Samuel Mayo Nickerson, American College of Surgeons, Driehaus Museum
Life Span: 1882-Present
Location: 40 East Erie Street, Northeast corner of Cass (Wabash) and Erie Streets
Architect: Burling & Whitehouse
Samuel Nickerson Mansion
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1883
Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Nickerson.
The devotees of society are indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Nickerson for one of the most elaborate private receptions ever given in this city. It occurred last evening at their new residence, at the northeast corner of Cass and Erie streets, and partook of the nature of a “housewarming,” Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson having taken possession of their elegant new residence only last fall. The affair was really the social event of the present season, and was a brilliant oasis in the desert of dullness which has pervaded the social world for weeks past.
The streets in the vicinity of the residences were brilliantly illuminated with Calcium and Lime Lights, and from the front door to the curbing extended an immense awning, beneath which was a width of rich carpet covering the flagging. Handsome private equipages blocked the surrounding thoroughfares, and during the evening fully 500 guests partook of the handsome hospitality extended by the host and hostess.
The interior decorations of the house consisted simply of cut flowers in vases, but these were in such profucion that the air was heavy with their fragrance. Flowers were to be found in every room and on every hand, and the absence of the conventional designs and pieces served only to render the decoration the more rich. The host and hostess received their guests in the main drawing-room. They were assisted by Miss Stella Easton, of Philadelphia, and Mr, Roland Nickerson. Music was furnished by an orchestra of twenty pieces, under the leadership of W. W. Pond, and the selections were well chosen and excellently rendered.
The very large number of gusts were well disposed of in the great house and promenades through the main wide main hall, the reception-room and the main drawing-room. Off the latter apartment was another very large and elegantly-appointed hall devoted to the reception of art treasures, and this room was the principal point of interest with the guests.
The magnificent and costly Works of Art and the tasteful manner in which they were displayed, attracted a great deal of attention and enthusiastic praise. This apartment was lighted by the electric light, which furnished a soft and delightful glow throughout the room.
Another point of interest was the main dining-room, where H. M. Kinsley had set up one of the finest tables ever seen in Chicago—a perfect work of the caterer’s art. The centre-piece was a miniature Japanese pleasure-boat, constructed of nougat and filled with choice flowers. On the four corners of the table were banks of flowers—three composed of different roses and the fourth of violets. At either end of the board was a unique figure piece. One was a plumage piece, consisting of members of the feathered tribe ingeniously arrayed, and the other a representation of a colored fisherman perched upon the back of a terrapin. The table was filled with other fancy pieces in ices and flowers, rich silverware, new decorated china, etc., producing a gorgeous effect taken as a whole.
About half-past 10 o’clock Mr. Pound divided his orchestra, and the younger guests indulged in the pleasure of the dance. It was quite late when the last guest departed and the lights were turned down on the scene of the most brilliant social affair of the season—one that will long be remembered by the fortunate participants.
Mr. Nickerson’s New Home.
Mr. Nickerson’s new residence differs so materially, especially in internal finish, from the many other homes of wealthy citizens of Chicago which have recently been thrown open to social circles that a detailed description must necessarily be of special interest at this time.
One of the main features of this building is the absence of any plastering, either on walls or ceilings, in consequence of which no wall-paper has been employed. The spacious and magnificent hall, which divides the building in two equal parts, is finished entirely in marble. The renaissance architecture of the hall gave a good opportunity to relieve the natural coldness of this material (so often observed) by employing various colored marbles, thus producing a fine harmony of blending colors. The large, commodious double staircase leading to the third floor is also constructed completely of marble and iron, relieved with bronze. Bronze side-brackets and candelabra on the large landings serve for illumination.
To the left of this hall on the mai hall are the sitting-room, the drawing-room, the library, and the art gallery, connecting with each other by large sliding doors, thus giving an unbroken vista in its entire length.
The First Three Rooms are finished in the Renaissance style of corresponding periods, designating the characters of the rooms. The woodwork in general consists of wainscoting. The ceiling is divided with wooden beams, with frescoed canvas panel between. The walls are covered with silk and tapestry. The finish of the sitting-room is of St. Domingo mahogany. The color of the walls is buff, and the curtains are of blue and gold. The upper frieze of the high wainscoting here is relieved with panels of beveled mirrors, which give a sparkling, yet quiet brilliancy to the room. The drawing-room is finished in satin-wood, slightly relieved with fulay. The pilasters, or door-openings, are enriched with choice carvings of floral designs. The covering of the walls is pale-blue silk, Louis XVI style. A charming frieze of fine pilasters, inclosing bronze panels of special design, carries the ceiling, which is divided into small cassets. These are decorated with alanthus leaves, the general tone corresponding with the covering of the walls. The mantlepiece in this room, varying from the other, is executed in onyx, with finely chiseled bronze and gilt ornaments. The draperies are if pale red. The library is furnished with in ebony, relieved with carvings in apple-wood. High bookcases ornament the walls, which are covered with heavy silk in gold and olive. A paneled frieze with brackets in Italian Renaissance carries the paneled ceiling, with cassets decorated in olive, red, and gray. The draperies are a production of the Chicago Society of Decorative Art, in which Mrs. Nickerson takes a very active part. The ground of these draperies is of crimson silk plush, embroidered after special design in varying shades of green, with other complimentary colors edged with gold cord.
Connecting with this Library is a large art gallery with skylight. The woodwork corresponds with that of the library. For the account of the large selection of etchings, art-journals, etc., the dado is formed by deep cases especially arranged therefor. The walls are covered with large canvas and decorated in two shades in a peculiar combination which forms a rich background without interfering with the many magnificent and carefully-selected paintings, statues, etc. The illuminators of these rooms are arranged solely by sidelights, as the chandeliers would strangely interfere with the vista. The library only, as the end room, has besides sidelights a reflector laid deeply into the ceiling, with gas-jets completely covered with prismatic glass.
Tp the right of the hall is first a Separate Reception Room finished in black walnut, with high wainscoting and a mantlepiece of Caen marble with richly carved frieze. The walls are laid in with richly carved frieze. The walls are laid in which Chelsea tiles of Moorish pattern. The ceiling, divided into panels which are filled in with marble of different colors, is carried by frieze, richly carved and arched, forming panels of glass mosaic, also Moorish in design. This room contains large wardrobes and toilet.
Dividing the alcove room from the smoking or gentlemen’s room, is the side hall leading to the portecochére, finished in the same style as the main hall. The finish of te Smoking-Room is black walnut, with very high wainscoting, forming shelves and recesses for a collection of objects of art. The mantel-piece is carried up to the ceiling, with large panels of tiles and Roman mosaic, the latter not yet arrived. The walls are laid in with Chelsea tiles of a deep blue, after a special design of passion flowers. The ceilings are of heavy wood beams, with Iowa marble panels between. The woodwork is relieved with fulay to harmonize with the antique furniture imported from Holland.
The last room on the right is the Magnificent Dining-Room.
This room is finished in antique oak of a Flemish renaissance, with high and richly-carved wainscoting, pilaster and larger mantel and side-board, which enter finely into the architectural development of the room, carrying a handsome ceiling paneled and laid in with marble. The walls are covered with embossed and painted leather in Tuscan red and gold. The draperies of the windows are of dark blue embroidered with gold thread after special design. There are a few lights of stained glass which seems to have been used very sparingly, but, where used, with great effect. The effect of these conventionalized designs of fruits, flowers, and leaves is solely accomplished by the employment of antique glass and jewels without any painting. High-backed arm-chairs covered with solid, yet cheerful, effect of this room, which is highlighted by the liberal supply of light through large sidelights and a beautiful chandelier.
The general finish of the rooms on the second and third floors varies in woods of different kinds. The walls have wainscoting, canvas ceilings, dividied by wood or bronze moldings, and are covered with different materials in tapestry or silk.
The principal rooms of the Second Floor are the main guest room, not yet completed, and Mr. Nickerson’s room of Circassian walnut in heavy Italian renaissance of the fifteenth century, relieved with ornaments in gold. The covering of the walls is terra-cotta shaded tapestry. The draperies are of deep bottle-green satin, with appliqué embroidery of Turkish old-gold design. A magnificent brass bedstead with half-canopy and heavy curtains, together with comfortable lounge, complete this as a quiet and rich chamber.
Mrs. Nickerson’s Boudoir is finished in sycamore wood, inlaid with amaranth. The walls are covered with silk, pale buff and blue. The architecture of the room has a Moorish feeling, carried out more pointedly in the treatment of an arch which separates an oriel bay from the room. This is made a special feature. A heavy portiére of blue silk plush appliqué with Turkish embroidery closes the oriel from the room, and forms thus with the stained glass and pretty ottomans a quiet and cozy retreat. The large windows fronting Erie street are hung with old imported embroidery made into curtains.
Connecting with boudoir is Mrs. Nickerson’s Bedroom. Furnished in St. Domingo mahogany and brass. The furniture is of the same kind. The walls, window-curtains, and portiéres are hung with the same material of a peculiar blue silk.
A Young Ladies’ Room is furnished in plain sycamore, tye walls hung with cashmere in brown. The furniture and fixtures correspond, relieved qith Faience. The draperies are of light Chinese striped silk.
The Third Floor contains mainly guest chambers and the apartments of Mr. Nickerson Jr., consisting of chamber, bath-room, and sitting-room. The guest rooms are treated in walnut and butternut; the ceilings being of canvas held by bronze moldings. The walls are covered with tapestry. The front room in red, the rear room in blue and gray, with furniture to correspond.
The sleeping-room is finished in light oak, and relieved with inlay of a Japanese design. The walls are covered with imitations of antique tapestry in brown and pale blues. The ceiling is covered with Japanese cretonne, held by bronze moldings. The curtains, of light-brown cashmere, are embroidered with medallions of a Japanese design made by the Chicago Society of Decorative Art; furniture and other appointments to match.
Connecting with this room by a passage is the sitting-room, finished in dark oak. Small as the room is, it contains every convenience required in the enjoyment of home-life. The mantel combines neatly arranged sideboard and bookcases. A writing-desk and other necessaries are conveniently arranged. The wainscots and frieze are decorated with panels of decorated leather. The ceilings of the rooms are partly laid in with marble and partly with leather. The walls are covered with leathers in light brown tints, forming a fine background for the collection of water-colors. The entire space of the large third hall is finished as a Dancing Hall, and is distinct from the halls below. The walls have mahogany wainscoting and pilaster finish, carrying a marble ceiling divided by mahogany beams. The walls between pilasters are decorated with painted canvas, interchanged with beveled mirrors.
Each chamber on the second and third floors is provided with a large dressing and bath-room. To secure an utmost safety and cleanliness all these bath-rooms have a tile flooring and marble wainscoting. The remainder of the walls are covered with foreign and Chelsea tiles of various patterns, some made after special design and harmonizing with the colors of each respective room. The ceilings are marble, held by wood beams.
The flooring throughout the house, excepting in halls, is of the marqueterie, modeled after European patterns, varying in designs and colors, so that rugs are introduced wherever required.
While the particular construction and conditions required a strong and expressive treatment of all the details, the general effect is such as to impress the visitor that he is entering the home of refinement and culture, connected with a strong individual taste for comfort. Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson have wisely not confined themselves to prevailing and also changing fashions of today, but have carried out their ideas of art with true and lasting effects.
The Toilets displayed by the ladies were magnificent, and there was no apparent desire on the part of every lady present to display a toilet richer than that worn by her next neighbor. To give a full description of these triumphs of the modiste’s art would be impossible, and it would be unjusr to many to smug out a few. The toilets worn by the hostess and thr young lady who assisted her in receiving are given.
Mrs. Nickerson wore an elegant imported dress of light steel-blue, “a la Pompadour,” both in style and material. The skirt, consisted of flat shirrings and puffings of the plain color, while in the material of the draperies there were here and there embroidered cold and pink roses. Duchesse lace bordered the high paniers and trimmed the neck and sleeves. The “bouquet de corsage” was of artificial flowers, shading with the flowers in the dress. The ornaments were diamonds.
Miss Stella Easton, of Philadelphia, who is visiting Mrs. Nickerson, was dressed in peach-blow Ottoman silk and figured satin brocade. The front of the skirt was of Ottoman silk plainly trimmed, headed by high drapings of Ottoman and brocade combined. The corsage was of the brocade, also the long squarer train which fell in two wide box plaits and was finished with small trimmings of Ottoman and lace. The elbow sleeves and square-cut corsage were trimmed with handsome lace, and the only ornaments were a collier of Siberian crystals and a corsage bouquet of Jacquemonot roses. Miss Easton also carried a bouquet of Peries du Jardin.
Inter Ocean, April 22, 1900
The Samuel M. Nickerson residence at the northeast corner of Cass and Erie streets is on the way of sale to Lucius G. Fisher for $75,000. The property fronts on Cass street 109 feet and on Erie3 street 150 feet, The residence was erected in 1882 and was one of the first fireproof houses in the city.
The History of the First National Bank of Chicago, Henry C. Morris, 1902
SAMUEL M. NICKERSON
To the student of character the career of a pioneer in any department of human activity is peculiarly an object of admir- ation. Enterprise and energy are the distinguishing traits of the leaders of men. Chicago, by reason of its rapid growth, has been the field during the past sixty years for the development of a host of these master minds, who have dreamed not in vain, but under the inspiration of their genius achieving phenomenal success, have vanquished every obstacle, and won the laurel wreath at the hands of their grateful contemporaries. Of this group the veteran bankers, by virtue of their high personality, and the inestimable value of their services, occupy the first ranks; and among them the subject of the present sketch is at the forefront.
On June 14, 1830, there was born to Ensign Nickerson and his wife, Rebecca Mayo Nickerson, then residing at Chatham, Massachusetts, a son, who in due course received the baptismal name of Samuel Mayo. Poor in worldly goods, and not blessed with a high degree of education, as measured by the standard of the schools, this humble couple nevertheless appreciated the value of sound intellectual training, and determined to afford their children, so far as possible, the advantages which they themselves had not in their youth been able to enjoy. With these motives the family removed, in 1837, to Boston. The boy, Samuel, thenceforth diligently applying himself for several years to the pursuit of knowl- edge, attended first the public schools of the city, and subsequently the academy at New Hampton, New Hampshire. This period of life was interspersed with brief intervals of vacation and labor on the old farm.
Upon the conclusion of his school days, in 1847, Samuel, chiefly dependent upon his own industry, and eager to face the vicissitudes of maturer years, was attracted by the apparent advantages offered to young men in the South. Incidentally his elder brother, it should be stated, had already settled at Appalachicola, Florida, where he owned a general store. An offer of employment in this establishment being accepted as a temporary expedient, Samuel, high in hopes and full of projects, sailed on a sea-going packet ultimately bound for the distant land of his dreams. In due season he arrived entering at once upon his new duties, he labored arduously for three years. Then ambitious to make more rapid progress, he succeeded in starting a similar venture on his own account. Some northern friends, having become
interested, advanced him the requisite amount of capital, which he judged necessary to supplement his own hard-earned savings. For some years he struggled with varying fortune, now hopeful, again discouraged, and sometimes uncertain of the results which he might achieve, until at length in one fatal hour his entire stock was destroyed by fire. Apparently ruined, but still full of pluck and unshaken in his aspirations, his principal thought was to sustain his good reputation. There was then some outstanding indebtedness against him; these claims being at once compromised, he was technically relieved of all obligations; but to him this solution was not by any means satisfactory; for within a few years, when prosperity was again smiling upon him, he paid every one of his former creditors whatever balance still remained due them, as he conceived it, to make one hundred cents on the dollar.
The next step taken by Samuel M. Nickerson was the turning-point in his life. In 1858 he removed to Chicago. Again borrowing the necessary funds on the security of his good name from some persons who yet had faith in his ability, he began anew for himself in this busy center of the West. This time he engaged in distilling high wines and alcohol; speedily reaping the rewards of his labors, he was soon able to lend an ear to other business projects. When, in 1862-1863, the feasibility of establishing a national bank was the topic of discussion among the members of a little coterie of Chicago capitalists, Mr. Nickerson was an ardent advocate of the project. He subscribed liberally to the stock of the First National Bank, assisted materially in its organization, and was elected one of the first board of directors. Almost immediately he was chosen vice-president of the institution, and in 1867, upon the death of President Aiken, was selected as his successor. For twenty-four years he continuously served in this capacity; resigning in 1891, as he thought finally, he was allowed to enjoy only a few years of respite; for in 1897 he was again called to take the helm; but three years later once more succeeded in retiring from his post.
In 1864 Mr. Nickerson abandoned the distilling business, and in the same year was chosen president of the Chicago City Horse Railroad Company, in which position he displayed during his term of seven years distinguished executive ability. In 1867 he was the chief force in the organization of the Union Stock Yards National Bank (now the National Live Stock Bank), was its president for six years, and long afterwards a director. He has also been deeply interested in many other important commercial, railway, and financial enterprises.
The management and direction of the affairs of the First National Bank, however, gradually absorbed the entire attention of Mr. Nickerson; as this institution rapidly developed under the inspiration of himself and his associates it exacted more and more devotion on their part. For many years he was the central figure in its guidance; to it he zealously gave the best portion of his life, undisturbed by anything which did not contribute to its advancement, or was not incidental to its welfare. During his incumbency of the presidency the institution passed through many crises, not only in its own history, but in that of the community with which it had become so closely identified. Thrice Mr. Nickerson advised in the erection of a banking structure: first when the old building at the southwest corner of State and Washington streets was erected, again upon its restoration after the great fire, and finally when the edifice at present occupied was being planned and completed.
First National Bank of Chicago
Exterior and Interior
Mr. Nickerson’s personality, as viewed in the days of his greatest activity, was most estimable. Democratic in his habits, genial in disposition, and attentive to every reasonable request, he won the admiration of all those who had occasion to know him. Courteous in every emergency, and gracious under the most unexpected contingencies, he neither sought renown nor evaded his just obligations. His home life has been ideal. Fortunate in the science of amassing wealth, he has regarded money more as a means than an end. In December, 1858, Mr. Nickerson married Mathilda, daughter of Isaac Crosby, of Brewster, Massachusetts. In his wife he found not only a helpmate but likewise an associate in the enjoyment of those pastimes to which he is devoted. Mrs. Nickerson is well known for her accomplishments and personal charms. Their original home fell a prey to the flames in 1871; but ten years later a beautiful house was built at the corner of Cass and Erie streets (below). Art has had two devotees in Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson. During their long residence in Chicago their private gallery of paintings was renowned as containing an exceedingly fine and valuable collection. Taste and wealth combined to render their selection of pictures in many respects unique; the best masters were here represented. For several years Mr. Nickerson also acted as director of the Art Institute, to which he gladly devoted many hours of service and a liberal amount of funds. Finally, upon his departure from this city, he donated to it his splendid collection of paintings, engravings, Chinese and Japanese porcelain, jades and lacquers, ivory carvings, arms, and many other objects of art.
In 1900 Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson removed to New York, where their one child, Roland C. Nickerson, also resides. Since this change of residence Mr. Nickerson has not been engaged in active business. He spends about six months of the year in the metropolis, and the remainder of the time at East Brewster on Cape Cod.
American Architect and Building News, February 26, 1881
This building is one of the few fire-proof houses in the city. The brick partition-walls are carried one above another to the roof; the floors are of brick arches turned between iron beams upon which bedded in mortar are the flooring strips to which the flooring boards are nailed.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1910
The marriage of Miss Ethel Field Fisher, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lucius Fisher, 40 east Erie street, and William Warren Dixon, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dixon, 3131 Michigan avenue, will be celebrated at 8:30 o’clock at the family residence on June 15.
The Dixon Mansion
Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1919
The administrative home of the American College of Surgeons was officially located in Chicago yesterday. Regents of the college, meeting at the Congress hotel, accepted as a gift from Chicago citizens a site and building at 40 East Erie street. The latter, built by S. M. Nickerson (now dead but for many years a leading banker), was for a generation one of the show residences of the city. The donors are citizens of Chicago.
A referendum vote of the 4,200 surgeon members of the College association resulted in an overwhelming majority in favor of Chicago, which won because of its geographic advantages.
Dr. Franklin H. Martin, secretary general of the college said:
- New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Washington for years have been ready to compete for the location of the college. That matter is now settled. The donors of the site and building have brought to Chicago a prize comparable only to the Royal College of England in London. Chicago now bids fair to become the medical center of the world.
It was particularly fitting that Chicago was selected because Dr. John B. Murphy, one of the greatest surgeons of our time, was one of the founders of the American College of Surgeons abd one of the first presidents of the Clinical Congress.
Dr. Charles H. Mayo, one of the regents, said:
- It may be ten years before the people of Chicago realize what the college means to this city.
The college is a society of 4,200 surgeons throughout the United States and Canada.
Samuel Nickerson Mansion
Second Atlas of the City of Chicago
Samuel Nickerson Mansion
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map