Col. Wood’s Museum, Aiken’s Museum
Life Span: 1862-1871
Location: North side of Randolph street from Clark to State street
Chicago Illustrated, May, 1866
This view represents one of the busiest street scenes in Chicago. It is taken from the North front of the Court House, and takes in the North side of Randolph street from Clark to State street. The central point in view is Wood’s Museum. It has a front of about seventy-five feet. The stores are occupied by H. M. Higgins, the well-known piano and music dealer, and by Ideson & Co., for rubber goods, all of the building above these stores, in its height and depth, is occupied exclusively by the Museum, and the Lecture room. The signs and flags indicate that Col. Wood, the proprietor, knows he has a good thing, and that he does not hide it in the dark. Since the destruction of Barnum’s Museum in New York, the Chicago Museum stands without rival. It embraces all the objects of curiosity common to all first-class collections, and is remarkable for its specialties. It is the largest collection of such objects now on this continent, and the arrangement for display and for the convenience and comfort of visitors are admirable. Col. Wood puts down the 150,000 as the number of his curiosities of every kind. If any person doubts it, let him make the enumeration.
Until 1862, nothing of this kind had been attempted in Chicago, or west of New York, and in no place in the West, but Chicago, could such an enterprize have been matured in so short a time, and with such unequaled success. The tact and the ability of the proprietor, of course, had much to do, but it was eventually the liberal taste of the public that made it a success. The proper way to account for the success of such an extensive experiment, is probably give Col. Wood credit for the sagacity in discovering that Chicago was the only city outside of New York where people had the cultivation and liberality to encourage and maintain a Museum of such large proportions and heavy expenditures.
Connected with the Museum is a Lecture Room, which is nicely fitted up in the style of a Theatre, and where you produced sterling plays. The company engaged in the production of these plays include representatives of very branch of the dramatic profession, and in point of numbers and in excellence, will compare favorably with any similar company in the United States. The success of this part of Col. Wood’s Museum has been in keeping with that of his general enterprise.
On the corner of Clark Street is the well known general ticket office of the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Railroad, and all of its connecting lines. It is one of the railroad centres of Chicago.
To the right of the Museum, is the justly celebrated sign painting establishment of B. F. Chase, who for twenty years has been the sign artist of Chicago. The business of the establishment is now carried on by Chase & Hild.
The artist has made a very truthful copy of the various signs that indicate the business and occupation of the occupants of the several buildings adjoining the Museum. They can be discovered without any editorial reference. Three lines of horse-railway cars pass this corner, which, with one exception, is the most crowded crossing in Chicago.
James W. Sheahan, Esq.
Chicago Evening Post, December 20, 1867
The Museum.—Mr. Aiken’s Success.
Chicago is ever foremost to recognize genuine merit, and any one who doubts it can easily be convinced by a review of the Museum success under the management of Mr. Aiken. Frank E. Aiken was and still is, without doubt, the most generally popular actor who ever remained in Chicago. As leading man since the first opening, his various assumptions have won him hosts of friends, and made a national name for the Museum. There were, however, those who dubiously shook their heads when he undertook first the part of manager and subsequently that of lessee in addition. The result must certainly gratify him very much. The houses have been fuller under his auspices than ever before. He spared, in the first place, no expense to renovate the establishment, and it is now elegant and comfortable in all apartments. His greatest solicitude, of course, must have been untiring in his effort to make it reach the present standard of the best outside of New York certainly, and in the opinion of many the best in the Union.
Strangers visiting Chicago need scarcely any recommendation to make them visit the Museum. Everybody goes, and everybody is always pleased. The succession of popular and meritorious plays are expensive, but they will be kept up, and Mr. Aiken will undoubtedly fulfill his desire to make it more than ever the leading center of amusement in the West.
Handbook for Strangers & Tourists to the City of Chicago, 1869
This theatre was built in the latter part of 1868, by Mr. D. R. Brant, on the lots Nos. 111 and 113 Dearborn street. It presents a handsome front, fifty feet wide is one hundred and fifty feet deep, and four stories high. The auditorium commences twenty feet back from the street, is divided into parquette, dress and and will comfortably accommodate fifteen hundred persons. The seats are models of ease and comfort, being similar to the new style first introduced into Booth’s great theatre in New York. This theater was opened in December last by a company from the East, who were not successful in their management. In January last Mr. Frank E. Aiken became lessee; and under his able and experienced direction it has become deservedly popular, and ranks as one of the most entertaining and successful, as it is one of the most beautiful places of amusement United States.
Randolph, between Dearborn and Clark
Aiken’s Museum contained collections of natural history objects, a hall of paintings, a panorama of London, and occasional concerts held in the exhibition hall. Colonel John Wood became the proprietor of the museum in January, 1864, and realizing the importance of dramatic performances to attract visitors, he increased its equipment by annexing to the rooms already used the building called Kingsbury hall, in the rear of the museum, and added a stock theatre company to the attractions of the place. During part of the history of the museum, when Frank E. Aiken was manager, it was known as Aiken’s Museum, but the more familiar name was resumed when Colonel Wood became manager in June, 1871.
Sherman House (left) and Wood’s Museum
Photographer: John Carbutt
Colonel Wood’s Museum
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map