Bookseller’s Row, Sturges Building
Life Span: 1869-1871
Location:111-123 State Street, East side of State, between Washington and Madison Streets
Architect: Mortimer Smith
Chicago Evening Post, March 20, 1869
Eight years ago a young man started a small book and news stand in a modest location on Custom House place, with the determination to’ build up a successful business, if energy and industry would do it. He labored steadily at his task, obtaining general good will by his courtesy and uprightness, and finding his trade rapidly increasing. The business of sending the daily papers to dealers all over the Northwest became of itself at his hands one of great magnitude, aside from the regular book business, and he was soon obliged to move into more commodious quarters, becoming, also, President of “The Western News Company,” which was organized to attend to the systematic distribution of newspapers and periodicals all the West. The business continued to expand beyond all expectation, and amounted to more than eight hundred thousand dollars last year, compelling another change; and to-day the Western News Company, headed by Mr. John R. Walsh, whose name has become a familiar one in every city and village of the surrounding States, opens “Bookseller’s Row,” the splendid marble front block on State street, near Madison, the finest book store this side of New York, and indeed one that probably is not equalled in elegance and beauty in the country.
A look through this great establishmet will greatly interest the visitor, and show him what splendid possibilities and success Chicago affords to ability and energy. The Western News Company occupies the spacious first floor and basement, each 50 feet wide and 150 feet deep. The main floor is fitted up in the most elegant manner with shelves, cases, drawers and desks of walnut and chestnut. Near the centre is the cashier’s office, a circular Gothic edifice, and farther back the office of the proprietor and the book-keepers. very handsome pieces, of architecture, and splendidly adapted to the purposes for which they were intended. In a tasteful niche on each side is a bronze statue of Atlas supporting the world. But the lover of books is especially delighted with the immense display of volumes from the cheap to the most costly which crowd the shelves and cases, comprising full lines. from all the principal American publishers and a special department of costly and choice English publications, making it in all respects a complete depository of publications of all grades. It would be difficult to name a standard work that is not to be found in this collection. In respect to the number and variety of choice volumes, Mr. Walsh has taken a great step, being determined to excel in this respect as he long has in supplying the trade with periodi-cals.
The lofty and well lighted basement contains almost countless shelves and bins of lighter literature, from the dime novel up; stationery of all kinds occupies a prominent place, as well as conveniences for receiving and distributing to the 800 country customers their daily bundles of newspapers and magazines the business in which the Western News Company has become famous. The strictest order and promptness are required in this department, as the failure to reach a single train would disappoint thousands of distant readers. The wagons of the Western News Company sometimes tear through the streets at a terrible rate, but they arrive in time.
The establishment employs between 40 and 50 persons and is altogether hardly equalled on the continent. To Mr. John R. Walsh is due the credit of making it what it is from almost nothing, and he may well feel a pride, which every citizen should share, at his success. Judging from the past his business for the coming year will not much fall short of a million of dollars. Mr. Ammon, the able Western representative of Messrs. Fields, Osgood & Co., has an elaborately constructed desk in fine store and finds the Western News Compamy the heaviest Western purchaser of the publications of his great house.
We could linger long in describing this palace of literature, where everything reflects so much credit upon proprietors, designers, workmen, and the city which has made its establishment possible, but the reader can satisfy himself better by personal inspection. The building is thrown open to-day.
The design of the interior of the salesroom—a marvel of artistic beauty and harmony—must be attributed to Mr. Mortimer Smith, a young and rising architect of Detroit, Michigan, who could scarcely desire a more striking and enduring evidence of his splendid taste. Due credit also attaches to Mr. John Wilson, the carpenter, and to his efficient foreman, John A. Mack, upon whom devolved the responsibility of the faithful following out of the plans and drawings. The finishing and coloring, so admirably blended and tastefully executed throughout, is the work of McDermott & Murray, of this city; the gas fittings, which are to be of appropriate Gothic pattern from Peterson Patterson, and the show cases from Dan Barclay. The total cost of the fixtures throughout has reached nearly $20,000, and the new salesroom of the Western News Company, at Nos. 121 and 123 State street, Sturges Building, is, without question, the most elegant store in America.
Photographer: Lovejoy & Foster
Photographer: Charles R. Clark
Chicago Evening Post, November 15, 1871
In literature and the fine arts Chicago at the time of the great fire was fast rivaling her sisters on the seaboard. In her great book stores she had achieved a preeminence which partook of the wonderful character of all her enterprises. She pointed with pride to Booksellers’ row on State street, where stupendous stocks of all that was valuable in literature was displayed with an elegance worthy of the great authors whose works adorned the walls. She was the centre of the book civilization of the Northwest, and when she fell. the dealer in the West and the publisher in the East felt the loss almost as immediately as if it had fallen upon themselves. The American Bookseller, a periodical published in the East, says of the line of trade which it represents “The effect of the destruction of Chicago was very marked in Boston, and little was done during the latter half of October. The same report is made of the New York and the Philadelphia markets.
A showing of the loses to booksellers in this city and the outlook for that line of trade will be found below.
THE WESTERN NEWS COMPANY
The unceasing energy of John R. Walsh had, from the humblest beginnings, erected the magnificent house known as the Western News Company. It was situated in Booksellers’ row, and was stocked with a complete assortment of all foreign and domestic publications. It was the great depot of news supplies for the Northwest. All the great newspapers and periodicals were distributed to the newsdealers throughout the West over Walsh’s counter. The business was of gigantic proportions but it was so systematized that it was transacted with the utmost celerity. The loss of the Western News Company will exceed $200,000, but, upon their insurance, they will probably recover half that sum. With the energy which characterizes all of Mr. Walsh’s proceedings, immediately after the fire be established the company in the brick building corner of Randolph and Clinton streets, where they are now located, distributing news to all their old customers, The outlook is good. Eventually the company will get back to the South Side.
S. C. GRIGGS AND CO1
This long established and well-known firm was doing business at the time of the fire in Booksellers’ row. They had a magnificent stock of miscellaneous and school books and stationery. They made a specialty of hand. some foreign publications; of these they had a line that would rival any on the continent. They constantly imported directly from London and Edinburgh, and, never contenting themselves with simply filling orders, sought successfully to anticipate the growing taste of the community. The stock in store at the time of the fire was worth $225,000. It was totally destroyed, with the exception of some $2,000 worth of valuable books which were carried from the store by hand. It is a noteworthy circumstance that some of these were saved from the great Lake street fire of three years ago,and saved in the same way. Many of the lost volumes were out of print, and cannot easily be replaced. The firm’s insurance was light, and of the $100.000 which they had placed they will probably not recover 50 per cent. Nothing daunted by their losses, the firm re-opened immediately after the fire at No. 607 Wabash avenue, where they will remain for the winter. The outlook is cheertul. Publishers at the East have opened their storehouses to the firm, saying, “Come, take what you want,” while London dealers, before the fire was out, wrote in effect: We suppose from the accounts received here that your house has dis. appeared in the general ruin. Everything we have is at your disposal. Let us make up and send vou a stock The firm look for a falling off in loeal trade, but will retain all their customers from the country. These buyers manifest the best spirit, and unanimously announce their intention to do with a light stock until the house is ready to fill all their orders.
KEENE, COOK AND CO.
Messrs. Keene, Cooke & Co. did businegs at Nos, 113 and 115 State street. They are now located in a wooden building, 50 by 170 bet in dimension, erected since the fire on Dearborn Park. Like their neighbors, Griggs & Co., they carried a heavy and magnificent stock, worth at least $200,000. It was a total loss, and if the firm save $30,000 or $40,000 out of over $100,000 insurance, they will be comparatively happy. The new building is comfortable and, commodious, and already is filled with a well-selected stock. for which they have abundance of orders from their old customers. The firm do not think, from the assurances they have received, that a single country customer will be diverted from their house. On all hands they meet substantial encouragement. Buyers everywhere write encouragingly, while sellers at the East would thrust millions of property upon the firm. For their retail trade the firm are building a store 30×60 feet on Wabash avenue, near Hubbard count They will stock this store handsomely. and believe that the retail trade will be good. Mr. Williams, the owner of the store which Keene, Cook & Co. occupied before the fire, will rebuild immediately, and if satisfactory terms can be made the firm will be back upon the old eite within a vear.
COBB, ANDREWS AND CO.
When the fire was abroad devouring everything in the way of literature which came within its reach, it found Messrs. Cobb, Andrews & Co. at Nos. 81 and 83 Lake street, under the Tremont House. They had a wholesale and retail stock worth $85,000, which the fire closed out entirely. Theyvhope to realize bout $40,000, but without speculating upon the chances, or aseertaining whether their policies were placed in home or foreign companies, they ranted the house No.v469 Wabash Avenue, and stocked it from cellar to attie with a library of such dimensions as was never before seen in a private honce on Wabash avenue or elsewhere. Happily they had a house in Cleveland from which they drew at once. They report the retail trade as good, and the wholesale as beyond their most sanguine expectations. Their country customers announce enthusiastibally their intention to stand by Chicago, though they know that they will have to face legions of drummers from all other cities which ore just now developing a little enterprise. The firm is preparing for the holiday trade, which they expect to be as good as last year, if not better.
A. S. BABNES AND CO.
These gentlemen were at No. 159 State street. and are now at No. 515 of the same thoroughfare. They dealt in their own publications exclusively. These were school books and church musie, and their trade is not, of course, materially affected. They lost $65.000, and will probably save about 50 per cent of their insurance. From their main house in New York the representative of the firm here ordered a new stock. which arrived on Saturday of the week of the fire.
THE LAW POOK SELLERS.
Mesars. Callahan & Cockeroft, and Mr. B. B. Meyers, law booksellers are rising from the ashes of their burnt Cokes, and, building up on their Blackstones, report themselves upon reports, Illinois and others. They will resume their old place in the advancing line. and will get back their old trade
Bookseller’s Row, Chicago, after the Great Fire of Oct. 1871
111-123 State Street
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map