West Side Union Depot
Location: Corner Madison and Canal streets
Life Span: 1861-1871/1881
A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago, 1884
In July, 1858, specifications were drawn up for a new union depot, to accommodate the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago1, the Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac, the Chicago & Milwaukee and the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis railroad companies. It was to be the largest depot in the west, eighty feet wider than the Central depot, at the foot of Lake Street, and about the same length. This depot, however, got no further than the plans. There was so much rivalry between the West and North divisions of the city for the location, that ground was not broken on Canal Street, near Madison, until 1861. A temporary structure was erected during the latter part of that year, and in March, 1862, it was struck by lightning and burned (full story below). The fire occured shortly after one o’clock A. M., and Captain H. J. Spaulding, formerly connected with the Michigan Central Company, then depot master, had a very narrow escape from death. At first he saved the tickets and office effects, and then returned for books and papers. A current of air closed the door, and Captain Spaulding would have been suffocated had he not been rescued by the watchman. He was seriously burned about the head and shoulders. A large amount of baggage was destroyed, as well as the entire eastern mail and about $10,000 worth of other property. The damage to the depot was at once repaired, and served the public, after a fashion, for many years—in fact, with additions and slight improvements, until the present magnificent brick structure was erected, in 1881.
During the fall of 1862, the Fort Wayne Company extended the new freight house several hundred feet south, and, finally, from Madison Street, along the river bank, to Adams Street.
Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Freight Depot
THE RIVER SOUTH OF MADISON STREET.—This is another of many views upon the Chicago River. It represents that portion of the South Branch lying between Madison and Van Buren Streets. On the West is to be seen the mammoth freight depot building of the Pittsburgh, Ft Wayne & Chicago Railway Company. This depot occupies the river side to the extent of two blocks, and is on the eastern side of the site of the projected Union railway depot.
South of the depot building are to be seen several elevators, and the section of the river embraced in this view, in the season, presents one of the most animated and busy scenes. On the east side of the river, is the large coal yard of the Chicago Gas Company, and a number of extensive lumber yards.
James W. Sheahan
Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1858
WHERE SHALL THE DEPOT BE?
The question is narrowed down into two points of application, that the Union Depot shall be located between Madison and Adams, or between Madison and Randolph streets. Now what are the relative merits of those two locations? First, the ground south of Madison street can be purchased for about $260,000, while that north of Madison street will cost about $250,000 more, making a trifle over $600,000 as the cost of the depot grounds.
It will not be claimed by any one that the cheapest location has any other advantage than its lower price. It is farther from the geographical and commercial center of the city, and not as well located as that is between Madison and Randolph streets.
So far as the railroad center can be made consistently to conform to the other interests of the city, so far it should be done. Three of the principal roads, viz: the Ford du Lac, Milwaukee, and Galena, have large depot grounds north of Lake street, and they could manage to get along with less ground for a passenger depot than were they otherwise situated. This fact could make the two blocks between Canal street and the river and north of Madison, sufficient for the immense passenger business which must culminate at whatever point all the roads of Chicago unite.
There are already eleven trunk roads which enter the city. These must all sooner or later, unite, and bring all their passengers into the Central West Side Depot. Of this there cannot be a question. Suppose then that the north side of Madison street does cost $600,000. The rental for each to pay, even at ten per annum, would be only six thousand dollars—mere flea bite when compared with the great advantage of such a central position. I can not believe that the railroads will select the ground between Madison and Randolph street.
Chicago Tribune March 31, 1859
John Wentworth never does anything without purpose, and that purpose always has an intimate relation to his immediate interests. Some time ago a project was started for uniting a half dozen of our railroads in the construction of a Union Depot on the West Side. It was very evident that such an union of railroad interests was feasible, that the enterprise, if carried out, would add largely to the business of the West Side, that it would greatly increase the value of real estate in that section, and hence, it becomes very popular with the West-Siders.
John Wentworth was opposed to this Union Depot from the beginning, and for various reasons. In the first place, he owns no stock in the roads that would be accommodated by it, but he does own stock in rival roads. It is for his interest, therefore, to defeat the project on this account. In the next place, the bulk of Wentworth’s real-estate is in the South Division of the city. A Union Depot on the West Side would greatly increase business there, as well as add much to the value of real estate; but it would add nothing to the value of Wentworth’s property in the South Division. Indeed, it is said, that Wentworth believes this West side Union Depot will depreciate the value of his large tracts of land in South Chicago. He wants all the railroads to come to the South Division, no matter from what direction they approach the city. He wants all the depots to be built in the South Division, so that all the railroad business may be concentrated in it.
If Wentworth’s influence were as powerful in Chicago as it once was, the people of the West and North Divisions could not do better than to donate to him a valuable real-estate interest in those parts of the city. If he owned an eighty acre lot in the West Division, he would doubtless believe it would gain as much in value by a Union Depot on the West Side as his eighty acres in the South Division would lose by it; and of course his opposition would cease. If he owned an eighty acre lot in North Chicago, he would not at any time wage a warfare upon the various enterprises for the prosperity of that division. Wentworth, to use a homely proverb knows which side of his toast is buttered.
Hostile as he always has been to the West Side Union Depot, he has never dared to make open opposition to it. He chose rather to trust his cunning to kill it off in some underhanded way, while trying to make the West Siders believe he was really in favor of it. He knew that certain legislation was necessary to enable the roads to get to a Union depot, and this legislation he intended to defeat. His opposition to the election of Mr. Peck was not owing so much as to his personal hatred of that gentleman, as to the fact that he would be in the way of the scheme to kill off the West Side Union Depot in the Legislature; but he sought to conceal this fact by trying to defeat Mr. Peck on the ground that he would oppose West Side interests.
Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1860
MAKING READY FOR THE WORK.—We are glad to chronicle again the fact that the grounds are being cleared for the Great West Side Union Depot on the river south of Madison street, west to Canal and south to Monroe.
Chicago Tribune March 15, 1862
The terrific thunder-storm which passed over the city at an early hour yesterday morning, was productive of disastrous results, in the destruction of the passenger depot of the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, and Chicago, Alton & St. Louis railroads, on Canal street near Madison street bridge. Those who were abroad at that hour cannot fail to remember the flashes of lightning to descend upon the earth in broadsheets of fire. Shortly after 1 o’clock, immediately succeeding a more blinding and a more deafening crash than preceding, were seen issuing from the roof of the passenger depot, and despite the efforts of the firemen, who, notwithstanding the look-out on the Court House tower failed to discover the conflagration, were early on the ground, the building, with its contents, was burned to ashes.
Capt. H. J. Spaulding, for a long time connected with the Michigan Central Railroad, and now Depot-Master for the roads using this building, occupied a room in the office, and awoke soon after the structure was fired. He immediately commenced securing the tickets and office effects. and in this endeavor came very near forfeiting his life. Returning to the office a second time to carry away the company books and papers, a current of air suddenly caused the door to close, and he to the foor in a state of partial suffocation. At this time the watchman employed about the premises broke down the door, and succeeded in dragging Mr. Spaalding into the open air, not, however, until he was very seriously burned about the head and shoulders. Mr. Spaulding was taken to his house on Madison near Aberdeen street, as soon as a carriage could be obtained, and now lies in an exceedingly precarious condition. It is feared he may not recover.
The building, which was a temporary wooden. one, moved upon the ground for occupancy until the New Union Depot should be completed, was occupied by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago and the Alton and St. Louis Companies, and used as an office for the sale of tickets and the storing of baggage. The tickets of the former company were saved, as were also their money, books and papers, all of which were in the safe, and, of course, out of reach of the devouring element. They were not so successful in securing the baggage, of which a large amount was stored in the baggage-room. This was valuable, and belonged mostly to our own citizens. C. H. McCormick, Esq., lost three trunks filled with his wife’s clothing, all of which was exceedingly costly. One of the trunks contained a velvet cloak valued at two hundred dollars. His entire loss will exceed five hundred dollars. The damage to the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Railroad Company, including the building and the baggage destroyed, will probably exceed ten thousand dollars. Besides this, the Eastern mail, brought by the train the preceding night, was entirely destroyed, as was aiso the Company’s mail matter intended to be sent forward by the morning train. One gentleman who arrived by the St. Louis road on Thursday evening, and who left his trunks at the depot, intending to take the morning run for Cincinnati, arrived at the depot to find his and their valuable contents a heap of ashes.
The loss sustained by the Alton and St. Louis Company is much less serious. A small amount of tickets were burned, and a portion of the baggage: but this company will not lose to exceed fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars. The Railroad Companies will doubtless make the loss good to the baggage owners. We understand that the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Company will immediately re-build the depot for use until the Great Union Depot shall be completed.
A Guide to Chicago, T. Ellwood Zell & Co.
Pittsburg, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railway.
This may be termed an “air line” route, as it is the most direct one to Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and New York. It is composed of several roads, which were consolidated in 1858. Tbe entire distance ‘from Chicago to Pittsburg is 468 miles.
The following are the connections made with other roads.
- At Wanatah, with the Louisville and New Albany Road
At Plymouth, with the Cincinnati, Peru, and Chicago Road
At Fort Wayne, with Toledo and Wabash
At Lima, with the Dayton and Michigan
At Forest, with Sandusky, Dayton, and Cincinnati Road
At Crestline, with the Cleveland and Columbus Road
At Mansfield, with Sandusky, Mansfield, and Newark Road
At Orville, with the Cleveland, Zanesville, and Cincinnati Road
At Alliance, with Cleveland and Pittsburg Road
At Homewood, with New Castle and Beaver Valley Road
And at Pittsburg, with the Pennsylvania Central and boats on the Ohio River.
Depot corner Madison and Canal streets, which may be reached by Madison-Street line of cars.
Ruins of the Union Passenger Depot
Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
1 On July 26, 1856, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Rail Road was formed as a consolidation of the Fort Wayne and Chicago, Ohio and Indiana, and Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads. Extensions opened west to Warsaw September 28, Plymouth November 10, Englewood, Illinois (south of Chicago) on November 29, 1858, and Van Buren Street in Chicago on December 25, 1858. On January 1, 1859, trains started running to Chicago, with a terminal at the future location of Union Station. The part west of Plymouth was built with rails removed from the New Portage Railroad.