Tremont House III 1850-1871, Tremont I (1833-1839), Tremont II (1839-1849)
Architect: John M. Van Osdel
Location: SE corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets
The first Tremont House, a three-story wooden building at the northwest corner of Lake and Dearborn streets, was built in 1833, the same year Chicago became a town and four years before it was incorporated as a city. This burned in an 1839 fire. The second, which met a similar fate ten years later, was also three stories and was located diagonally across the street, on the southeast corner of the same intersection.
Tremont House III
Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1850
The Tremont House has precedence of all others. It is one of the chief ornaments of the City, and reflects great credit upon its proprietor, Mr. Ira Couch. The Tremont fronts 120 feet on Lake, and 180 feet on Dearborn street. It is five and a half stories high. Its internal arrangements, finish, furniture and decorations are in the highest style of art, and of the class denominated princely. There is perhaps no Hotel in the Union superior to it in any respect. The cost of the building was about $75,000. J. M. Vanosdel architect and superintendent, W. & W. Price masons, Updike & Sollett builders.
In 1849 the foundations were laid for a new house, which was built of brick, and opened in 1850, as the only really first-class hotel in Chicago. This was the third Tremont House.
In 1853 the Gage brothers took over the hotel on a lease, and in 1855 John Burroughs Drake became associate manager. It was the leading hotel in the West for many years. In 1863 David Gage withdrew from the management and it was continued under the joint auspices of George W. Gage and John B. Drake. Before the building of the Chamber of Commerce the spacious halls were used by the members of the Chamber in the evenings.
It is constructed of brick, six stories high, and contains 260 rooms. It is furnished throughout with an elegance and sumptuousness unequalled by any hotel in the city, and all its internal appointments and conveniences are unsurpassed. It is well located in the very heart of the city. Messrs. Gage & Drake are its gentlemanly proprietors.
From the balconies of this hotel, Lincoln and Douglas began their campaigns. Some sources ambiguously cite this as the Headquarters of the 1860 National Republican Convention. The Wigwam served as the convention center. This hotel provided the hotel and meeting accommodations for the Illinois Republican Party during the convention.
The five story building cost $75,000. and was raised in 1861 to street level by Ely, Smith and Pullman and was completely overhauled during the process. In 1861, this building served as Douglas’ death place.
The hotel burned to the ground a third time during the Great Chicago Fire. During the interim, John Drake (1826-1895) bought a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Congress that served as the temporary New Tremont House.
Tremont House III
Tremont House III
Tremont Hotel III
Chicago Magaxine, March, 1857
Tremont Hotel III
Lake Street, East from Clark Street
From a photograph by Alschuler Bros. (Samuel D. and Simon). Samuel is the father of famous Chicago architect, Alfred Alschuler,
142 Lake Street
Tremont House III
SE corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1874
THE FOUR TREMONTS
To the Editor of The Chicago Tribune
SIR: In 1833 there was built upon the northwest corner of Lake and Dearborn streets an unpretending frame structure known as the Tremont House, and the following year Ira Couch became its proprietor. He found the house a mere shell, without any sidewalk around it, and poorly furnished, as none of the rooms were entirely carpeted, little pieces in front of the bed being considered sufficient for anyone; and very many of the beds were minus one pleasant luxury, a pillow.
THE MUDDY DAYS.
Around this corner, in early spring-time, it was impossible to drive the stage, and the passengers had to walk some two blocks; on account if the marshy state of the ground, the horses could not navigate; and the ladies were very willing to wear their husbands’ boots in those days, when they felt fearful of losing their footing upon ground that seemed bottomless.
Tremont House No. 1
THE FIRST FIRE.
In the fall of 1839, the Tremont House was first consumed by fire. It had been renovated and repaired shortly before, so that, for those days, when he was beginning life upon a new basis, Mr. Couch’s loss was felt to be quite a serious matter, especially as the building was entirely uninsured.
He then purchased the ground where the elegant hotel now stands, and erected upon it, in 1841, Tremont House No. 2. In all these efforts from the first, Mr. Couch was assisted by his brother James, for they were always together and helping one another.
This also was a frame structure, three stories in height, and for those primitive days—before there was any communication world except by steamboat and stage—the Tremont House was considered too large, and the builder was ahead of the times.
The second Tremont House
THE SECOND FIRE.
Mr. Couch seemed pursued by fire, as, in 1849, the popular hotel was again destroyed. The third Tremont came to know as a fixed fact early in 1850. It was certainly an improvement upon his predecessors, for it was built of brick, five stories high; and again the people thought Mr. Couch must be insane to build such a palace, so they familiarly dubbed it “Couch’s Folly,”—predicting failure to this man of energy and perseverance.
During these early days of building, Mr. Couch (in company with his brother James) was upon the ground early and late watching the building as it progressed, until it was finally completed and ready to be opened.
Tremont House No. 3
THE THIRD TREMONT.
Gas was used in Chicago for the first time at the opening of the third Tremont House; and, as everything was in perfect keeping, the house must have presented a fine appearance, with its large, airy rooms beautifully furnished, and having all the conveniences of those days. Mr. Couch lived to see this enterprise a perfect success, far beyond the most sanguine expectations. In its early days the hotel was crowded to its utmost capacity, and it was soon far too small, for the increasing travel made it often necessary to resort to various methods in order to accommodate those who sought shelter within its walls.
RAISING THE BUILDING.
In the spring of 1861 the Tremont House was raised up to grade—more than 6 feet. This was done by screws; there were 5,000 of these under the building, and 500 men, each man having ten screws under his control. At a given signal they would turn it half round and stop, then go to the next one, and so on. This raised the building boldly, so that not a pane of glass was broken, and the business of the hotel went on as usual. When the house was raised, the court in the centre was enlarged and quite a number of rooms added, and some radical and important changes were made—all under the direct management of Mr. Jame Couch, as the original builder of the Tremont had passed away to his final rest some few years before.
Among our old settlers many of them took rooms the morning of the opening, and sat down to the first breakfast in the house. Messrs. Mosely, McCord, Drew, and Luther Haven are well remembered. With the exception of Mr. Haven, these gentlemen occupied the same rooms they then took, and remained until called to their bright and better home above.
DURING THE WAR
how many sad, as well as pleasant, events took place in the Tremont House, which was the home of so very many public men. Here Lincoln loved tp come on his Western trips. Douglas felt at home nowhere except at the Tremont House, and during his last illness was tenderly cared for in this pleasant, familiar stopping-place. This seemed to be the only home such men as Gens. Ransom, Kirk, and others sought when traveling,—indeed, it was here they closed their labors and passed from sight forever. Our military men, together with President Grant, and those directly under him, usually made the Tremont House their headquarters, coming to it as readily as those who want in and out its doors each day.
Tremont House No. 3
October 9, 1871
THE LAST FIRE.
In the great conflagration of 1871 this dear old landmark was removed, and then there was much to discourage them, still those most interested felt there must be a Tremont House on the old spot. Our New Chicago would not look right unless it were so; and thus we now see Tremont House No. 4 finished and almost ready to be opened.
THE NEW TREMONT.
Mr. James Couch has had left the entire supervision of the building, being upon the ground from early morning until dark. He has spared no pains in the construction, and it is, without doubt, one of the finest buildings yet erected in our new city. It has risen almost by magic, as it were, and Mr. Couch has been most untiring in his arduous enterprise. It was no small task to build up such a hotel, and the inside is just as perfect as it can be made.
Everything about the building is in excellent taste,—the office and the various rooms are arranged in the best possible manner, and the credit belongs entirely to Mr. James Couch, for he has made every effort in his power to have this Tremont House just as it should be in all respects.
Mr. Couch has been ably and greatly assisted by his son Ira in the erection, and especially in the furnishing, of this truly magnificent hotel. Mr. Couch himself will be the proprietor, and upon entering the homes very many of his old familiar faces will greet the guests in the various domestic departments, office, etc., and it is to be hoped that around the genial boards will be congregated very many of the old faces, together with hosts of new ones, for they will be sure of a pleasant greeting and the best of attention from all those connected with the Tremont House.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
SE Corner Dearborn and Lake Streets
Created by E. Whitefield for the map-making concern of Rufus Blanchard