Chicago Historical Society III
Life Span: 1896-Present
Location: NW Corner of Ontario and Dearborn Streets
Architect: Henry Ives Cobb
Excerpted from Chicago Tribune November 13, 1892
The new building designed by Henry Ives Cobb, will be one of the handsomest in the city. It will be of granite, Romanesque style. Its general ground dimensions are 120 feet on Dearborn Avenue by 100 feet on Ontario Street, but there is a court at the northwest corner. It will be only two stories and a basement in height, but its steep roofs make its greatest height eighty feet. It has an large gable in the center of the Ontario Street front, to emphasize the location of the Gilpin Library. The windows on the first story are very wide, and only four in number, while those on the second story are numerous, arched, and connected. The material used is Wisconsin rock-faced red granite for the fronts, and steel for the interior. It is designed to be as completely fireproof as possible.
The entrance is broad and simple, and leads directly into a spacious hall lighted by a dome. In the basement will be a hall 28 x 33 feet in size, storerooms, supper and waiting rooms, cloak and toilet rooms, and in the rear heating apparatus. On the first floor will be the secretary’s office, the reception and reading rooms. The picture gallery, the John Crerar lecture room, and the Gilpin Library, which will be a single room two stories in height, with gallery, and extending across the west end of the building. On the second floor will be the museum, the director’s room, a workroom, and an art gallery. The building was begun August 13 and is now two or three courses of the heavy granite work above the ground. The cornerstone is a massive affair,6x2x2 feet in size,in the third course, at the street corner, with its long dimension on Ontario Street. At present it has no inscription on it, but one will be made hereafter. The building will cost, exclusive of the ground, $150,000, of which $125,000 has already been provided, and it is expected that it will be ready for occupancy by May 1.
Chicago Sunday Tribune November 1, 1896
THE Chicago Society Building is to be opened at last. The day after the election Edward 0. Mason, the President of the society, will call a meeting of the Executive committee and a day for the opening will be named. The public will be admitted to the interior of the structure some time before the holidays.
Time after time the date of the opening ef this fireproof edifice, which contains nearly all that is precious in the sight of the local historian, has been approximately decided upon, but as the day approached there was inevitably some trouble and a necessary postponement. This time it will be opened. There can be no question about that. The work on the building and on its fittings and appliances has finally been completed and there is no further danger that some contractor will plead that he has been unable to meet certain specifications or that at the last moment some band of artisans will throw down their tools, go on a strike, and leave the Chicago public in ignorance for another six months of the contents of a building which for a long dime they have felt an inclination to enter.
Last week President Mason authorized the taking of some photographs of the interior especially for THE TRIBUNE. They are the first pictures which have been, made of any part of the building save from an exterior point of view. The main hall of the society building, which one enters upon passing through the handsome entrance, is lighted by a skylight from above. There is a handsome stairway leading from the right to a wide corridor above, skirted at its outer edge by a carved railing. Straight through from the main entrance is the massive iron door through which one passes to the library, which is practically a separate structure, although connected with the historical building proper. At the left of the hall is the reading-room, and at the right is found a spacious apartment with a stage, which Is to be utilized for public lectures.
It will be seen from this short description af the floor of the structure that there will be ample room for the opening exercises, which are to take on something of the nature of a celebration. There wiil be, of course, an address in review of the society’s history by President Mason, and speeches by one or two invited guests yet to be named, but the main features will be a reception, a collation, and it is Whisered, possibly a dance.
Building Is Absolutely Fireproof.
It there is a fireproof structure in the world it is the new Historical Society Building, There is not within its stone walls a piece of wood or any bit of inflammable material as large as a match. This refers, of course, to the building and its fittings only. Necessarily many of the curios and of course the books are of material which can burn. The society had reason to make its building fireproof. Twice it has been burned out and twice it has lost all the possessions which were the work of years to accumulate. In the great fire of 1871 the society had a building upon the site where the new structure stands. The fire of that year utterly destroyed it and there was lost a document which in value and interest stood side by side with the magna charta, the original emancipation proclamation of Abraham Lincoln.
The society at once began its work over again, and in three years’ time had succeeded in accumulating another large store ef local historical treasures. They were housed in the Scammon Building, which stood on the site of the Auditorium, and were all burned in the great South Side fire of 1874.
The Historical Society was founded in 1856 and incorporated the following year. The fires wiped out all the organization’s documents which related to its formation and progress, and the work of reproducing them has been undertaken since. Much of the matter pertaining to the meeting of the society has been secured from the preserved files of newspapers published before the fire.
It Was this burning experience that made the members of the organization desire a fireproof building. They advertised for bids and accepted one of those which were submitted. When the work had been under way for some time it was discovered that a fireproof building, as understood by architects, builders, and contractors, was not the kind of fireproof the society wanted. It was discovered that a vast difference existed between a conventional fireproof structure and ono that would not burn down. It was lost at this time that the “fireproof” Chicago Athletic Club Building burned. That fire attracted attention to the work of the Historical Society’s home, and the contractors were told to call off the laborers. Then President Mason began an investigation and found out that there were some people, and in Chicago at that, who could make and put up material that would not burn. Contracts were accordingly annulled and relet. This delay cost the society a year’s time, but it feels that it has solved practically the question of fireproof buildings.
After this delay strikes In Pittsburg, where the iron beams for the structure were being manufactured, put off the time for opening another year. Six months more were lost owing to difficulties in the way of getting just the proper fittings. These troubles, however, have had there advantageous sides, for time was given for thought upon interior arrangements and equipment, resulting in a building fitted in a way that renders it an ideal one for the purpose for which it is to be put.
How the Funds Were Gained.
In 1860 Henry D. Gilpin, a Philadelphia lawyer and Attorney-General under Martin Van Buren, died. He had made a large fortune by investments in Chicago real estate, and that he should make some return to the city he named the Historical Society as one of his residuary legatees. He set aside a portion of his estate to be invested in Chicago city bonds for ten years or longer as the trustees saw fit, the accumulated income to be used for the erection of a fireproof library building. The principal, now intact, amounts to about $65,000. When the accumulated income had about the same amount it was decided to put up the library building for which he made the provision. It was the earnest desire of the society to erect a structure in connection with the Gilpin Library (right). A bequest of $25,000 by John Crerar formed the nucleus of a building fund, and $75,000 more was raised by subscription. It was decided to build the society’s home upon the Newberry lot at Ontario and Rush streets, but the decision was changed, and the corner-stone was laid Nov. 12, 1892, upon a lot owned by the society at the corner of Ontario street and Dearborn avenue. At the ceremony of the laying of the corner-stone there was a prayer by the Rev. Dr. R. W. Patterson,, and there were addresses by E. G. Mason, Judge Blodgett, and the Rev. Frank Bristol. All these are to he republished with the account of the opening of the society’s building,
The main hall of the building is the French room. In it one may trace by a series of portraits the periods of the French ownership of this section of the country. There are upon the walls pictures of the French governors of this territory and of the French Kings who ruled during the time of the French possession. It was determined to have these portraits, in so far as it was possible, copies Of were made at the time that the Governors and Kings were actually exercising authority over the territory in which Chicago now stands. The search for original portraits of somo of these was always interesting and frequently beset with difficulties. The first portrait is of Champlain. He never penetrated to this region, but he had knowledge of the country of Illinois and was the forerunner of exploration here. A portrait of him was found in Montreal. A copy was made of it and now hangs in the French room of the society building. For awhile Illinois was under the Jurisdiction of the Royal Governor of Louisiana. During this period Blenville was the Governor, and President Mason of the society started on a search for a picture of the Frenchman. The only clew was a small engraving found in a book published in New Orleans in 1853. The author of the book was dead, and nothing was known of the matter by any one who could be found. Finally some one told Mr. Mason that the engraving was taken from a portrait which was a copy of an original said to be in Canada.
INTERIOR VIEWS OF THE CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY’S BUILDING.
This information sent the society’s President to Montreal. There he found that a connection of the Blenville family had a portrait the face of which was like that in the engraving, but the discovery was made as well that this portrait was a copy. It was finally discovered that there had been some years back only one descendent of Blenville left, a woman who had married a Scotchman. The Scotchman had succeeded to a Barony, had changed his name, and track of him had been lost. Some Montreal friends of Mr. Mason finally became interested in the search and some descendents of the Scotchman and his wife were found. There were two of these descendants, one living in Kingston, Ont., and the other in Scotland. The Kingston grandchild had tho original portrait of the old Louisiana Governor. He was just boxing it up for shipment to Scotland on the demand of the other grandchild, who was the elder, when Chicago’s representative came on the scene and secured a delay in the shipment of the portrait until a copy was made for the Historical Society.
Frontenac was Governor at the time Joliet came through the Illinois region. There was no portrait of Frontenac in existence, but the Canadian Government had erected a monument to him in the shape of a heroic statue, and a painting of this was made by a Montreal artist for the Chicago society.
Inquiries were made through the American Legation at Paris concerning the time of the painting of the various portraits of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. It was found that there were two portraits made while Illinois was a part of the French Dominion, and copies of these portraits were made by Edgar S. Cameron, a Chicago artist, and they now hang over the fireplace in the French hall of the society building.
This great fireplace, by the way, Is made partly from stones taken from the Nixon Building, which was the only structure in the heart of the business district which withstood the fire of 1871. The capstone at the east end of the fireplace is the one bore and still bears the inscription setting forth the building’s survival of the fire. The other stones are taken from the old Illinois Central depot.
Features of the Stairway.
Passing up the great stairs one has at his right, step by step, a series of medallions showing heads of explorers, travelers, and Indians who passed through or lived within the region of the Illilnois. They are the work of the artist Kemeys, and represent in order of ascent Talon, Joliet, Frontenac. La Taupine, La Salle, Tonty, Nika (Indian). De Mauthet, Shaubina, Noonday and Brown moose (Indians). Upon the surface in the corner of each medallion there is shown some little thing typical of the man whose head appears. Tonty, who was known as the man with the iron hand, has represented a gauntlet. The voyagers are shown by paddies. There are four bas reliefs by MWcNell upon the east and west walls of the corridor on the second floor. They are historic scenes and the first represents the crossing Of the portage from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River by Marquette. The second bas relief shows Marquette’s meeting with hostile Indians upon a bank of the Mississippi River. The savages are on the point of attacking the priest when he holds up the calumet which the Illinois braves had given him and thus secures his safety. The third scene represents Marquette as he appeared his severe Illness when It was necessary to carry him across the Chicago portage upon a sledge.
The last representation, and one which is full of detail, shows the carrying of the body of Père Marquette by his Indian converts into the little log chapel at St. Ignace for burial beneath ihe altar.
Upon the wall where the stairway to the third story begins hangs an Indian buffalo robe, Upon it is painted a battle scene which it is thought represents the fight at Chicago in 1812. It is the work of an Indian, and expert examination is to be brought to bear to determine, If possible, just what it does show.
Chicago Historical Society
How the Museum Appears.
The large south room on the second floor is given over to museum purposes. It contains views of Chicago from the earliest times to the present day. The original proclamation written in lead pencil and issued the morning after the great fire by the officials of the city hangs upon the wall. There are all sorts of bombs, pistols and knives, which the police gathered in at the time of the Haymarket Anarchist riots. There is the finest collection of war envelopes in existence. A chair given by George Washington to one of his step-children is placed invitingly just over the threshold of the room. In one corner are the bones supposed to be those of Jean La Lime, the Indian trader who was killed by Kinsley in the early part of the century. The bones were found when an excavation was made near the Rush street bridge and after considerable research Joseph Kirkland declared thom to be those of the trader named. In one part of the room there is a section of a wooden water main, which was once part of the machinery of Chicago’s water supply. There are other curios and and historic articles beyond number.
Upon the third of the is a newspaper room, where complete flies of all the Chicago dailies are stored. A room on the same floor and just over the museum contains almost complete documents of the United States, while an apartment to the west contains the publications of the Historical Society.
Passing into the library from the main hall on the ground floor one finds a lofty room, which extends the entire width of the building and rises unbroken save by a gallery at the sides sheer to the roof. The center of the library is open and contains tables, while the book stacks are ranged along the sides of the room. At the ends great windows let in a flood of light. A spiral stairway ascends to the gallery, where other book stacks are to be found. Upon the front of each stack of books is a little shelf, each one holding a bust of some person whose presence in effigy is fitting in a room of this character, There are 20,000 volumes in the library ahd 40,000 pamphlets. The shelves are all of slate and iron, made after an absolutely new principle. In time should it become necessary there is room for an addition to the library, which will be capable of containing book stacks with a capacity of 300,000 volumes, which practically makes provision for the growth of the library for all time to come.
In the reading-room of the society, from which opens a doorway at the left of the main entrance, are to be found complete fIles of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE and current publications of all kinds. Upon the walls are portraits of the English Governors of this region after it passed from the hands of France into those of Great Britain. There are also portraits of Washington, George Rogers Clark, Sheridan, Grant, Lincoln. and other personages who were prominent in the early history of the city and State. A fine portrait of George III occupies a prominent place upon the wall. It represents him in his young and d6ahing days.
The Washington portrait is an original by Peale and is of great value. Sir Guy Carlton, the last de facto Governor of this section of the country, and Sir Frederick Haldiman. the last de jure Governor, are shown cheek by jowl with George Rogers Clark, who, in the name of the State of Virginia, tore this region from their grasp. Under all these portraits there are autograph letters of the persons represented.
It should have been ment!oned that in the museum room there is an ancient harpsichord which was imported into America by Astor & Co. and sent into this region to be exchanged for furs.
The Chicago Historical Society has and will place upon exhibition under certain restrictions one of the most valuable collections of autographs in existence. It was the desire of the society to secure an autograph of every ruler explorer, and person who had anything to do with this region of the New World. There are in the society’s possession autographs of all the Kings of France and of England who reigned this Central Western part of America was a French or a British possession. There are represented in this collection letters of Henry III, of Henry of Navarre, of Louis X1II, Louis XIV, and Louis XV of France and of the great Ministers Richelieu and Mazarin. An autograph of Columbus, secured by Mr. Mason at the Gerald Hart sale, is among this priceless collection. Jollet’s autograph has been secured, as have also a letter and autograph pf La Salle.
There is a manuscript of Marquette in the possession of the Jesuit fathers in Montreal. The Chicago Historical Society tried its best to secure the possession of the document, but was unsuccessful. The efforts of Archbishop Feehan and W. J. Onahan were directed toward the same end, but the Catholic priests of Montreal could not be induced to part wlth their treasure. The effort of the Chicago society to secure Father Marquette’s manuscript accomplished one good purpose, It caused the Jesuit authorities to build a vault for its safe keeping.
Lecture Room and Uses.
There is a great lecture hall on the first floor of the society’s building with an entrance from the French room. Upon its walls hang portraits of the Presidents of the Chicago Historical Society from the date of its foundation. At the west end of the hall is a stage, on the wall back of which hangs the painting “Resurge Chicago,” which was sent to this city by the City of London after the Chicago fire. There was some money left in the English metropolis after all the needs of Chicago had been supplied and the money was expended for the historical painting which now hangs on the society’s wall. In this room there will be given courses of lectures upon historical subjects. They are now being arranged by President Mason and will begin immediately after the opening to the public. Among the lecturers whom it is hoped to bring here are John Fiske, Justin Windsor of Harvard, Reuben G. Thwaites of the Wisconsin Historical Society, Herbert B. Adams of Johns Hopkins University, and the professors of in the Chicago and Northwestern Universities.
In the office of the Secretary of the Historical Society, Charles Evans, there hang facsimiles of what may be called the three great declarations of independence, the warrant for the execution of Charles I., the Magna Charta, Charts of England. and the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
Upon a shelf in the room of the Secretary is a bust of the late Pierre Margry, the French historian to whom the history of this region is so much indebted.
A letter was recently received by Lambert Tree from Mine. Margry, the widow of the historian, expressing the desire to offer to Chicago a bust of her husband, which was executed by the sculptor Gruyère (First Prix de Rome), and requesting his advice. as to what disposition should be made of it. Mr. Tree wrote Mme. Margry that he believed the buliding of the Chicago Historical Society, of which her husband was an honorary member, would be the most fitting place for her gift. A correspondence ensued between Mr. Tree and Mr. Mason and between the society and Mme. Margry through M. VIgneaux of the American Legation of Paris, and last week the bust of Margry, whose works traced with so much fidelity the achievements of La Salle and his countrymen in this western region, has found a place where It may be honored by Chicagoans.
Each Boom To a Vault.
Each room of the Chicago Historical Society is a vault by itself. The fact that it to so absolutely fireproof would give one the idea perhaps that beauty is in its linee. This is far from the truth. There perhaps can be found no more thoroughly artistic development of interior and finishing designs
in the City of Chicago. The work has been watched and studied step by step by the society’s President, Edward G. Mason. from the moment that the ground waa first turned until the present day, when the building stands complete.
The first President of the Chicago Historical Society was William H. Brown, the Vice-Presidents were W. B. Ogden and J. Young Scammon; the Secretary was William Barry, who in reality was the father of the organization. The only one on tbe list of the first officers who is living is the first Treasurer, Samuel D. Ward.
The Inter Ocean December 16, 1896
The Chicago Historical Society was “at home” to its friends last night in its new and beautiful home at the corner of Dearborn avenue and Ontario street.
From 8 until n o’clock several hundred invited guests reveled in the beauties of the building and its treasures of historic interest, listened to interesting addresses concerning the Chicago Historical Society, and enjoyed a collation served informally in the subbasement.
As the guests entered the main hall they were received by the officers of the society and their wives, as follows:
Mr. and Mrs. Edward G. Mason.
Gen. and Mrs. A. C. McClurg.
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ayer.
Mr. and Mrs. L. J. Gage.
Mr. and Mrs. George W. Smith.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry W. Willing.
Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Goodwin.
Following the reception there were addresses by President E. G. Mason, Dr. N. S. Davis, and George E. Adams, after which a luncheon was served.
Societies Officially Present.
The following societies were represented officially:
Chicago Academy of Sciences.
Chicago Bar Association.
Chicago Public Library.
Colonial Dames of America.
Daughters of the American Revolution.
Illinois Society Sons of American Revolution.
Iowa Academy of Science.
John Crerar Library.
Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society.
New England Society of Chicago.
The Newberry Library.
Old Colony Historical Society.
Oneida Historical Society.
Parkman Club, Milwaukee.
Society of Colonial Wars.
Union League club of Chicago.
Woman’s Centennial Association.
Young Men’s Christian Association.
Guests of the Evening,
The reception committee stood before the massive fire place, formed of stones from the Illinois Central depot and the Cook County courthouse after the great fire of 1871, and from the Nixon building, the latter being the only one in the business district which survived the conflagration of a quarter of a century ago. From dome to basement the building was brilliantly illuminated with electricity and decorated profusely with palms, garlands of smilax, and potted plants.
Throughout the evening the sweet strains of an orchestra hidden in a bower of palms floated through the building, except the lecture-room. In this beautiful portion of the structure nearly 500 guests gathered at 9 o’clock and listened with interest and appreciation to addresses regarding the past, present, and future of the Chicago Historical Society
Description from Chicago Historical Society Library, 1856-1906 : A Handbook by Caroline McIlvane:
Previous to the great Chicago fire of 1871 there were but two libraries in Chicago open to the public. One of these was that of the Young Men’s Association, organized in 1841. The other was the Chicago Historical Society Library, founded in 1856, which may be said to have had a continuous existence of fifty years, for although the entire collection, amounting to 100,000 volumes, manuscripts, and pamphlets, was destroyed October 9, 1871, yet before the end of November of that year, active steps had been taken to resume the work. Sister societies in all parts of this country, and even abroad, contributed their publications and duplicates, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, of Boston, placed a room in its new fire-proof building at the disposal of this Society, to which the various donations were sent until a safe place of deposit could be provided. Very considerable collections were soon made and forwarded to Chicago, only to be consumed in the fire of July, 1874. Undismayed by this second calamity, a few enterprising and cultured men, true to the brave and sterling qualities for which Chicago has become famous, stood together and began again the work of the Society, at a time when men of less exalted ideals would have felt justified in turning their whole attention to the re-establishment of their own homes. As the result of such heroic effort the Society met for the first time in its temporary building, October 16, 1877, with the nucleus of a third collection, and with a prestige heightened by these vicissitudes. It was even possible to reassemble the greater portion of the rare books and newspapers destroyed, for members of the Society contributed their personal copies of these works, and hundreds of volumes in the Library bear the autographs of pioneer citizens.
The Society has occupied successively the following homes: 1856-68, Newberry Building, northeast corner Wells and Kinzie streets; 1868-71, Society’s Building (first), Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street; 1872-74, number 209 Michigan Avenue; 1877-92, Society’s Building (second), Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street; 1892-96, collections stored; since 1896 Society’s Building (third), Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street. In 1892 the Henry D. Gilpin fund, having by careful investment more than doubled itself, and the legacy under the will of John Crerar having become available, it was determined to solicit from its members subscriptions for the erection of a permanent fire-proof home for the Society, on the site at the corner of Dearborn Avenue and Ontario Street so long identified with its history. To this appeal the members responded with their unfailing liberality. The temporary building being cleared away, the corner-stone of the new structure was laid with appropriate ceremonies, November 12, 1892, and on the evening of December 15, 1896, in the presence of a brilliant and representative gathering, the formal dedication took place.
Dr. Otto Schmidt, Chicago Historical Society President, and Caroline McIlvaine, who served as the Society’s Librarian for the first quarter of the twentieth century, join a fire department official on Dearborn Street beside a ninety-year-old pumper, which predated the fire of 1871 by several decades.
Chicago Daily News
Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1897 50th Anniversary of Tribune
LONG GONE DAYS KEPT IN MEMORY
The old ChIcago Is fast passing away, and in a few years the early life of the great city can only be shown to future generations by the mementoes, relies, and literature per- taining to those times. No organization will grow more rapidly in the public estimation than the Chicago Historical Society, which Is now performing a work for Chicago the sentimental value of which cannot be – ured. This splendid association which now occupies a magnificent home at Dearborn avenue and Ontario street Is a monument to the civic patriotism and generosity of a num- ber of Chicago citizens who would not permit historic relies to be lost in the swift progress of the city.
At the suggestion and chiefly through the well directed efforts of the Rev. William Barry, the Chiago Historical Society was organized on April 24, 1851;, with William H. Brown. President: William B. Ogden and J. Young Scammon, Vice-Presidents; S. D. ward. Treasurer; and William Barry, Li- . On Feb. 7. t857, the society was In- corporated. In February. 1860, the society received a generous endowment from the estate of Henry D. Gilpin, which is now known as the Gilpin Fund. The society suf- fered a great loss in the fire of 1871, when all its treasures were swept away. In 1868 a line building had been t-rected on the present site, but could. not lass through the ordeal of the fre, When opened to the public there were stored within its walls over Itl),Ot5 vol- umes. newspapers, maps. manuscripts. etc. It seemed as though the society was crushed beyond recovery. Among the rare manu- scripts burned was the original draft of Lin- coln s emancipation proclamation, a docu- mentary history of Chicago and the North- west, and 1738 files of newspapers. There were 4,689 manuscripts., and many of them relating to the early Indian wars and nations which were almost priceless. The society Is now, however, on a firmer basis than ever, and Is accumulating a vast amount of data which will be of the utmost value in con- nection with the city s history.
Much of the historical information printed In this number or THE TRIBUNE was secured from the archives of this society, and TtEt TRIBUNE acknowledges Its indebtedness to Charles Evans, the affable Secretary and Librarian, who at all times offered all the facilities of the society in a cheerful and courteous spirit, which must be commended in the highest manner.