Bull’s Head Tavern
Life Span: 1848-1875
Location: West Madison street, Ogden avenue, and Ashland avenue.
Architect: Built by Henry McAuley for Matthew Laflin
Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1887
There is no phase in the domestic life of old England that has been so graphically described as her public houses, where good cheer was ever in the ascendancy. That halo of romance which for centuries has hovered over her taverns and inns—and which is even closely allied with English history itself—was never healthfully transplanted to American shores by the Pilgrim Fathers. Our native poets, litterateurs, and savants have proven of “sterner stuff” than to adopt those loose customs to create the flights of fancy, as they say the early English writers did, by a fever arising from a drinking bout at the tavern.
Dr. Johnson said:
As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care and a freedom of solitude.
The doctor was a tavern epicure beyond a doubt, but what would have been his sentiments could be in the fall of 1861 have walked into the old “Bull’s Head” tavern, then situated on the southeastern corner of West Madison street and the South Western plank road (now Ogden avenue), and about 100 feet east of Reuben street (now Ashland avenue). In vain would he have looked for that comical caution ti customers to be seen over the Bull Inn at Buckland, near Dover, which reads:
The bull is tame, so fear him not,
All the while you pay your shot,
When money’s gone and credit’s bad,
It’s that which makes the bull run mad.
But instead he would find a large swinging sign on the outer pathway, on either side of which was painted an emblem of the trade within; to him a token most likely of a coffee-house or, perhaps, as in Holland, a leather seller’s sign. There it stood in glaring colors, with the enticing words, “Bull’s Head, Laflin & Loomis, Proprietors,” encircling a huge bull’s head with staring black eyes, dilated nostrils, and a pair of horns so gracefully curved as to nearly come together at the brass-mounted tips.
The Three-Story Bull’s Head Tavern
Before entering the tavern of the prairies—for such it is—let us see what may be our shelter for the night. With a footage of nearly seventy-five feet on Madison street stands a new three-story frame building. Far from the centre of the young city of Chicago, and a mile beyond its western limits. There are no antiquated gables here, no mossy roofs or weatherbeaten sides. No effort has been made towards architectural beauty or other enticement to the wayfarer beyond the well-defined roominess within. Still, the plain, even homely doors and windows do not look old-fashioned in their newness and coat of fresh paint. On the contrary, everything has the stamp of thrift and enterprise. A row of newly-set shade-trees cast vague shadows across the pathway leading by this apparent mushroom of the marshy prairies, while looking far to the west, north, or south over these almost boundless prairies the horizon is relieved only in spots by a farmer’s cottage or the low fences of the Stock-Yards stalls in the vicinity.
But let us go within. Imagination may picture something of the scene there to be found and tell us why this building, one of the largest and finest then in sight of Chicago or within her boundaries, has been erected. Greeted by mine host William R. Loomis (whom everybody calls “Bill), we accept of his hospitality and the tender of a large easy-chair. Presently a stranger enters, soon followed by others in heavy kip boots and an air of the stable hanging about them. In turn we make their acquaintance, and “Bill” fairly beams with pride as he pronounces there names, Absalom Funk, Cyrus P. Albee, Charles Curtis, Samuel Curtis, Archibald Vlybourne, Joel Ellis, and Rudolph Wehrie, “the principal drovers, butchers, and packers in the yards,” he adds by way of explanation for introducing them so carefully. Here we will leave these gentlemen and continue the subject as a matter of history.
In recalling those early says at the “Bull’s Head” Mr. Loomis, who is still a resident of Chicago, to a reporter said as he stood beside a blacksmith’s forge in his shop on Michigan avenue:
The reason for erecting a hotel so far away from the city was to better accommodate the stockmen, drovers, and farmers, who did business at the Stock Yards, and which, with the exception of a few pens that were erected by a man named Jackson on State street, near Twelfth, for the purpose, was the first recognized stock yards of Chicago. Rudolph Wehrie is the only man now living who was among the early butchers at the ‘yards’ when the Bull’s Head was first erected. There were a few Eastern buyers there also, who were well known at that time. William and Norman Felt and William Smith were the best known of the cattle-buyers for the Eastern market. The location being so remote from the business centre it was decided, in order to make the enterprise a success, to place a line of omnibuses to run from the ‘Bull’s Head’ to the city, and a line was established, being the first ‘bus line in Chicago. At first we but one ‘bus, which was made in Concord, N. H. It was of the same kind as that was used by Parmelee, to whom it was afterward sold, and cost us $550. The ‘buses which were lettered ‘Madison Street and Bull’s Head,’ would leave Bull’s Head at stated times, twice during the forenoon and three times after dinner, and run down Madison street to Market to Randolph, and thence east to the old City Hall Market on State street, between Randolph and Lake. Large receipts were not expected, the object being to attract attention to the West Side. The only railroad then running to Elgin, which had a station not far from the hotel a little east of Union Park, which was then a park in name only. The yards were not much of a market for hogs, and very few were handled there. I remember very well the first large lot of them that came into Chicago by rail, in the fall of 1851—there were about fifty. A good many of the packers spent a part of their time down in the city, and whenever a drove of cattle came in during their absence I would send down word to them by the ‘bus driver. As long as that locality was devoted to the packing interests the old hotel kept up pretty well; those who came there were generally on business and few remained for more than a day and a night at most—generally only for their meals for one day. The buyers would often club together in buying a big drove and divide them up afterward. The locality was too remote to have many loungers, in the generally accepted version of the term, and the was little occasion for ‘sowing wild oats.’
You kept a bar then?
To be sure we did. It was one of the first furnishings of the place and I tried to have the best liquors in town. They always told me I did too. Some of the boys would get pretty well primed after they had sold their ‘yearlings’ or ‘2-year-olds,’ but we seldom had any difficulty beyond the hilarity common to a crowd of men who only get into town occasionally. We charged 25 cents for a meal and about $1 a day for three meals and lodging. Besides our regular boarders, which consisted of about five families, the house would accommodate forty to fifty transients. It was seldom that many were with us at a time, however. I was a bell-boy, clerk, and general porter, besides running the house with Roland G. Laflin’s assistance. Once in a while we would have a dance in the dining-room of an evening, but never in the sense of those conducted in after years under different managements. My wife lived with me there and was our chef de cuisine. George H. Laflin and Lycyrgus (‘Kirk’) Laflin also lived with us, and several Chicago people afterwards made it their home after the house passed into the hands of Horace Hopkins who is still alive and living with his son-in-law., I. N. W. Sherman, a former boarder at the house and a Chicago business-man of the present day. After Mr. Hopkins incumbency as proprietor I paid little attention to the place and of its subsequent history except from occasional hearsay I know but little.
From other reliable sources it is learned that the erection of the Bull’s Head Hotel at the first stock-yardswas commenced in 1851 by Matthew Laflin, George H. Laflin, the late Allen Loomis of Suffield, Conn., and William R. Loomis, his son, and was opened under the management of William R. Loomis in the fall of that year. The builder was Henry McAuley, afterwards an Alderman in Chicago, and was built at an expense of $6,000 for the building. The plans were designed by Mr. Matthew Laflin, at whose suggestion the hotel adopted the title of “Bull’s Head,” suggested by the hotel of that name on Twenty-fourth street in New York, which was also in the stock-yards district. At the time of the erection of this hotel there were but a few houses in the neighborhood. A two-story farm house stood at the corner of Harrison and Laflin streets (see photo, below), and another of about the same size on the corner of Jackson and Loomis streets, and occupied by Joseph Snell. Quite a distance north was a man named Peck, and down on the Southwestern plank road, which began at the “Bull’s Head,” was an old house which was afterwards used as a beer-garden. About six blocks west was the residence of Col. Richard J. Hamilton, step-father of Judge Tuley, and beyond Col. Hamilton’s house was a beer-garden kept by Jake Eich. The balance of the prairies west and south of the tavern was avast open field of marshy and swampy land where the boys herded their cattle and sheep during the day, returning them ton the Bull’s Head pen at night. To the east but few houses were to be seen west of Carpenter street, where the residence of the late Philo Carpenter was located. Opposite and a little west of the tavern were located the large barn and yards for stock, extending from Madison street to Union Park. To those who have been purchasers of some of the property in the vicinity within recent years it may be interesting to know that this plat of land, originally covering 100 acres, was bought by Matthew Lafln and Allen Loomis in 1849 for $21,000, or a trifle over $200 an acre, and was purchased on twenty years’ time. In those days, Chicago having but a population of 23,000, it required a strong belief in the future prosperity of the city to purchase such a tract as this land then was, even at these figures. The head housekeeper at that time was paid $2.50 per week, $1.50 a week to the cook, and servants $1.25.
Bull’s Head Market
Madison Street and Plank Road (Ogden Avenue)
Surveyed and Published by Henry Hart
Bull’s Head Market
Madison Street and Plank Road (Ogden Avenue)
In 1852 the hotel was sold to Horace Hopkins, who, with the occasional assistance of Warren Parker, ran it for several years. At the time of the removal of the Stock-Yards to Cottage Grove avenue and Twenty-ninth street, about 1858, the name was changed to “Union Park House,” with the sub-title of Hell’s Head. In 1856 the house was run by J. B. Sherman, now of the Union Stock Yards Transit Company, and a brother of I. N. W. Sherman. Mr. J. B. Sherman afterwards leased the building and furnishings to Ebenezer Stevens and Dave Belden. In 1859 Mr. Hopkins again became the proprietor of the place, and in 1860 was associated with Erizur Platt in its management. In 1861 Isaac A. Crane was proprietor for a short time. The building was afterwards used, for a year or two subsequent to this time, as a private boarding-house, and was the home of several Chicago people who are now permanent residents of the city. Socials and parties were of frequent occurrence, and all thoroughly enjoyed the comforts of a quiet home, which it undoubtedly was during this period of its existence. Finally the old structure, warped and twisted by age and the elements, again fell into the hands of Matthew Lafkin, its original designer and part owner. During the still later years the house sadly deteriorated from its former grandeur as “king of the prairies,” and its business dropped off very materially, finally being used as a boarding house patronized by the carmen of the West lines. As the tide of the city’s growth moved still further westward a tenement-house of doubtful respectability was its fate, and some very hard stories are told of its connection withe carousing parties and night brawlers, but why bring forth out of the silent past the oblivion into which these days have sunk? We should, indeed, be thankful that the “landmark” which it finally sunk into was at this stage about to be changed for the better. After a short period of emptiness, in 1864 one A. J. Steele rented the place and fixed it up as a kind of museum or medical institute.
In the summer of 1863 a few philanthropic men began the earnest discussion of how they could best recall and save the drunkards, finally resolving into a body for that purpose. After a brief struggle on the South Side, under the able management of Dr. N. S. Davis, the Board of Directors of the then called the Washingtonian Home, which was patterned on the plan of a home of the same name in Boston, it was deemed necessary to secure a permanent location for the institution, and they purchased what was then known as the “Union Park House,” or the old “Bull’s Head” Hotel in the fall of 1864.
The purchase price ($10,000)was finally raised by subscriptions and donations, Mr. Matthew Laflin, the owner of the premises, donating $1,000 at the time of making the transfer. The struggles and difficulties of the early projectors of the home were such as would have tried stouter hearts than theirs, but ultimate success was their reward. In March, 1865, the home moved into its newly acquired quarters, and treated that year forty-five patients and about the same number the following year. From that time on its work largely increased until after the fire, when new and larger accommodations were found an absolute necessity, and it was only a few years later that the present structure was erected.
Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1875
There is an impressive dignity about an old house whose mossy roof, weather-beaten sides, antiquated gables, old-fashioned doors and windows, time-stained walls, and decrepit cockroaches tell of the distant past to its youthful neighbors, haughty in their garish newness and modern architectural elegance. Antiquity excites our veneration, and we accord it to such a house fraught with the memories of days long since gone, and eloquent of the changes which time and man have wrought on every side of it. Its age gives it a beauty. It may justly boast an ancient ancestry, and look down with contempt upon the mushrooms architectural upstarts whose origin is a fortunate speculation in corner lots or a lucky turn in a grain corner. Its antiquity may entitle it to the complacent dignity of a silver-haired patriarch among a society of conceited coxcombs of the modern day. It is a landmark of the city’s progress, and as a solitary representative of past times tells of days when Chicago had little to boast, and furnishes a starting-point, as it were, from which to measure the growth it has attained.
It is sad to see
THESE OLD LANDMARKS
moulder, perish, and pass away. They are the links which hold the new and the old together, and serve the useful purpose of recalling the unhappy days when Chicago could not boast the People’s party, “The Store,” the Police Board, or Tom Foley. They are a relief from the contemplation of everlasting change, and the ruddy, staring newness of everything; and the mind that turns to them is refreshed, unless embittered with thoughts of the wretched people whom they recall. who subsisted without the inestimable blessings enumerated above, and many others which Chicago possesses to-day. The robust hardihood of these landmarks in surviving the thousands of transformations that have been effected has awakened much admiration; they have been regarded with tender interest,—perhaps they are associated with many pleasant recollections; and it is productive of much wretchedness and mourning to see them destroyed by ruthless hands to make room for “improvements.” It is almost like losing an old friend.
The above saddening reflections have been awakened by the discovery of a base design upon one of Chicago’s best=known and most-homored landmarks. Hundreds of people will be affected to tears that
THE WASHINGTONIAN HOME
is to be torn down. It is to be replaced, to be sure, by a new and far more commodious structure, but what happy associations, what pleasant experiences, what dear and vivid recollections have for years clustered about and within the rude, rambling, old building, whose various coats of white paint could never quite invalidate its claims to antiquity! Can a new building of prepossessing brick, of fresh paint, of clean floors, of well-ventilated rooms, of light and airy hallways, ever be so dear to the heart of the inebriate?
There are hundreds to-day whose experiences have made the old rookery dear to them, who will mourn bitterly that the flat of destruction has gone forth. The regular old habitues of the cup, the seedy Eccleses of the tap-room, will shrink from the pretentious grandeur of the new edifice. They will not willingly take their rags and filth, bad habits and shaky constitutions, within a structure where such extraordinary magnificence sounds. There was
SOMETHING ABOUT THE OLD HOME
which was far more in accord with the drunkard’s sensitive feelings. There was a brotherhood in its ruined appearance, in its wretchedness and filth. Its rat-holes had a charm, and its seedy cockroaches were his friends. Its general dilapidation was only so much company for his misery. The very floors which made walking unsteady were in harmony with the irregular gait he had acquired. The walls did not stare with reproachful purity. The rooms were not too comfortably ventilated, the beds not to soft to break him of his rest. There was not a disgusting appearance of violent reform about the place. No drunkard was ashamed to present himself for admittance, and none were abashed at high-toned surroundings. The inebriate here passed his happiest days, and his voluntary exile from sour-mash dispensatories was not difficult to bear. He cannot hope for such harmonious surroundings in a new building, and he will regret deeply to see the favorite scene of his jim-jams pass from the face of the earth.
THE RECOLLECTION OF THE VENERABLE STRUCTURE
are not confined by any means to this class. Indeed, they are the most modern of those which centre within the old building. It is in fact a piece of architecture which, compared with those resulting from Chicago’s rapid growth, may justly boast of a very respectable old age. It has been venerated for years as one of the oldest land-marks of the West Side, and in this sense its destruction will be generally regretted. It was built some years prior to 1848—the exact date is not known—and was then one of the finest and largest buildings in the young city. It was then considered to be a great distance from the business centre. With one or two exceptions it was the most remote structure in the West Side, and the builder who erected it as a farmers’ hotel was thought to be very foolhardy indeed to locate it in such an out-of-the-way locality.
In the year 1848, the Chicago Stock-Yards were erected on ground surrounding “Bull’s Head,” as the hotel was then called, and it became a favorite hostelry for stock-drivers, being at that time what the Transit House is to the present stock-yards.
A large business was done by its proprietor who, while his sagacity in building the structure where he did might reasonably have been questioned, was on the high road to fortune as a soon as the stock-yards were located near by. The house was well known and prosperous until their removal, some years afterwards—in 1856—to the grounds near the Illinois Central Railroad track just north of Cottage Grove avenue. It was the resting place daily and nightly of large
THRONGS OF DROVERS,
and was also patronized to a large extent by people “from the city,” who looked upon it in point of distances somewhat as the present Chicagoan regards Sunny Side or Downie’s. It was still used as a tavern after the removal of the stock-yards, but with their change in location its dignity was seriously diminished, and its trade declined. It was afterwards turned into a sort of boarding-home, being largely patronized by street-car men, the West Side lines having their western terminus at this point. Upon their extension it was deprived of this business, and afterwards fell into the hands of several families, who used it as a tenement-house. The city in the meantime had extended itself far beyond it; Madison street became thickly built up, and the prestige which Bull’s Head once possessed was lost forever. It finally was
and remained unoccupied until about 1864, when Dr. A. J. Steele rented it, refitted it somewhat, and turned it into a medical institute for the cure of diseases by electricity. It was used for this purpose for about a year when he removed to the East, and it fell into the hands of a party of benevolent gentlemen, among whom was Dr. N. S. Davis, who had organized a society for the
REFORM OF DRUNKARDS.
They furnished it, made various improvements to restore the old structure to a more youthful and prepossessing appearance, and occupied as the quarters of their Society, dignifying it with the title of the Washingtonian Home. It has been used as a refuge of penitent drunkards ever since, and it will be so used until the 1st of May, when it will be razed to the ground. The aged structure is altogether worthless for the occupancy of the Society, or, in fact, for any other purpose, and the lumber which constitutes it, and once presented an aspect of comparative grandeur, of which the people of earlier days were proud and boastful, will probably be converted to kindling wood to light kitchen fires. An ignoble use to which to devote the once noble structure, but the whirligig of time is somewhat remarkable for very singular changes.
The Home, which is situated, as almost every one knows, at the corner of Madison street and Ogden avenue, has of late years fallen into the sear of yellow leaf of decay and dilapidation. The most persistent efforts were necessary to hold the old shed together, and within it has been simply impossible to provide within it suitable accommodations for the inmates. It is a rickety, tumble-down, worn-out old hulk, which has outlived its time, and like hundreds of similar “landmarks,” must pass away to satisfy the demands of an age of improvement.
The decision to rebuild was arrived at some time ago, and the work will be commenced as soon as the destruction of the present building leaves the ground vacant.
The old Home will be replaced by
A FINE BRICK BUILDING,
five stories in height, of an extent equal to the present structure. It will be provided with spacious parlors, bed-rooms, dining and kitchen room, chapel, reading-room, bath-rooms, and in a word, with every needed accommodation. The plans, which are now preparing, will be adopted at a special meeting soon to be called. It is expected the new building (pictured, right) will be ready for occupancy about next October.
Excerpted from “A History of Chicago Architecture,” By VanOsdel, Inland Architect, 1883
Among the very few buildings that made any pretentions to architectural ornament were the residences of W. H. Brown and John H. Kinzie in the North Division, and of Dr. John T. Templeand George W. Snow in the South Division. Mr. Snow was the inventor of the ‘balloon frame ‘ method of constructing wooden buildings, which in this city, completely superseded the old style of framing with posts, girts, beams and braces. The great rapidity in the construction and the large saving in cost, compared with the old fashioned frame, brought the ‘balloon frame’ into general use. It is conceded that a frame with every part spiked together offers greater resistance to lateral force than any other method of construction. As an evidence of its power to resist such force it may be stated that the Bull’s Head Hotel. built by Mathew Laflin in 1848, at the junction of Ogden Avenue and Madison Street, was a three-story “balloon frame” of large dimensions. Standing upon the open prairie, with hardly a building within a miie of it, this structure was exposed to the fierce, unbroken prairie winds, yet remained unshaken for many years, until it was taken down to give place to the Washingtonian Home, which now occupies its former site.
A. T. Andreas’ History of Chicago, Volume II, 1884
The first cattle-yards were opened in 1848. at the “Bull’s Head,” and occupied the immediate vicinage of Madison Street and Ashland Avenue; but they were but a make-shift for supplying the necessities of the growing cattle trade, and the live stock dealers became disgusted with the long drive to and from the yard to railroad depots and slaughter houses. In 1856, the wants of the public were met by John B. Sherman, who leased the Myrick property on the lake shore, north of Thirty-first Street, and laid out what were known as Sherman’s yards, and this entrepôt at once took the place of the old Bull’s Head, and, being upon the line of the Illinois Central Railroad, was eminently adapted to the needs of the live-stock traffic.
The Illustrated History of the Union Stock Yards, Chicago, Ill., By Jos. Grand, 1896
AWAY back in 1848, when the population of Chicago was less than 50,000, when her shipping and commercial interests were no greater than those of many a little western city of to-day whose prosperity is dependent upon the dyspeptic caprices of a statesman elected on a silver or gold issue, when she existed as the country’s metropolis only in the imagination of the Utopian few, John B. Sherman, now one of the most esteemed men in the West, took a step which went one half way toward making Chicago the magnificent city she is to-day. He felt one of the city’s needs, and his powerful mind devised the remedy which should turn toward Chicago the major portion of the wealth of the West. Chicago needed a live stock market,and John B. Sherman established the Old Bull’s Head Stockyards at the corner of Madison Street and Ogden Avenue, and this was the initial move toward making Chicago what she is at present the greatest live stock market in the world.
Previous to the construction of this stockyard, cattle and hogs were dumped on the sand hills and sold also much per head and the price of cattle in those days may be estimated when a crippled hog sold for $75. As business increased, Sherman’s far-seeing mind again grasped the situation, and he saw the necessity of get ting nearer the city. The site he selected for the new yards was at Cottage Grove Avenue and Thirtieth Street, and here he started what was known as the Sherman Stockyards.
At this time there were made several other ventures of the same kind, none of which, however, were successful. Among those making these ventures were the Fort Wayne, Illinois Central and Lake Shore railroads. These roads, backed by comparatively unlimited capital and spurred on by large self-interests, pitted themselves against a single man, with little money at his command, and lost. John B. Sherman, however, had the better capital of all; he had almost the insight of a seer, the perspicacity of a trained speculator and the magnetic power over men of a Napoleon. A lesser man might have opposed his single strength to the combined force of the competitor. Not so John B. Sherman. He made his interest the interest of the opposition, he exercised his ingenuity to make all their interests mutual, and within an incredibly short space of time, in 1865, his opponents had become his partners, a partnership which, with Sherman always at the helm, has resulted in a prosperity beyond which the most sanguine expectations of the stockyard company or the interested citizens of Chicago could not aspire. The company incorporated with a capital of $10,000,000, which has since been nearly trebled, as the Union Stockyards and Transit Company.
NOTE: The following article erroneously describes a building that was to be torn down as the Bull’s Head Hotel which allegedly was moved to Harrison and Laflin streets from its original location. The Bull’s Head was torn down in 1875, while this farmhouse was built just before the hotel at the corner of Harrison and Laflin streets.
Chicago Tribune, April 18, 1909
The old Bull’s Head Tavern is no more.
Its demolition, which was begun last Monday, was completed yesterday. A big store will be erected on the site. The ancient structure was built more than sixty years ago and was the second hotel on the west side, the first being the Green Tree tavern, which was razed many years ago.
With the passing of the old Hull’s Head, memories of early days in Chicago are revived in the minds of many of the city’s older residents. When built in 1848 the Bull’s Head tavern was one of the most pretentious structures in town. It’s builder, Matthew Laflin, was one of the pioneers of Chicago.
The hotel was built with the locating of the Hull’s Head stockyards at the junction of West Madison street, Ogden avenue, and Ashland avenue. During the first five years of its existence the only means of transportation to that “remote” part of the city was by private conveyance or on foot. In 1853 Frank Parmelee instituted a bus line from Lake and State streets to the Bull’s Head tavern, the round trip consuming almost half a day. Street cars make the round trip in less than half an hour.
With the removal of the stockyards to the south side, the old hostelry began to wane in popularity.
More than twenty-five years ago the tavern was removal to West Harrison street, opposite the county hospital and had been occupied as a dwelling and confectionary store. The Washingtonian Home now occupies the original site of the Bull’s Head.
Two-Story Farm House
Corner of Harrison and Laflin Streets