1868 he was married to Miss Margaret Prendergast, a native of Vermont they have six children, all living.
JOHN B WARREN, the son of Truman A. and Margaret (Bazine) Warren, was born at Mackinac, October 15, 1821. His father was a native of Vermont, his mother of French extraction. Young Warren spent his early days on the island, hunting, fishing, sailing, and obtained such schooling as the frontier afforded at that early day. His natural taste was for a sailor's life, which not meeting the entire approval of his parents, when he was seventeen the young man took his own destiny in his hands, by saying good-by to school one day without his parents' consent, and slyly going on board the schooner "Jacob Barker," then discharging at the pier. Unseen, the young fellow found a bunk forward under the windlass, and when the vessel got under way, at daylight the next morning, was roused out and assigned to duty as forecastle boy, during the passage to Grand Haven. There he shipped on board the sloop "Ranger" as chief cook. This was in June, 1838, and from that time until 1867, nearly thirty years, he continued in various capacities to sail the great lakes. Having a special aptitude for the business, he rapidly advanced, soon becoming mate and then captain. The first vessel he commanded was the schooner "Crook," in 1842. In 1854, he became part owner of the propeller "Troy," but never had very good fortune with that ill-fated vessel. He commanded her from 1854 until 1858, in the trade between Chicago and Buffalo. In 1859, he gave up the command, and turned her over to Captain Byron, under whom she was lost in Saginaw Bay, as related in this chapter. Captain Warren commanded various other vessels in the Chicago, Grand Haven and Buffalo trade, until 1867, when he was appointed United States Inspector of Hulls at the port of Chicago, which position he still holds. He resided at Grand Haven until 1858, when he removed to Chicago. Captain Warren has been twice married -- first at Grand Haven in 1848. His wife dying, he married a second time, in 1867. By the last marriage there have been two children, only one of whom, a son, is now living.
The following are sketches of a few of the typical mariners of the port of Chicago :
CAPTAIN JAMES L. HIGGIE was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, March 23, 1834, the son of John and Jane (Mitchell) Higgie. There were nine children in the family, and the parents died when the son of whom we write was only four years of age. Young Higgie came to the United States in 1847 and settled in Kenosha, Wis., and was educated at Racine and Kenosha in the common schools. He worked in the country about two miles from Kenosha in the summer, and attended school in the winter. In the spring of 1848 he shipped aboard the schooner "Mary Ann Leonard" as cook, returning to Kenosha in the winter. He spent two years of his life as cook, part of the time on the "L. C. Erwin." In 1850 he went before the mast on the "Erwin," and during the next year he was captain and sailed her two years then he went as captain of the schooner "Whirlwind," sailing her for two years. In 1855 he sailed the schooner "William Jones," and remained on her until 1856. In 1857 he bought the schooner "Pilgrim," paying $1,000 cash and earning the balance out of the vessel. He was her captain seven years. In 1863 he came to Chicago, and during 1864 remained on shore, and engaged in the commission business, forming a partnership with Mr. Halsted, the firm being Higgie & Halsted. During his partnership, in 1865, he purchased the barque "William Sturges." In 1866 the partnership was dissolved and he retired from the firm in order to give his undivided attention to his personal affairs, intending, as he did, to increase the number of his vessels. In 1867 he purchased the schooner "William Shook," making three vessels sailing in his interest. In 1868 he purchased the schooner "City of Chicago," and in 1869 he lost the "William Shook" on Lake Huron and sold the schooner "Pilgrim." In 1870 he purchased the schooner "John Miner." The year of 1871 was an eventful one to those having marine interests, for it was this year that the tug owners raised the tariff so high as to almost prohibit business, in consequence of which the vessel owners combined, raising a capital stock company called the Vessel Owners' Towing Company, electing Captain Higgie president, after which he went to Buffalo and contracted for five new tugs and then returned to Chicago. When the tugs were ready to deliver to the company he again went to Buffalo and equipped them, and they arrived in Chicago about one month prior to the great fire of 1871, since which time the company have added six tugs, making eleven in their service. Captain Higgie has continued as president of the Vessel Owners' Towing Company since its organization, and has continued also to operate vessels of his own, and has handled a large quantity of real estate in the meantime. The first boat under his command was the "Lewis C. Erwin," and the last that he sailed was the "Pilgrim," in 1863. Captain Higgie was married in Racine, Wis , in 1867, to Miss Mary J. Kirkham, and they have seven children living--James L., Mary L., Noble K., Arthur M., Archie, Imogene and George K. James L. Higgie is one of the prominent men who is closely identified with marine matters in Chicago, and his name is familiarly known over the whole extent of the lakes, and is a synonym for honorable dealing and commercial equity. During his thirty years' of active life, Captain Higgie has made a multitude of close and earnest friends, whose number is increased each day of his life. He has been a Mason since 1862, and is a member of Cleveland Lodge, No 211, A. F. & A. M. of Washington Chapter, No. 43, R. A. M. and of Chicago Commandery, No 19, K. T.
CAPTAIN CHARLES J. MAGILL, now the oldest vessel agent in Chicago, is a native of Placentia, Newfoundland, where he was born October 29, 1818. At the age of thirteen years he went to sea, and followed a seafaring life thereafter for eleven years, being commander of a vessel during one year of his service. In 1842, he left sailing on the ocean, and, in July of that year, went to Buffalo, N. Y., and commenced sailing upon the great lakes. He first made the port of Chicago in August, 1842, and took up his place of residence here in 1853. He was in command of lake vessels several years, but on settling in Chicago, gave up the hazardous business which he had followed for twenty-two years. In April, 1853, he became a member of the Board of Trade, and engaged in the lake transportation business. He was, in 1853-54, agent of the New York and Lake Erie line, and, in 1855, became the general western agent of the Collingwood line of steamers. Ever since his arrival in Chicago he has followed the vessel and transportation business, acting as agent for the chartering of vessels and steamships seeking freight in this port. His high standing and popularity as a business man are evinced by his being chosen to serve on the Board of Trade Committee of Appeals, the duties of which require integrity and business acumen of the highest order. He was married in September, 1846, at Guil-ford, New Haven Co , Conn., to Miss Esther Chalker. Mr. and Mrs. Magill have eight children, five sons and three daughters.
CAPTAIN BENJAMIN F. DAVISON, deceased, was born in Norwich, Chenango Co., N. Y., May 3, 1810. In 1831 he went as deck hand on a steamer. In 1832 he was employed on the schooner "Detroit." He was married in 1839 at Buffalo, N. Y., to Miss Armenia Phelps Sawyer, who died in 1851. In 1839, he sailed the "John C. Spencer" from Chicago to Buffalo, and in the fall he sailed and owned the schooner "Edwin Jenny," which was wrecked in the fall of 1845, when he was badly frozen. From 1846 to 1854 he was with Fox & Bruce, engaged in fitting out vessels and in wrecking. In 1852 he superintended the building of the steamer "Golden Gate," of Buffalo, and in 1853 sailed the steamer "Charter." In 1852 he married, at Buffalo, Miss Sarah Thorne, and in 1854 was sent to Chicago by the underwriters to perform the duties of marine inspector, during which time he entered into partnership in the ship-chandlery business, associating with him Levi J. Colburn, which partnership continued until 1866, when Mr. Colburn retired, and Captain Davison associated with him his two sons, Benjamin F. jr. and Edwin C. Davison which firm remained until 1871, and was then dissolved by the great fire. In 1872 he formed a partnership with John F. McCormick, and they remained together until October, 1876, when the store was destroyed by fire. In the spring of 1877, Captain Davison was taken sick, and died May 1, of the same year, leaving a wife and three sons Edwin C. and Benjamin F. jr., by the first wife, and John L. T. by the second. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity for many years, having joined in Buffalo, and affiliated with Cleveland Lodge, No. 211, A. F. & A. M., of this city.
BENJAMIN F. DAVISON, JR., son of Captain Benjamin F. Davison, was born in Buffalo, N. Y., in 1842. He came to Chicago in 1854 and was employed with his father, assisting him in inspecting vessels, until 1857. He then engaged with Sanford Hall & Co , agents of the People's Line of propellers, remaining with them until 1860. He was for two years as office-clerk, and was check clerk during the balance of the time. In 1862 he enlisted in the army, going in the Marine Artillery Battery, and was afterward transferred to Co. "G," 3d New York Artillery. He returned to Chicago in 1863, and, in 1864, entered the service of Colburn & Davison, ship chandlers, being their bookkeeper for three years. In 1867 he was employed by Jesse Cox, collecting tug boat bills. In the same year he went into partnership with his father under the style of B. F. Davison & Sons, remaining until the fire of 1871. From 1872 to 1878 he was employed as a tug boat collector he then went into vessel brokerage and insurance business, and formed a partnership with Mr. Holmes, the firm being Davison & Holmes. He was married December, 1866, in Chicago, to Miss Martha Simpson, and has two children, Benjamin F. and William Simpson Davison. He is a member of Covenant Lodge No. 526, A. F. & A. M. of Corinthian Chapter, No. 69, R. A. M. and of Chicago Commandery, No. 19, K. T. He is also a member of Post 28, G. A. R., and of Chicago Lodge, No. 91, A. O. U. W.
CAPTAIN JOSEPH WILSON was born in Cork, Ireland, in the year 1834, and lived with his parents and attended school until he was about eleven years of age when, like so many boys, he longed for a seaman's life and ran away and went into the English Navy, where he served two years as naval apprentice on the school ship "Crocodile" then going on the brig "Dolphin" in search of slavers, remaining on her for eighteen months, when he was transferred to the frigate "Indefatigable," the first fifty-gun ship the English Navy ever built, and remained there during the balance of his time. He then returned to England and, after being paid off, joined the steamship "Hague," cruising in the English channel after being about two weeks on board, he ran away and joined an English barque "Orromocto," a merchant ship from St. John's, N. B., going from there to Wales and arriving in New Orleans in 1850. He left her at that city and joined the American ship ''Old England," of Bath, sailing from New Orleans to Havre, France, in which vessel he made two voyages he then shipped aboard the American ship, "Trenton of Bath," in the fall of 1851, being second mate the first two years, and the last year being promoted to mate. In 1854 he left the ocean and came directly to Chicago, landing in May, and in a few days after his arrival, he shipped before the mast on schooner "A. G. Gray," but remained only a short time then shipped on the barque "Ocean Wave," for Grand Traverse Bay, leaving her there with several of the crew, on account of having to do Sunday work. He then worked his way to Grand River on a propeller, and came back to Chicago on the schooner "Mary" of which boat he was soon made mate, and, after serving as mate two months, was made captain and sailed her for two years. In 1857 he went to New Orleans and shipped again on the "Trenton," on the ocean, and was eighteen months aboard her, coming back to Chicago in 1859. For a short time he sailed the scow "Storm" on the lakes, and in the fall shipped as second mate of barque "Major Anderson." In 1861 he was second mate of barque "American Union," going as mate in brig "Pilgrim," in 1862, and, in 1863, as mate on the barque "Nucleus" for a season. In 1864 he sailed the brig "Montezuma," continuing on her one year, when for nearly three years after he was captain of the "John F. Warner." For the next five years he was captain of the "Two Fannies" and two years on the "City of Milwaukee," that foundered on Lake Huron in two hundred and forty feet of water, going down a total wreck all hands were saved, however, by the schooner "Mary L. Higgie" about three hours after. He then returned to Chicago and sailed the "Two Fannies" another year, going as mate the next season, and as master for two years after on the "Lizzie Law," when he changed to the "Ellen Spry," which he sailed up to the spring of 1884, remaining on shore during the remainder of that year in the employ of Miller Brothers. Captain Wilson was married in Chicago in 1862, to Miss Tillie Polson.
|First Shipment of Grain from Chicago's first dock|
CAPTAIN IRA H. OWEN, one of the early citizens of Ohio, was born in Conneaut, in that State, in 1823, at which place he remained until 1837, when he shipped on the schooner "Savannah," commencing in the capacity of cook the first year the following three years he went before the mast, and at the end of that time he was promoted mate of the "Alps," where he remained for about two years and continued as mate of different vessels until 1845. He was part owner of the "Wm. L. Marcy," which was lost in November, 1844, when all hands on board went down, Captain Joseph Perry having command of the vessel during the absence of Captain Owen, which was caused by sickness. When able for duty again, he sailed the schooner "General Harrison," plying between Chicago and St. Joseph, Mich., carrying stone to build the pier at the latter place. He spent about a year in travel, and went into business at Sault Ste. Marie, and in 1847 was mate of the steamer "Sam Ward," E. B. Ward, commander. From 1848 to 1852 he was mate, and afterward captain of the propeller "Pocahontas," and was mate and master of the propeller "Mayflower" for two seasons, and then master of the "M. D. Spaulding," the "Buffalo," the "Evergreen City," and the "Fountain City," leaving the lakes in 1860 on account of sickness. In 1867 he built the steam barge "St. Clair," in which he carried lumber east from different points, receiving therefor the liberal remuneration of $8 per thousand. From 1870 to 1875 he was in the ore trade, and. during that time, built the tow-barges "Agnes L. Potter" and "Jessie Lynn," the steam-barges "S. C. Baldwin" and "Ira H. Owen," these boats belonging to the Escanaba and Lake Michigan Transportation Company. The boats were sold to the Inter-Ocean Transportation Company, leaving the charters intact the Escanaba Company bought the propellers "Inter-Ocean" and her consort, the "Argonaut," Captain Owen being then elected treasurer, in which office he has remained from 1877. The company has since transformed the "Argonaut" into a steamer, and has built the steamer "Escanaba," of about 1,000 tons, and the "Rhoda Emily," of about 500 tons, having in all four steamers. Captain Owen is at present interested in and president of the Delta Transportation Company and the Escanaba Towing and Wrecking Company, the first company owning the steamers "Minnie M." and "Lady Washington," and the latter company the tugs "Owen" and "Delta." The Escanaba Company being chartered under the laws of Michigan, was made plaintiff in the celebrated case contesting the rights of the city to close the bridges, and, after a desperate contest, was defeated. Captain Owen first landed in Chicago in 1839, and came here permanently in the spring of 1871, just previous to the great fire. He married Miss Electa Bunker, of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1847, and has two sons living, named William R. and Ira D. Although advanced in years, he bears his age gracefully, and carefully attends to the details of his business, being promptly identified with the shipping interests of this port, and having perhaps as extensive an acquaintance among marine men as any one living here at this time.
CAPTAIN WILLIAM WALSH was born near New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland, in 1829. He graduated at the public schools at the age of thirteen, and then took a commercial course of six months. He afterwards studied navigation, and, in 1843, shipped as cabin-boy from New Ross on the schooner "Victoria of Wexford," going to ports in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and the Baltic and Black seas. In March, 1844, he bound himself as apprentice to Mr. Howlett of New Ross, who had several vessels trading in different parts of the world. He first joined an expedition for the release of the barque " Clarinda," on shore at the Isle of Skye, Scotland, loaded with deals from Nova Scotia. She was taken off the beach and towed to Dublin, Ireland, where she underwent repairs, was fitted out, and sailed for St. John's, N.B., about November 1, 1844 and after several attempts abandoned her voyage and put in at Newport, Wales, where she was loaded with coals for Wexford, Ireland, and was finally driven by contrary winds to Liverpool, where she was sold. He was then transferred to the barque "John Bell," owned by the same proprietors, and sailed to Baltimore, Md., from whence he returned on the ''John Bell" to Waterford, where he arrived safely, and again sailed for Quebec, Canada, and on return trip brought a load of square timber for Cardiff, Wales. He shipped next on the barque "William Stewart Hamilton," in January, 1846, loaded at Liverpool with a cargo of general merchandise for Calcutta, and returned to London in 1847. He next joined the ship "Margaret Pemberton," same line, sailing from London, England for New Ross, to take a load of passengers to Quebec, Canada. Owing to the prevalence of ship fever at Quebec, nearly half the list of passengers died, either from ship-cholera or ship-fever. Captain Walsh was taken down with the disease on his arrival, and sent to the Marine Hospital, where he recovered, and finding that his ship had sailed, he shipped aboard a new vessel named the "Plantagenet" for Liverpool, and found the "Margaret Pemberton" fitting out for New Orleans. He joined the "Pemberton" and sailed in her about October, 1847. She was dis-masted during the trip, about four hundred miles southwest of Cape Clear, and put into Milford Haven, Wales, and repaired. He accompanied the vessel to Cardiff. She abandoned the trip first contemplated and loaded with coal and merchandise at that place for Valparaiso, S.A. They encountered a gale of wind in the Bay of Biscay, which caused the "Pemberton" to spring a leak, and they put in to the Island of Teneriffe, where, on account of lack of place to repair, they lay nearly five months, and the vessel and cargo were condemned and sold. He sailed on a Spanish brig to New Ross, via London, and again joined the barque "William S. Hamilton," going to Quebec, loaded with passengers and returning with timber, and February 1, 1848, his apprenticeship ended. He then shipped on the brig "George Ramsey" in the coasting trade, took a load of passengers to Quebec, Canada, and on May I, the vessel was sold. He worked towing timber until September, and joined an English ship, for Cork, Ireland. He then went to Liverpool and shipped on the "Scotland" of Belfast, and sailed for Mobile, Ala. In 1850 he loaded with cotton for Liverpool, and arrived in July of the same year. He next shipped on the barque "Unknown" for Nova Scotia, where she loaded with deals for Liverpool. He joined a brig at Liverpool, in the coasting trade between that point, Cardiff and Waterford. He shipped on the barque "John Bell," in 1851, with passengers for Quebec, Canada, where he left her, and engaged again in towing timber. In November of the same year he shipped on the "Julia," bound for Liverpool, and on arriving there shipped aboard the "James Wright" bringing passengers to New York City. He joined a barque there, bound for Savannah, Ga., and afterward made another voyage from New York City to Charleston, S. C. and back, where he joined the steamship "Lady Franklin" as quartermaster, bound for Havre, France. He remained with her until fall, and shipped for Mobile, Ala., on the "Moses Taylor." He then went steamboating on the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, where he remained until the spring of 1853, when he shipped for Philadelphia, going to New York City by rail at which time he married. He afterward joined a packet at Portland, trading between Philadelphia and eastern ports, and in the fall joined a steamboat as wheelsman, going to New Orleans. Leaving her there he went to Mobile, Ala., and was employed in a cotton yard that winter, going to Boston on a Providence boat, and by rail to New York City, where he was engaged in rigging work until 1855, when he embarked in the grocery business. He sold out his business at a loss and went to Buffalo, N.Y., and at that port shipped on the barque "John Sweeney," then considered a large vessel, loaded with coal for Chicago, landing here in May, 1855. He then joined the schooner "Ashtabula," and finally, in September, came to Chicago permanently. He next sailed in the schooner "Palmetto" as mate, and in the winter went again to Mobile, Ala., coming back in the spring. He afterward was mate on the schooner "E. G. Gray," then made a trip in the barque "Cherubusco," another in the "Pilgrim," and spent the next winter in Mobile, Ala. remaining South, going to Cuba, and returning to Chicago in 1858. He was mate of the schooner "Abigail," and became master of the "H. N. Gates" and sailed her the season of 1859 on the lakes. He bought one-third interest in the schooner "Barney Eaton" in 1860, and sailed her until 1862, when he sold his interest and bought the scow "Union" and sailed her during 1862 sold her, and bought the schooner "Falcon" in the spring of 1863, and afterward the schooner "Peoria" and in the years of 1865-66 remained ashore looking after his vessel interest. He sailed the schooner "Peoria" during the season from 1867 to 1871, and sold her in 1872, and he afterward bought the schooner "Albrecht" and sailed her until 1879, when he sold her to Hackley & McGordon, taking the tug "J. H. Hack-ley." He later took an interest in two vessels with the Ford River Lumber Company, and superintended them, carrying lumber from their mills at Ford River to Chicago. He superintended the building of the schooners "Ford River" and "Resumption," at Wolf & Davidson's ship-yard at Milwaukee, Wis., in 1879-80. He sailed the "Ford River" the season of 1880, and gave up sailing in the spring of 1881. He bought a half-interest in a new tug, building at Wolf & Davidson's yard, fitted her out and brought her to Chicago. She was named after W. H. Wolf her builder, and is running on the Chicago River under his control. He still holds an interest in the schooners "Resumption" and "Ford River" and the tug "Hackley." Captain Walsh was married in New York City April 23, 1853, to Miss Mary Barron, a native of County Wexford, Ireland they have a family of four sons and four daughters now living.
WILLIAM HARMAN, THE FIRST SHIPSMITH to establish himself in Chicago, was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, in September, 1804. After learning his trade he went to Paris, France, where for six years he was employed in the Charronton Iron Works. While a resident of the capital, in 1824, he married Phoebe Spencer, an old acquaintance and also a native of Hull. In 1830 Mr. Harman emigrated to America and, settling in New York City, worked at the West Point Foundry for a number of years, but, on account of his wife's health, decided to come West. Arriving at Chicago, in June, 1835, he started his shop in which were manufactured heavy forgings for vessels. He continued in this business until the spring of 1853, when he removed to Oregon and for twenty-three years resided at the Dalles, Portland, being a great portion of this period foreman of the shops of the Oregon Steamship Navigation Company. He has paid Chicago several visits and at this time (June, 1883) is with his son (William Harman, of the Union Tug Line), but is making preparations to return to Oregon and active work. Mr. Harman is still hale and hearty. In 1840 he was a convert to the Washingtonian temperance movement, and for the past forty-five years has been an ardent advocate of the principles to which he then subscribed.
WILLIAM HARMAN, JR., was born in New York City, in March, 1834, coming to Chicago, as an infant, in June of the next year. He served his time, as an apprentice, with Philetus W. Gates, who then, in partnership with Hiram H. Scoville, and afterward with A. H. Hoge, ran a foundry and machine shop on the corner of Washington and West Water streets. From 1850 to 1858 he remained in Mr. Gates's employ, and subsequently became chief engineer on the Prindiville & Sturges line of tugs. When Captain Prindiville sold out in 1863, Mr. Harman bought the "Sturges" and "Rumsey," but a few days thereafter they were seized by the United States Government for service on the Mississippi River. The "Sturges" exploded in running the Vicksburg blockade, and the "Rumsey" is said to be still in service at Memphis, Term. Mr. Harman has been engaged in the business ever since, owning at the present time four of the nine tugs which compose the Union Line. He was married August 1, 1860, to Miss Nora Everett, of Chicago. They have had twelve children, six of whom are living, four boys and two girls. Mr. Harman's eldest son is associated with him in the tug business.
In connection with the marine interests of this city, it is proper to make mention of the transportation companies which have done so much toward amplifying Chicago's commercial and maritime relations. The most prominent, as well as among the oldest of these, is probably that of Captain A. E. Goodrich. Another firm, however, which is well and thoroughly known, is that of Leopold & Austrian, commission and transportation agents, which was established originally in 1847, at Eagle River, Mich., under the style of Leopold Bros. & Co., general merchants, the firm being composed at that time of Samuel F., Aaron F. and Henry F. Leopold, and Joseph Austrian. They built up an extensive trade in that region, and were largely engaged in handling copper ore and other products from the mines. About 1864, Samuel F. Leopold and Joseph Austrian came to Chicago, and established the house here under the style of Leopold & Austrian, the present title, with a branch house at Milwaukee conducted by Aaron F. Leopold Henry Leopold retired from the concern in 1875, and Aaron Leopold in January, 1885, the business being now carried on by Samuel F. Leopold and Joseph Austrian. They do a very large commission business in grain, produce and copper, and are also agents of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company. Both partners have been members of the Board of Trade for the past fifteen years.
SAMUEL F. LEOPOLD, of the firm of Leopold & Austrian, was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden, Germany, in 1825, and was educated at his home, attending the high school, and finishing his studies by acquiring a knowledge of the French language. At the close of his school days he went into the employment of a leading dry goods house, where he remained from the age of fifteen to twenty-one. In 1846 he concluded to come to America, and during that year arrived at Mackinaw, Mich., where his brother Louis was then in the business of general merchandising. He at once went into his brother's employ, and was with him for several years. He next went to Green Bay, Wis., opened a general store, in company with his brother Henry, and remained there until 1851, after which he concluded to try the Lake Superior region, and went into the mining supply trade, there being at that time but two prominent mines on the lake--the "Cliff" mine at Eagle River, and the "Minnesota" at Rockland, a small place near Ontonagon. His intuition and business sagacity led him to believe that this was to become a great mining region, and to supply those mines would be a trade well worth looking after. He accordingly commenced that business in a small way, with his brothers Henry and Aaron, and was joined the second year by Joseph Austrian, under the firm name of Leopold Bros. & Co., after which, with increased capital and facilities, they extended their business, opening a new store at Eagle Harbor, which was managed by his brother, and one at Hancock, which was the first store building in that place. By perseverance and industry he was enabled to see the business increase, and he, in 1867, came to Chicago and joined his brother here. One item will show the business methods of the Leopold Brothers. The copper ore was sent to Boston and New York, there smelted, and after being manufactured into wares a large portion of it was returned to Chicago. He made up his mind that Chicago was the place to ship to direct, and that it was entirely unnecessary to send the copper east. He at once commenced the trade here, and it is largely due to his determination and that of his partner, Joseph Austrian, that the West was so readily supplied, and through them were saved large sums, especially in transportation, for it was soon discovered that the price of copper was the same here as in New York. Mr. Leopold was early identified with the People's Line of Transportation, carrying passengers and freight to and from the Lake Superior region. The interests of this line were constantly increased, and it was finally merged into the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company in 1879, when this organization was perfected, and regularly chartered by the State of Illinois. At the first election of officers Mr. Leopold was made president, and at each succeeding election has been re-elected, which position he holds at present. After remaining in America ten years he returned to Germany, and at Stuttgart, in 1856, married Miss Babetta Goodman. He has six children living--Helen, Nathan, Alfred, Rachael, Hulda and Celia.
JOSEPH AUSTRIAN, a member of the well known firm of Leopold & Austrian, and general manager of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, is the son of Abram I. and Malia Austrian, of Witkelshofen, Bavaria, Germany, and was born September 15, 1833. He received a liberal education in the public schools of his native city, and, after completing special studies under private instruction, he assisted his father in agricultural pursuits until he was seventeen years of age. After a year's stay with relatives at Feuchtwangen, he concluded to try his fortunes in the New World. Accompanied by his sister, Ida, he embarked on the sailing vessel "Robert Kelly," and after a perilous voyage of nearly a month's duration, he arrived at New York. Leaving his sister in care of an uncle, he immediately departed for Mackinaw, Mich., where he had relatives. Upon reaching Detroit he found, to his consternation, that navigation to his destination had closed for the season, and that he would be compelled to remain there all winter. His position was trying in the extreme, as he was a stranger in a strange land, unfamiliar with the customs and language of the people, and almost penniless. He was, however, equal to the emergency, and managed to earn an honest living, and wisely employed his evenings in making himself master of the English language. On the 28th of March, 1851, he took passage for Mackinaw on board the propeller "Republic," and reached that city on the 1st of April. After remaining with his sister and brother-in-law one month, he went to LaPointe, then a small village on Madeleine Island, one of the Apostle group, and entered the employ of his brother Julius, who was engaged in general merchandising and in the fish business, making himself generally useful in the store and assisting him on the fishing-ground. At that time the inhabitants of LaPointe and Madeleine Island were Indians and half-breeds, and about half a dozen white people. During his stay at LaPointe, he experienced many adventures and narrow escapes On one occasion, while attending to his duties on the fishing-ground, his boat was capsized by a sudden squall, and only through the greatest exertion was he enabled to save his life. At another time he set out to visit a distant habitation, and was obliged to pass through a dense forest. Night coming on, he lost his way and wandered into a swamp, where he was compelled to remain until the following day before he could make his way out. There were at that time but few vessels on Lake Superior, as the Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal had not been constructed. The only two steam vessels on that lake were the small propellers "Napoleon" and "Independence," which had been drawn over the portage. These vessels, with a few schooners, constituted the entire fleet. In the spring of 1851 the propeller "Monticello," was transported over the portage and was added to the tonnage already there. It took the propeller "Napoleon" a week to make her trip from LaPointe to Sault Ste. Marie. In the winter of 1851-52 he was engaged in the logging camps, and when the snow left in the spring he was employed in a saw-mill, the power of which was obtained from a small stream, now called Pike's Creek. In the fall of 1851, also of the following year, he coasted between LaPointe and Ontonagon, a distance of ninety miles, for the purpose of obtaining provisions and merchandise. These trips were often dangerous on account of perverse winds and violent storms. His cargo from LaPointe consisted of fish, furs, etc., which he traded for groceries and other necessaries. During these voyages it was customary to camp out at night on the lake shore, and on one occasion the snow fell during the night to such a depth that he had great difficulty in extricating himself. Late in the year of 1852 he went to Eagle River and entered the employ of Henry F. Leopold, who was engaged there in general merchandising, with whom he remained until the fall of 1853, as salesman and bookkeeper, when Mr. Leopold disposed of his business. He then went to Cleveland, Ohio, where he met his mother and the rest of the family, who had left their Bavarian home upon the death of his father. In the following spring he returned to Eagle River, and as partner of the firm of H. F. Leopold & Co., reopened the store at that point and began business on a larger scale. He remained at Eagle River during the next ten years, and, through his energy and ability, increased their business from an insignificant amount to the most gratifying proportions. In 1863 he went to Hancock, Mich., where his firm were among the first to erect a large store and warehouses, the erection of which he directed and superintended. His firm also operated a branch store at Eagle Harbor during that year. He disposed of his business interests in 1864, and, coining to Chicago, entered upon the enterprise of establishing a transportation line between this city and Lake Superior. Associating himself with Messrs. L. F., H. F., S. F. and A. F. Leopold, under the firm name of Leopold & Austrian, they organized the "People's Line." Their first vessel was the propeller "Ontonagon," which was soon found inadequate to meet the demands of their rapidly increasing business, and during the next year they put in another boat, the propeller '' Norman." These vessels made weekly trips to Sault Ste. Marie, and were the means of diverting to Chicago the bulk of northwestern shipments, which had previously been sent to Detroit and Cleveland. Although the "People's Line" was busily engaged, their boats were not of the class calculated to attract the attention of great shippers, and, to supply the deficiency, Mr. Austrian contracted in Cleveland for the building of a first-class freight and passenger vessel, which would in all respects meet the demands of their business. He returned to Chicago a clay prior to the great fire. After the holocaust, he correctly divined that the future held brilliant business prospects, and gave orders for the immediate completion of their new vessel. In July, 1872, the "Peerless" came from the ways, and was pronounced the finest craft of the lake marine. The ''Ontonagon" was sold and replaced by the "Joseph L. Hurd," which was thoroughly refitted, and supplied with a handsome and commodious passenger cabin. Upon the consolidation of the Lake Michigan and People's lines, under the name of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, he was elected general manager of the company, which position he now fills. Through the combination of these two companies, other vessels were added to the line, which afford unequaled facilities to both the shipping and traveling public for all points between Chicago and Lake Superior. Mr. Austrian was married in February, 1869, to Miss Mary Mann, daughter of S. Mann, Esq., of Cleveland, Ohio, a graduate of the high school of that city, and a lady of unusual musical accomplishments. They have now four children : Belle, Florence, Stella and Alice, having lost their only son, Alfred, in 1880.
THE LAKE MICHIGAN AND LAKE SUPERIOR TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, whose office is located at the corner of Washington and Market streets, was first organized in 1879, and regularly chartered by the State of Illinois. At its organization, S. F. Leopold was elected president A. T. Spencer, vice-president C. F. A. Spencer, secretary and treasurer Joseph Austrian, general manager. The election of officers is held every three years, and each time since the organization have the original officers been chosen. The company was established for the purpose of forming a line of passenger and freight boats, plying between Chicago and Lake Superior, and several steamers, used privately by some of the members of the company, were placed in the line, among which were the steamers "Peerless," "City of Duluth," "City of Fremont," and "J. L. Hurd." They afterward added the steam barge "J. R. Whiting" and its consort "Guiding Star," and in 1884 the "Jay Gould."
CAPTAIN ALBERT T. SPENCER was born in Westfield, Chautauqua Co., N. Y., in 1822, where he remained until about eight years of age, when he removed with his parents to Erie County, Penn. After residing there about three years, he moved to Erie, Penn., in 1836, where he remained until 1846, attending in the mean time the academy in the winter, and in the summer spending his time on the steamboats. He commenced his first trip in 1836, on a steamer called the "Thomas Jefferson," plying between Chicago and Buffalo. In 1838 the steamer "Buffalo" was finished, and he served on her in 1839, he went on the new steamer "Wisconsin," and remained with her until 1840, when he transferred his services to the "Missouri." The last new boat added to the line, which belonged to Charles M. Reed, of Erie, in whose service he had been from the first, was the "Keystone State." He went on this vessel and remained until 1851, when he gave up steamboating. For years he had been engaged as steward and purchasing agent, which latter office included the filling orders for Western merchants in Eastern markets In 1836, when he first came to Chicago, there was but one landing in the city, located at the north end of the present Rush-street bridge, and in front of a hotel then building, called the Lake House, and also opposite old Fort Dearborn. This dock was used until 1839, when the property east of State Street, called the Reservation, was sold. Charles M. Reed, of Erie, Penn , bought at that sale all of the property on the south side, from the foot of State Street to Wabash Avenue, a portion of which he still owns, and on which he built docks for
his boats, which regularly landed there until sidewheel steamers were superseded by propellers. In 1855, it was determined to run a line of sidewheel boats between Chicago and Collingwood, to be called the Collingwood Line, which included the "Queen City," "Niagara," "Louisiana," and "Keystone State," connecting with what was then known as the Ontario, Simcoe & Huron Railroad, now called the Northern Railroad of Canada, under the management of the Grand Trunk Railroad. Captain Spencer acted as agent of this company for nearly twenty-five years. During 1855, the Sault St. Marie Canal was completed, and he commenced running to ports on Lake Superior, having formerly run to the Sault and connected with the steamers above. This was the first line between Chicago and Lake Superior. He came to Chicago to reside permanently in the spring of 1847, and has been ever since either steamboating or as part owner of steamboats. In 1879, he was elected vice-president of the newly consolidated line of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, and has held this office up to the present time, being three times re-elected. Captain Spencer has lived to see Chicago grow from almost a wilderness to a city of the first rank, and has reared a family in whom he has a pardonable pride. He was married in Chicago, in 1845, to Miss Lucia E. Howe, daughter of F. A. Howe, Esq , and has three children living, Charles F. A., Mrs. W. H. Dodge, of Waukegan, Ill., and Louis V.
CHARLES F. A. SPENCER, a son of Captain A. T. Spencer, was born in Chicago, at the corner of Dearborn and Washington streets, on September 13, 1846. He commenced his studies in Chicago and completed them in Waukegan, Ill., where his father afterward lived. In 1860 he entered at Chicago the office of his father, who had charge of the business of the Collingwood Line of steamers, and remained with him until 1866. when he went to Milwaukee. He there took charge of the office of the steamers of the Grand Trunk Railroad, plying between Chicago, Milwaukee and Sarnia, Canada, and the Chicago, Milwaukee and Lake Superior Line of steamers, plying between Chicago and points on the upper lakes, this line being a competitor of the People's Line, which was afterwards consolidated with it. In the winter of 1866-67 he managed the business of the Blue Line, a fast railroad express for freights, and in 1867 came to Chicago and took charge of the Chicago, Milwaukee & Lake Superior Line of steamers, also doing a commission business with merchants and mines on the lakes. When the two lines of Lake Superior steamers consolidated under the name of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transportation Company, he was chosen secretary and treasurer at the first election of officers in 1879, and has been re-appointed to the same positions at each successive election. Mr. Spencer was married in Chicago, in 1872, to Mrs. A. L Wonnacott, who died in 1883, leaving two children-- May H. and Albert L,
OCEAN MARINE.--As an adjunct to the marine interests may, with propriety, be mentioned some of the individuals who have been important factors in building up the immigration business here.
ANDREW J. GRAHAM, who, since the retirement of John M. Graham, the pioneer Catholic bookseller, has had charge of his father's business, also claims the distinction of operating the oldest established ocean-steamship agency in Chicago. When Mr. Graham, sr., left the firm after the fire, its management fell to Joseph J., Mrs. John M., and Andrew J. Graham. The former died in January, 1885, and Andrew J. Graham became the active manager of the business, which is the oldest and largest of its kind in the city. The establishment at No. 113 Desplaines Street is the most extensive west of New York and does a large business in general and church goods, besides being the general headquarters for all books and goods employed by the clergy. In connection with the book business, Mr. Graham operates an agency for the Cunard and other large ocean steamship lines. The agency was established in 1866 by his father, who was the first agent of the Black Ball Line. The books of the establishment show the sales of tickets, to be used on the sailing vessels of this line, which date back nearly to the time of the war, when money was selling at thirteen dollars for the pound sterling. Since then the firm has done much to encourage and promote immigration, Mr. Graham booking seven hundred and fifty passengers from the old country in less than five months of 1885. The establishment has become known prominently here and in Ireland, and the utmost care is given to protecting the interests of emigrants consigned to the Graham agency. Mr. Graham was born February 5, 1861, in Chicago, and was married on November 10, 1884, to Miss Minnie Padden of this city. He is the youngest man in his line in the city, but he has conducted the establishment, founded in the fifties, with credit and success. Mr. Graham is associated with all progressive church and social movements of importance in the community where he resides, and the increase of the business he controls is due largely to his ability and enterprise.
FRED G. WHITING, the general western agent for the Cunard Ocean Steamship Line, has been a resident of Chicago for thirty-two years in the employ of the company he now represents since 1871, and connected with the line in a managerial capacity since 1883. The position occupied by Mr. Whiting is one of responsibility and importance, representing as it does the entire western interests of the oldest ocean line of steamers in existence, the Cunard Company having been formed in 1840. Since his first connection with the company, Mr. Whiting has witnessed its marvelous growth, and has been one of its trusted auxiliaries in bringing about that result. The integrity and honor of his office, a post under direct authorization from John Burns, chairman of the corporation, in Liverpool, can not be fully estimated without a knowledge of the wonderful prosperity of the same, and the extensive element it comprises in trans-Atlantic traffic. The Cunard was first known as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, with headquarters in Liverpool. It commenced business with four paddle-wheel steamships, with an aggregate of four thousand six hundred and two tonnage. This has increased, from year to year, until there are now some sixty vessels afloat, many of which are the fastest and most magnificent ships yet constructed, some with a tonnage of eight thousand, and with fourteen thousand five hundred horse-power, and a grand total aggregate of one hundred and fifty thousand tonnage. In the last forty-five years the steamers of this line have made five thousand trips, and carried three million passengers, and have never lost a life nor a letter from the mails entrusted to their charge. Mr. Whiting, to whom the western business of this large company is confided, entered the service of the same under P. H. Du Vernet, an old and trusted servant of the company, who established its first agency here in 1871, at its first office location, No. 72 Market Street, and its present quarters, under the Sherman House, where the agency has been for over ten years. Mr. Whiting filled every position in the province of employment, from a subordinate clerkship to chief bookkeeper. His attachment personally to the retired agent, is quite as sincere as his fidelity to the company, which recognized the ability of an ambitious young man, determined to reach the top of the ladder through industry and integrity. When Mr. Du Vernet was called to take charge of the Boston office of the company, in July, 1883, Mr. Whiting was appointed his successor. Since that date, the flattering success of the first agent in increasing the business of the company, seems to have followed his successor, until the Cunard maintains the lead in its line, throughout all the numerous agencies under control of the Chicago office. Mr. Whiting's career has been closely identified with the history of the city. Born at Cheltenham, England, June 9, 1852, the son of Ezra and Sarah Whiting, he came with his parents to Chicago the following year. The senior Whiting was an expert in the art of architectural construction, and was prominently known as a builder among the old settlers, having erected the old Adams House, the Rock Island car-shops, and other large structures. The present steamship manager spent most of his youth in Chicago, and received his early education at the Jones School, on Harrison Street. During the oil excitement, his father removed to Canada, and the son completed his education at the Upper Canadian College, at Toronto. He returned to Chicago three years later. In 1878 Mr. Whiting was married to Minnie, daughter of Edwin Walker, the stone contractor and builder of the court house. They have one child, named Edwin W. The prosperity that has attended the efforts of Mr. Whiting, are no more pleasing to himself and his friends, than the realization that, though the youngest of the steamship agents, in Chicago, he holds one of the most important positions in that service, and has employed his honors only to serve the line he so ably represents, and to conduce to the progress of the community of which he is an esteemed member.
FRITZ FRANTZEN, one of the earliest foreign steamship agents in Chicago, was born in Jutland, near Horsens, Denmark, in 1835, his father's name being Jens J., and that of his mother, Anna. His father was a school teacher, and was greatly honored and esteemed by all for his strict integrity of character. After graduating from the Horsens' College in 1850, he served a practical apprenticeship as millwright, securing a theoretical experience at the industrial schools of Copenhagen. In 1861, he was appointed assistant to the chief engineer of railroad construction at Copenhagen, in which capacity he served until 1863, when the war between Germany and Denmark broke out. Mr. Frantzen entered the army and was promoted to a lieutenancy in May, 1864. After the battle of Duppel, where he had a narrow escape from death, and from which engagement one regiment marched home decimated and with every important officer killed. Schleswig-Holstein was ceded to the Germans, peace proclaimed, and Mr. Frantzen set sail for America, intending to offer his services in the war of the Rebellion. He arrived in Chicago in the spring of 1865, to find the country at peace, and for two years engaged in the millwright business with George Olson, the pioneer Dane, who has lived forty years in this city. In 1867 he opened a steamship agency and foreign exchange office, at No. 43 West Kinzie Street for the Allan Line, operating under the local management of its principal representative at this point. In 1870, he moved to No. 83, on the same thoroughfare, and in 1875 to No. 98 Milwaukee Avenue, purchasing the property and remaining there, and at No. 92, until 1884, when he bought his present place of business at No. 296 Milwaukee Avenue. Immediately after the great fire, Mr. Frantzen was almost the only agent in shape for the transaction of business, and he enjoyed a transient monopoly of the ocean steamship trade. He was one of the first notaries public in the division of the city where he resides. He has returned to Europe several times, on one occasion to arrange for the importation of foreign publications. He was married in 1867, to Miss Helena Michelsen. They have four children: Arthur, George, Henry and Walter.
The Great Chicago Fire: Introduction
Image by John R. Chapin, originally published in an 1871 issue of Harper's Weekly
In October 1871, Chicago was the fourth largest city in the United States with over 334,000 residents. Over 60,000 buildings (90% made of wood) were squeezed into the city limits, along with hundreds of miles of wooden streets and sidewalks. The city was also the country&rsquos woodworking center, home to dozens of furniture manufacturers and lumberyards. In addition, the previous two months had been unseasonably dry, as the city had seen only one inch of rain since July. In short, Chicago in 1871 was a tinderbox and the city employed only 185 firefighters.
Shortly before 9pm on Sunday, October 8, 1871, a fire started in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O&rsquoLeary. Although firemen responded within minutes, the fire had already spread to nearby barns and houses, engulfing thirty buildings in as many minutes. By that point the scarcity of fire personnel combined with the strong winds sweeping through the dry, wooden environment effectively doomed the city. Fire Marshal Robert A. Williams later described the blaze as &ldquoa hurricane of fire and cinders.&rdquo Over the course of the next thirty hours, the fire consumed nearly 18,000 buildings, killing over 300 residents and leaving another 100,000 homeless. A rainstorm on the morning of Tuesday, October 10, finally extinguished the flames, but parts of the city were so hot that it took another two days before inspectors and rescue personnel could reach all of the areas that had been destroyed.
The response to the fire, and the subsequent investigations and policy changes, represent some of the earliest examples of modern emergency response practices. For example, by the afternoon of Monday, October 9, fire engines and firefighters began arriving in Chicago from elsewhere in Illinois and from cities as far away as Milwaukee and Cincinnati, illustrating the growing sense of community among the fire profession during times of overwhelming emergency. Also, the importance of a well-funded, properly trained fire department was now recognized as a fundamental necessity in large cities. Prior to the fire, the under-funded Chicago Fire Department had requested that the city hire more men, build more fire hydrants, and create a fire inspection department, but the city declined, afraid that higher taxes would inhibit the growth of business. After Chicago was destroyed, city governments elsewhere in the country found it difficult to ignore the importance of well-funded fire and emergency departments.
The later investigations into the cause of the fire and the city&rsquos response were also contemporary in nature, not only due to their thoroughness but also because of the widespread coverage by journalists from across the United States. The Chicago Board of Police and Fire Commissioners conducted an official investigation into the cause of the fire, focusing on the O&rsquoLeary family and their barn, but the commissioners never determined a definite cause. One popular myth had the fire starting when one of the O&rsquoLeary cows knocked over a kerosene lantern while being milked by Mrs. O&rsquoLeary, but the false story was later attributed to an anti-Irish journalist trying to lay the blame for the fire entirely on the immigrant family. Historians have since exonerated Mrs. O&rsquoLeary and her cow, but the exact cause of the fire remains unknown to this day.
This Historic Map Shows The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871's Reach
It's the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—the historic blaze that ravaged parts of the city and, decades later, became a symbol of Chicago's tenacity and rebirth.
The fire burned for nearly two days from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, killing hundreds and destroying a little over 3 square miles of the city, mostly centered in the city's downtown business district. The fire reportedly left 100,000 homeless and the city and though a relief effort was quickly underway, it took years for the city to recover.
These days, the fire has inspired an annual festival, a university mascot, and the name of a local tech incubator, among others.
To mark the occasion, the Newberry Library has shared this historic map depicting the effects of the blaze on its Facebook page, in a map labelling the city's so-called "Burnt District." Check it out, history buffs:
"#onthisday in 1871 the #GreatChicagoFire started, raging northward for 36 hours and destroying 3.5 square miles of the city. Published the same year as the fire, this map shows the extent of its destruction. The southern-most border of the "burnt district" is DeKoven Street--the site of the O'Leary's infamous barn." via Newberry Library
The Aftermath of the Fire
After all the chaos finished, the media was in need of a reason for this fire, even if there were over 1000 causes for the fire outbreak. Some of the newspapers at the time wrote stories that would seem incredible now, such as blaming the cause of the fire on a short meteor shower that happened overnight which ignited fires across the city.
The Tribune of Chicago was required to find someone to blame for all of the huge losses caused by the fire. The reporter which actually blamed Mrs O’Leary and her cow was Michael Ahern who claimed that he saw the whole incident happen. Even to this day, many historians still question if Mrs O’Leary and her cow caused the start of the fire. However, you can imagine that all the citizens of Chicago would not hesitate for a moment to question the reliability of the story due to how mad they were.
After the fire, the city was reborn from its ashes to a new and improved future — and in just a few decades it became one of the largest metropolises in the world. At the same time, it was necessary to reform the firefighting system, making Chicago have one of the best performing fire departments in the country, a model for other states.