Burch’s Building, Burch’s Block
Life Span: 1858-1871
Location: SW corner Lake Street and Wabash Avenue
Nos. 33 to 41 Lake Street, and 39 to 45 on Wabash Avenue
Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1858
Revival of Business—The Book Trade.
There can be no mistaking the signs of the times. Business is gradually and surely reviving. Confidence in this truth is expressed by every man we meet. No one in his senses, however, expects that intense activity and rapid appreciation, which prevailed everywhere two or three years ago. Indeed, such a state of things would be a calamity instead of a blessing. Confidence that we are having a healthy revival of trade is what we refer to in speaking upon this subject; confidence also that this increase is to move steadily onward till every department of legitimate business feels its life-giving stimulus.
It is true that the more leading departments of commerce are just comparatively quiet. The season of the year makes such a state of things a necessity. But some kinds of traffic are by no means dull; while others are unusually active. Among these, we notice the Book trade, and as we type we take our largest house, Messrs. S.C. Griggs & Co. The proprietors, Messrs. Griggs and Jansen, inform us for the last few months their trade has been much larger than ever before; and what is far better, a very large proportion of it is cash. Our readers, unless they have been taken time to examine for themselves, can scarcely form a just conception of the magnitude of this immense establishment. It occupies Nos. 39 and 41 Lake street, in Burch’s new and magnificent iron-front block.
The sales room is forty-five by one hundred and sixty-five feet, the largest book store but one in the United States. Appleton’s on Broadway, New York, is only a trifle larger than this mammoth Chicago house. The books are piled up on tables and boxes throughout this large room and embrace school books and standard works, stationery, &c., in every variety. Here is a solid pile of Sander’s Fourth Reader. Let us apply the tape-line. It measures three and a half by five feet, and is twelve feet high—two hundred and ten solid feet—nearly two cords. Sander’s Second Reader—a pile three by three and is six feet high now—it was fourteen a few weeks ago. Sander’s Third Reader—another pile three and a half by five feet, and eight high—more than a cord; and here is a pile of Spellers measuring six feet by four, eight feet high—a cord and a half. Our readers will see therefore that Books by the Cord, has a literal and solid illustration in the store of Messrs. Griggs & Co. The piles whose dimensions are given above have been greatly reduced within the last few weeks. A large part of the season their average sales have been four thousand volumes per day. They have sold ten thousand volumes of a single work—Ticknor & Field’s beautiful “Household Edition of the Waverly Novels.”
Their stock of rare and elegant holiday books is very extensive, and is destined to immense depletion within the next week. The total sales of this house would astonish the venerable old fogies of the book trade in the eastern cities.
These facts show an activity in the right direction. Better tat our crops can be short and money scarce than to have stagnation in the means of intellectual and moral progress.
While on this subject, we must not forget to mention our other book-stores, though not so large, are a credit to this, and would be to any other city. We refer with pleasure to their advertisements in our columns. They are all doing a mosy satisfactory business. Those who with standard works, or splendid holiday gifts, will find them at D.B. Cooke & Co.’s, Munson & Bradley’s, Keen’s, or at Perdue & Jones’. Let every family be enriched by their treasures during the holidays. Surely there can be no more acceptable gift than a good and a beautiful book.
Chicago Tribune, May 9, 1859
The Art Exposition Open.—This morning the Art Exposition of our city is open to the public at the Gallery fitted up in Burch’s Block on the corner of Lake street and Wabash avenue. We shall devote more time and space to the detail of its attractions, which, it is enough to say here, are of a kind at once sterling and creditable to Chicago. The catalogue comprises already upwards of three hundred paintings, engravings, statues, busts, bronzes, &c., many of them of great merit and value. They have been surrendered temporarily by their owners to the purposes of fostering a love for art in our midst. The announcement of the managers will be found in another column. Let every one of our readers mark this Exposition as prominent among their engagements.
Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1859
The Art Exposition.
The catalogue of the paintings gives us a most imposing array of names. What images of grace and beauty; what rich perfection of coloring; what ideas of high and immortal Art, pass before us at the mention of Titian, Raphael, Correggio, Guido, Rembrandt, and others of the old masters, whose works are said to be in Chicago. The paintings of these great artists are so highly praised in Europe, so sacredly guarded and treasured by their fortunate owbers, and when one by any chance is offered for sale, it raises such an active competition of princes, rich men, kings, and courts abroad, that we are naturally curious to know what the accident or fortune was, so ill for Europe, so good for America, that sent it across the ocean.
And happily there is a satisfactory answer to the inquiry. We are told that the Guido be longed to a Churchman, a far back ancestor of the present owner. The Rembrandt has been handed down from parent to child through many generations, until at last the emigrant brought the well known family picture with him to his new home in the West; and the Titian, the DaVinci, the Salvator Rosa, the Teniers, the Van Ostade, with many others, were all collected by one who had the good fortune to be in Soain, when the dangers and necessities of war forced their owner to part with their most precious treasures of art.
With such a list of illustrious names, and a gallery so rich with the spoils of time, it may perhaps seem to show a forward disposition, but the very fullness of the catalogue almost forces us to express the wish, that it had been rendered perfectly complete by the presence of Raphael and a Michael Angelo. The ownership of the works of so many of the old Italian maseters, is, however, a pledge, that we may with good hope expect in due time to have in our city specimens of all of them. Let us then, with a feeling of satisfaction and mutual congratulation, contemplate the productions of their genius, which we find in the first Art Exposition of Chicago.
Chicago Illustrated, December 1866
WEST ON WABASH AVENUE AND LAKE STREET. This is a view of the crossing of Lake Street and Wabash Avenue, Burch’s iron block being the building in the foreground. This view is taken from Lake Streets, looking west. These buildings were erected in 1857-8, and have iron fronts, corresponding with a similar block on the opposite side of the street. In the distance is the cupola of the Tremont House. The extensive and widely renowned publishing house of S. C. Griggs & Co., which is one of the institutions in Chicago, is in this block. The other buildings are all occupied by wholesale firms. On the north-west corner of the crossing is the extensive wholesale clothing establishment of Philip Wadsworth & Co.
James Sheahan, December 1866
Chicago Evening Post, January 29, 1868
Chicago, a city of great things, is great in her misfortunes as well as her successes. Almost every week we are called upon to record the latter; and many times within the past few months has it been our duty to chronicle and deplore the former./ A half score of these have been appropriately “great” fires, the list of which, it was hoped, culminated with the “great” Farwell Hall fire three weeks ago. Not so, however; for we have now to speak of a double conflagration, at isolated points in the very penetralia of Chicago’s wealth and business, either of which would have terribly signalized the year; and which, together, almost render appropriate the epithet, annas mirabilis, that has perpetuated the memory of the great London fire through two centuries. The Farwell Hall fire was great; but here, among a dozen firms whose loss equals or far exceeds those of the destruction of Farwell Hall. Thirty firms, this morning, share the companionship of misery over the loss of their effects, and the cessation of their business; and only five of these lost less than $10,000,—and only seven others less than $75,000.
Two conflagrations, at isolated points in the heart of the metropolis, both among buildings deemed “fire-proof,” the losses at each of which fott up more than a million and a quarter of dollars! When we speak of a
Previous Great Fire
in Chicago, to be named along with this, we have to go back a period of more than ten years, to that of 1857, which occurred on Lake and South Water streets, east of and near Clark, destroying three or four fronts on each of those streets, and involving a loss of property not much more than a half million of dollars. That was a more fearful catastrophe, however, in the loss of eighteen lives, among whom were Mr. High, Mr. Dickey, and other prominent citizens. The difference in other respects was great. The buildings then consumed were such as would now be considered third rate; and their poor quality led attention to the construction of builsings which should be proof against fire. Prominent among these were those consumed last night. In another respect is the contrast interesting. That destructive conflagration brought to a close the period of the Voluntary Fire Department, and also that of hand fire engines. Cincinnati alone had then introduced the steam fire engine,—an invention of a citizen of that city; and Chicago, speedily organized a paid Fire Department, was the first to follow Cincinnati’s example in the introduction of steam fire-engines. Yet, notwithstanding our admirable Fire Department organization, our steam fire-engines, numbering more than the hand engines of a decade ago; and no withstanding the superior, though still glaringly imperfect, construction of our business blocks, we have still to record destructive conflagrations every few weeks, and now to speak of a double one which far exceeds the aggregate of those suffered for a whole twelvemonth. For the convenience of the reader, we present here with a
Diagram of the Locality of the Two Great Fires1
The burnt district fronts Lake streets and on Wabash and Michigan avenues, running back to the alleys in each case and in one instance crossing the alleys and destroying the rear portions of two stores fronting on Water street. The burned buildings and business houses are represented in the diagram by the letter “B.”
We will here introduce a notice of
The Buildings Destroyed.
The first fire originated in the Burch Building, and was confined thereto. This magnificent structure was one of the first fruits of the calamity of 1857, being completed in 1859. Its massive iron front, extending 150 feet on Lake street was as elegant as it seemed substantial. The building cost, nine years ago, $333,000; and the loss, considering the present cost of replacing it, is full $400,000.
Passing to the block on the opposite side of the street, which was many times on fire, the damage to the building is confined almost extensively to front, and to the expensive plate glass which ornamented it. Nearly half way between Wabash and Michigan avenues, on the north side of Lake street, is the scene of the origin of the second conflagration. This, No. 20, was a portion of a concrete front block (four numbers) owned by Baptiste Sawyer, four stories high, and a hundred feet deep, and values at $100,000. Curiously enough, this front alone remains,—the iron front of the Burch Building and the beautiful marble front of the adjoining blocks to the east, both lying in a heap in the street. This latter, a marble-front four story block, was separated from Sawyer’s building by a narrow alley. It was owned by H.A. Kohn, Esq., and cost $90,000. Between this and the adjoining building to the east (corner of Michigan avenue and Lake street) was a very thick brick wall, which it was hoped would stay the progress of the flames. But, owing to peculiarities elsewhere referred to, it was soon in flames, and its walls are now a mass of debris half filling the streets on which it fronted. This building was owned by C.H. McCormick, and was valued at $100,000. Adjoining this, on the rear, was a brick building, worth about $3,000, fronting on Michigan avenue, which was destroyed. The fire crossed the alley in the rear of the buildings above described, and communicated with two South Water street fronts, which, though saved from destruction, were considerably damaged by water. Across Lake street, south, the fronts are somewhat injured by the intense heat to which they were subjected; while the south front of the Adams House, which narrowly escaped being consumed, presents a sorry aspect of blackened walls and broken glass. Similar is the appearance of Farwell’s wholesale building, fronting west on Wabash avenue, which also narrowly escaped destruction, its huge wooden cornice and pitch-and-paper roof being frequently on fire.
Origin and Progress of the Fires.
But one thing is certain in regard to the origin of the first fire, that it originated over the store of Griggs & Co. But here, authorities conflict—some thinking it originated in 39, others in 37. A member of the firm of Griggs & Co. informs us that about half-past six o’clock, only two of their employes being in the store, water was observed trickling down from above. It was supposed that a pipe had burst or a faucet been left turned. They tried in vain to get access to the floor above the street, and then proceeded to the alley in the rear, and saw smoke issuing from the fifth story windows. The alarm was then given. A member of the firm of McDougall, Nicholas & Abbott, who occupied the second floor of Nos. 35 and 37, are confident that the fire originated in the rear of Rosenfeld Bros’., who occupied the second story of No. 39, over S.C. Griggs & Co. Flames were seen by one of McDougall & Co.’s salesmen issuing from Rosenfeld’s rear windows a very few minutes after seven, just before the alarm sounded. The fire speedily forced its way to the front, and enveloped all the stories. Between the six numbers of the Burch Building, the walls originally too thin to be fire-proof, were cut through in all stories by doorways and other passages, by reason of which the entire block was soon in flames. The building was deemed very insecure by Messrs. Griggs, who have been for sometime past negotiating for another place, it having been their intention to remove in the spring. In regard to the origin of the second fire, accounts are also conflicting. A member of Griggs & Co., who was engaged in removing stock to the rear of buildings adjoining that in which it originated, first saw the roof of No. 20 on fire above Carson & Pirie’s, and the flames bursting into the alley. It is, however, most positively affirmed by an employe of King, Kellogg & Co.’s, (who was on their roof for two hours), Nos. 22 and 24, that the fire did not take on the roof, but was first seen in the basement and first floor. The same thing is affirmed by people who stood on the top of the Richmond House, and who could look down into the back part of the building in which the fire caught. It seems altogether certain that the fire originated low in the rear of the block, and could and could not have been communicated from the other fire. When this building was about half consumed, the fire communicated with the one adjoining to the east, both through the basement and the upper story. Between this and that occupied by Burnham & Van Schaak there was a fire wall, which long kept back the flames. But the cornice of the latter took fire and was completely consumed by which time the flames had invaded the inside both in front and rear.
It was now supposed that the further spread of the flames was checked, there being an alley to the east. But the wall on this alley crumbled and fell, when the fire immediately communicated with the fancy Mansard roof over Nos. 10, 12 and 14, and the entire structure was soon far on the way to destruction. In like manner the block composing Nos. 4, 6 and 8 took fire, in spite of an excellent fire wall, by reason of the exposed an inflammable nature of the Mansard roof. The outside walls of this building (McCormick’s) were of the flimsiest character,—being, according to measurement made by our reporters, but twenty inches thick of the foundation, and five stories high. The inside was not more than one-quarter consumed, and even the cornice was uninjured, when the Michigan avenue wall fell out from top to bottom towards the Adams House, and the Lake street wass soon followed. This block was constructed entirely in the winter. The lessons which these facts teach are too palpable to need enforcement here. Some of them are commented on in our editorial columns.
THE FIRST FIRE.
The loss is estimated at $400,000. It was insured for nearly $200,000, in Companies almost as numerous as the scores of insurance agencies established in Chicago. Taking the suffering firms in the order of the progress of the fire,—among the heaviest sufferers, and those that will feel this misfortune most deeply, is that of
Messrs. Griggs & Co.,
who occupied the basement and the first and fifth floors of 39 and 41. Filling up for the spring trade, their stock was not appreciably diminished by the winter’s sales. It was particularly heavy in stationery. Its value, as shown by recent inventory, was $175,000. Of these priceless treasures, rich in rare and costly foreign books, as well as in books for the million in home and school, not more than three or four thousand dollars’ worth was saved. They are insured for a little more than $100,000.
Fise, Kirtland and Co.,
No. 43, manufacturers and jobbers in boots and shoes, had a very heavy stock on hand. It is not probable that their loss can fall short of $10,000, which amount is fully covered by insurance.
Webster, Marsh & Co.
clothing jobbers and importers, No. 43, suffered a loss of about $5,000, fully covered by insurance.
jobbers in hats, caps, furs, etc., occupied the upper stories of Nos. 39 and 41. Their stock was estmated at $75,000, insured for about two-thirds of that amount.
M’Dougal, Nicholas & Abbott.
This company, occupants of the upper stories of No. 37 Lake and Nos. 41 and 43 Wabash avenue, were wholesale dealers in boots and shoes. The establishment gave employment to over 300 men, all of whom suffer the loss of their tools.
The losses of this firm are greatly exaggerated in the morning papers. Their loss in stock, was about $60,000, the insurance on which was nearly $50,000.
L. Schoenfeld & Co.
This firm occupied the upper stories of 39 and 41 Lake street, the manufacture and jobbing of men’s clothing. The value of their stock $30,000. Their insurance is in about the same proportion as the others mentioned.
Haywood, Carthage & Honore,
importers of hardware and cutlery, occupied Nos. 37 Lake street and 43 Wabash avenue. Their stock could not have been less than $150,000.
Manning Bros., West & Co.,
importers and wholesale dealers in notions, occupied the first floor of No. 35 Lake street. Their stock , valued at $100,000, was insured exclusively in New York companies to the amount of $75,000.
Simon & Strauss,
jobbers in gents furnishing goods, occupied the whole No. 33 Lake street. Their stock was estimated at $150,000, with a probable insurance of over $100,000.
E.R. Kellogg & Co.,
dealers in hats, caps, and furs, No. 45 Wbash avenue had a stock of about $75,000; insured for $35,000.
R.G. Dunn & Co.
The office of the mercantile agency of the above firm was in No. 45 Wabash avenue. It contained material and statistical information. The mercantile community will be happy to learn that they saved all their valuable records. These records date back, in many instances, as to as early a period as 1841, and contain a history in brief of all the business men of the country down to the present time,
in the Burch building probably approximate $25,000.
Harper’s Weekly, February 15, 1868
The Burning of the Burch Building
Looking Northwest from Wabash Avenue and the Alley between Lake and Randolph streets.
THE SECOND FIRE.
Carson, Pirie & Co.
No. 20 Lake street, occupied the first floor and basement with a stock of dry goods, valued at $100,000, none of which was saved. Upon the stock was $80,000 insurance,—$10,000 in the agency of Brown and Ayer, of this city.
Merrill & Hopkins,
wholesale dealers in crockery occupied the upper floors of No. 20. Their loss was $25,000, insured for about $20,000. Their insurance policies were lost with the safe which was left open in the haste of the occasion.
Whitney & Co.,
boot and shoe manufacturers, occupied No. 22, to which the flames spread from No. 20. The stock in hand amounted to $40,000, and was totally destroyed; insured for $30,000.
Seymour, Carter & Co.,
wholesale dealers in hoisery, gloves, and notions, occupied the upper floors of No. 22, and their stock, amounting to $85,000, was entirely destroyed. Of this there were $55,000 of insurance.
glove maker and dealer, occupied the extreme upper floor of No. 22. Stock valued at $14,000; totally consumed; insured for $10,000.
wholesale clothing merchants, occupied the whole of No. 18, wityh a stock valued at $75,000 which was totally destroyed. The firm held policies to the amount of $45,000.
contractor and builder, was engaged in fitting up the upper portion od No. 18. His loss in lumber, tools, finished work, eyc., reaches nearly $5,000, there being no insurance.
Burnhams & Van Schaack.
The store of Burnhams & Van Schaak, No. 16, was filled from top to bottom, with a stock of drugs, valued at about $250,000, insured for two-thirds of its value.
Fitch, Williams & Co.,
wholesale dealers in hats, caps, furs, Nos. 10, 12, and 15. The entire roof was wrapped in flames before the proprietors believed they were to become victims of the fire, when the front doors were opened and a considerable portion of the goods removed across the street. The firm had about $75,000 worth of goods, which were insured for $50,000.
Keith, Wood & Co.
Immediately above, snd occupying all the upper floors of the same stores, was the firm of Keith, Wood & Co., wholesale dealers in fancy dry goods. Their loss was $80,000, fully insured.
C.M. Henderson & Co.
The first floor, and the three upper floors of 4,6 and 8, were occupied by the firm of C.M. Henderson & Co. They had stock to the amount of $125,000, a small portion of which was saved. There was ample to have saved a greater portion of the goods on the first floor, but the proprietors were away, and the clerk did not wish to take responsibility of orders for the removal of the goods. When it was seen inevitable that the whole building, with its contents, must be destroyed, the police gave orders for the removal of the goods. A few boxes were removed, when the heat and stifling smoke prevented any further efforts in that direction. The insurance was about $70,000.
Asahel Pierce & Co.,
occupied the second floor as a wholesale clothing establishment. Their stock worth $50,000 was lost. The insurance is from $35,000 to $40,000.
A brick building fronting on Michigan avenue, and immediately north of Mr. McCormick’s building, was occupied by Daniel O’Neil as a boarding house, and was worth about $8,000.
South Water Street.
The wind drove the flames toward South Water street, across a narrow alley, and for a time the heavy wholesale establishments in that locality were threatened with destruction. Their destruction was prevented, but heavy damage was inflicted to buildings and stock by fire and water.
Cupples & Marston,
wholesale grocers, No. 77 South Water street, suffered a loss on building and stock to the amount of about $15,000—fully covered by insurance.
Casily & Co.,
wholesale liquor dealers, No. 35, were damaged to the amount of about $10,000—fully insured.
Adams House Block.
The loss to this house was much less than at first supposed. The only damage done was to the windows fronting on the avenue, which were nearly all broken, either by streams of water or the heat. The lower story was somewhat damaged by the falling wall, many of the bricks passing through the windows of the office below.
The above and a general upturning of furniture, etc., which received a severe wetting, are all the proprietors have to complain of. Their goods were all covered by insurance.
Messrs. Partridge & Smith, wholesale dry goods dealers, Michigan avenue, rear if the Adams House, were also damaged by having nearly all of their plate glass windows broken and many of their goods badly damaged by hasty removal. Their loss will probably reach some $3,000 or upward.
As a spectacle the fire was one of the grandest, and at the same time the most terrible, ever witnesses in this city. A blinding shower of snow was driving on the wind, but thicker and faster than the snow flakes flew out the sparks and balls of fire, and over all rose up a vast cloud of stream and smoke, rendered luminous by the flames. Vast crowds of people assembled from every quarter, and thronged all the streets and avenues leading to the scene. Dense as were the crowds, there was no tumult or commotion. Every obe stood intently watching the progress of the conflagration. High over the roofs rose the column of flame, now throwing its flickering, roaring arms against the sky, now lashing the opposite buildings, kindling the casements and wooden cornices, and kissing the gilded letters on the walls with flame. On the roofs could be seen the firemen busily at work, seemingly unconscious of danger, and heedless of the noise of falling walls, which soon began to crush around them on every side. Murmurs of admiration could be heard amid the crowds as they watched their efforts, but soon the attention would be diverted from them to some new phase of the rapidly spreading conflagration. For a time it seemed as if it would be impossible to arrest its progress, as building after building began to belch forth flame, and hurl showers of sparks and blazing embers toward the sky. The spectators were lost in admiration at the terrific grandeur of the scene, and many seemed to forget for a time the loss that was being sustained.
SW corner Lake and Wabash
Created by E. Whitefield for the map-making concern of Rufus Blanchard
SW corner Lake and Wabash
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
1 Chicagology added a 1863 business map of the burnt district to provide further detail as well as the street numbers which are mentioned throughout the Post’s article.