John Brown’s Fort Museum
Life Span: 1848-Present (1892-1895 in Chicago)
Location: East side of W(abash Avenue, Between Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets
Architect: George O. Garnsey (1832)
Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1892
If what is claimed regarding the John Brown Fort Museum company is true, all promoters might well sit humbly at the feet of a group of Washington officials who have engineered the formation of the museum company, which will have its headquarters in the little building on the east side of Wabash avenue, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. The methods employed by these people, or at least the success which has been attained, would make even the mouths of the promoters, who carried through the English brewery deal, water. They have formed a company with a capital stock of $150,000, and this stock has been issued on a basis of assets which, at the most liberal estimate, do not appear to represent more than $10,000 or $12,000.
Ex-Congressman A. J. Holmes is the President of the John Brown Museum company. Maj. Lockwood, Chief of the Weather Bureau, is the Secretary, and J. H. C. Wilson is Treasurer. Among others interested in the project are W. W Dudley of Washington City, L. T. Michener of Indianapolis, Senator B. Perkins of Kansas, John Boyd of the Norfolk Steamship line, Prof. A. J. Smith of the Maryland Agricultural College, and ex-Congressman Henry Libby of Virginia.
As the story goes the issue of $150,000 in stock has been placed among department clerks through Washington, of course, on the representation of great possibilities in the way of earnings. A number of Chicago men have interested themselves in following up the history of the John Brown Fort Museum idea and believe that the scalp which has been made by some one is altogether too excessive. In fact if the conditions are as stated the formation of the company is on a most unconscionable basis. L. Mannsse, the optician, says that about two years ago he was in communication with a man in Wilmington, Del., for the purchase of the engine-house known as John Brown’s fort with the idea of forming a museum here. The building, with the relics in connection with it, was offered to a syndicate represented by Mr. Manasse for $3,000, and it was understood that a cash offer of $2,500 would take the property. The building is not at all large, being 25×16 feet and fourteen feet in height. In addition there was the gallows on which John Brown was executed, which had been rebuilt first from a gallows into a porch and later on back into its original form. It was thought at the time that the entire building could be taken down and shipped on two cars, and that the entire cost of taking the building down, bringing it to Chicago and rebuilding it would be $1,000. The museum company owns, to be sure, the leasehold of. the Wabash avenue lot and the building of unique design thereon. The building is estimated by a contractor to represent about $4,000, and as the lease was only recently made at full ground valuation, the leasehold interest cannot be considered worth anything. According to these figures the company has $8,000 worth of tangible assets on which to base a stock issue of $150,000. Allowing that the figures given are too low, and that the market for John Brown’s relics has become better in the last two years, an estimate of $15,000 would leave a profit apparently to the promotors of something like $135,000.
Chicago Tribune, October 17, 1892
John Brown’s Fort on Wabash avenue, near, Thirteenth street, was informally opened for the press of Chicago Saturday ceding. In the middle of the building stands the historic old strurture, so familiar to visitors in years gone by at Harpers Ferry, and known to the world as John Brown’s fort. Col. S. K. Donavin of Columbus, O., told the visitors the story of the raid and the capture of Brown. He was on the spot at the time as a newspaper correspondent, and interviewed Brown within a few moments after his capture. The fort has been rebuilt exactly as it stood at Harper’s Ferry. The old, rusty iron doors remain wide exposing the interior and showing the portholes in the brickwork through which Brown and his band used their guns. Surrounding the fort are hundreds of glass cases containing interesting relics of slavery days and war time including many memento relics, and rare portraits of Brown and his admirers. Among the relics are some of great historic value, such as the first United States flag that hung over the Speaker’s desk in the House of Representatives at Washington in 1862, which established a precedent that is followed to this day. But under this flag many Southern members of the House refused to take the “ironclad” oath, and were sworn in under the “modified” oath. Ex-Congressman Holmes of Iowa is President of the new enterprise, which is fostered by a number of Washingtonians prominent in government circles. Yesterday the exhibit was opened to the public..
Rand, McNally & Co.’s Bird’s-eye views and Guide to Chicago, 1893
⑧ John Brown’s Fort,
Nos. 1339-1343 Wabash Avenue. The outer building is 50 feet in height, 80 feet deep, having a frontage of 75 feet. The old fort within is a low 1-story brick structure, containing 2 rooms and surmounted by a wooden tower 12 feet high. It was originally constructed as a part of the United States arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, W. Va.; during the war it was occupied as a hospital by both the Federal and Confederate armies. Brown’s personal rules, pikes with which he proposed to arm the negroes, personal letters, accouterments, swords, portraits, etc., of prominent generals, and many other relics of the great war are shown in connection with the old fort. It was removed from Harper’s Ferry August, 1892, and erected in Chicago September, 1892.
Standard Guide to Chicago, John Flinn, 1893
John Brown’s Fort.
Location 1341 Wabash Avenue.
The little brick building which John Brown defended as a fort bravely but hopelessly in 1859 against the combined forces of the government and the State of Virginia. Enclosed in a frame building that is of a novel design, this almost sacred relic of days just preceding the civil war, may be seen. The fort was moved here principally through the instrumentality of Ex-Congressman A. J. Holmes, of Iowa, who has served as Sergeant-at-arms of the House. The building was purchased by a syndicate after much difficulty, as the people of Harper’s Ferry were unwilling to part with it. Before the removal, the building was torn down with the utmost care, the various parts being boxed separately. Upon its arrival in Chicago it was erected with equal care and the supervising architect is authority for the statement that the slightest difference can not be found in the construction of the building since its removal. It is a plain, substantial one-story brick building with a gable roof and open belfry. It was part of the United States gun factory and arsenal, built at Harper’s Ferry in 1832. Its dimensions are 25 feet long, 15 feet wide, and the walls are 14 feet high. There are two large square windows in each end, and semi-circular transoms over each of the wide doorways, both of which are on one side. Large double doors of wood with heavy iron plate fronts once swung open for the men who toiled for Uncle Sam in the little building. In the war one set of the doors was taken away, but the other set remains, almost rusted from its hinges. The building is divided by a solid brick wall into two rooms. The smaller John Brown used as a prison during all his fighting in the larger one.
Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1893
Minstrels in John Brown’s Fort.
A new management has undertaken to make the John Brown fort a more profitable enterprise. Wax figures, made to look as real as life, will be placed in it to represent the scene of the capture of John Brown and the death of his son. The fort has been moved back to leave the structure entirely clear, and in future it will also serve as a stage setting for a minstrel troupe to depict scenes of Southern life during the slavery days. They will sing songs and dance in plantation style and illustrate the capture of the fort.
Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1893
To Foreclose on John Brown’s Fort.
In the Superior Court Louis T. Michener, as trustee, has filed a bill to foreclose a mortgage of $14,668 against the John Brown Fort company. The concern has been conducting a musenm on Wabash avenue for several months. The bill alleges the exhibition has been a failure, and that it has been compelled to close its doors.
The company is said to possess considerable as sets, and a receiver is asked for to take charge of tne property.
Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1895
IGNOBLE USE OF JOHN BROWN’S FORT.
It Will Be Turned into a Stable by a Big Department Store.
The famous John Brown fort at Harper’s Ferry, in which the most celebrated abolitionist of slavery days fought and died, and whose memory is still warm in the hearts of thousands of colored people of his country, is soon to meet a fate that is unworthy of such an interesting relic and memento in the history of the United States. The building in which it now stands on Wabash avenue, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, has been leased to A. M. Rothschild, the projector of the new department store soon to open at State and Van Buren streets, as a stable for delivery wagons and horses, and in carrying out the terms of the lease the famous old fort is about to be moved in such a manner that it will become a part of the stable. It, however, may yet be saved from an ignoble fate.
It will be remembered that the fort was brought to Chicago by a syndicate of men from Washington, D. C., who believed that it could be made a great World Fair attraction, giving them fabulous returns for their investment. But like many another “castle in the air,” built upon anticipated results of the Fair, it was a flat failure. This was found out the first day the fort was opened to the public as an exhibition at 50 cents a ticket, and as an exhibition it closed a few days later. Shortly afterwards a receiver was appointed for the company, which, in the meantime, had invested about in the enterprise, and the receiver tailing to pay the rent of the ground by the terms of the contract the lease was canceled and the improvements on the property, including the old fort, reverted to the owner of the land, Charles L. Hutchinson, President of the Corn Exchange Bank. Mr. Hutchinson is naturally patriotic and does not want to see the old relic go to decay. He has no use for the old structure, but he would like to see it preserved. Although plans have been made to convert it into a stable, Mr. Hutchinson will alter those plans If any park in Chicago will accept and care for the relic.
This statement came from John C. McCord yesterday, who is representing Mr. Hutchinson in the disposition of the property and who closed the lease with A. M. Rothschild.
Mr. McCord said:
- Mr. Hutchinson appreciates the value of this little old engine-house as one of the most interesting relics of an important event in the history of this country, and would gladly see it preserved as it should be. It is not his desire that it should become a stable. He appreciates that the proper place for it would be Its oi home at Harper’s Ferry, from which it was so ruthlessly wrested, but this would require an expenditure of a great deal of money. Now that it is in Chicago, he believes it should be cared for here, and offers It as a free gift to any public park that will accept and care for it. It is a structure that will not require a custodian and but little money to place it in position. It is now house-movers’ blocks and about to be turned around according to the plans we have drawn for a stable. But in the hope that the little building will be saved this fate I have ordered all work stopped for a few days and also that the building be kept intact.
This offer has been called to the attention of prominent Grand Army men, who are talking about the advisability of circulating a petition among the veterans of Chicago asking one of the park boards to accept the relic.
Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1895
Historic Engine House Is to Be Taken Back to Harper’s Ferry.
The materials composing John Brown’s Fort are to be taken back to Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., early in September. Brought here before the World’s Fair, the enterprise proved unsuccessful. After a brief existence full of vicissitudes the historic engine-house fell from the Sheriff’s into the wrecker’s hands. It made way for the stables of a department store. Now Harper’s Ferry is to have its own again, as a contract has been signed bv T. Cummins, No. 335 Wells street, to remove the material and reerect it on the original site.
Public-spirited people contributed the necessary funds in response to Miss Kate Field’s appeals. The contribution of the Baltimore and Ohio railway takes the form or free transportation.
It has been moved four times: in 1891 to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in 1895 to the Murphey Farm near Harpers Ferry, in 1909 to the campus of historically black Storer College in Harpers Ferry, and in 1968 by the National Park Service to its present location in lower Harpers Ferry, near its original site.