Life Span: 1860-1869
Location: SE corner of Lake and Market
Architect: John McEwen, Contractor
Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1860
The events of Convention week, long anticipated in this city, were fitly ushered in on Saturday evening, by the exercises of formal and imposing dedication of the Great Wigwam, on the corner of Lake and Market streets.
This gigantic structure, the largest audience room in the United States, owes its erection to the spirit of liberality and welcome with which our Chicago Republicans have hailed the occasion, which in Chicago, now within a few days hence, is to usher in the great campaign of 1860, by naming the gallant standard bearers of our party, who are destined in November to bear its colors to victory.
The great Wigwam is not simply intended for the sessions of the Convention. It will know many glorious rallies during the summer and fall to come. As it stands, it is the worthy object of pride to all our citizens, even those of opposite politics recognizing the added fame it will win for our city, in the credit reflects upon our residents.
The Wigwam was commenced early in April, and pushed rapidly to completion. It is a substantial wooden structure, the dimensions and internal arrangements will be best understood from the accompanying diagram:
The longest front of the building is on Market street. Both fronts are simple and plain, yet neat and in keeping with the character and design of the building.
The entrances are broad and simple, and the area within, admirably well adapted to meet the purposes of the edifice. Advantage has been taken of the height of grade on both streets, about ten feet, to give that amount of slope to the floor by a series of wide platforms, to the space in front of the stage. The platform is wide and deep, and thereon is to be held the Republican National Convention of 1860, as the immense stage will accommodate from six to seven hundred persons. It has on either end, as will be seen, ample Committee rooms. In front of the platform is an enclosed space for the music.
A judiciously arranged and excellent feature of the Wigwam is the immense gallery extending on three sides. The pitch of this is such that from every part a perfect view of the speaker’s stand can be gained. The supports of the edifice are ample enough to banish all suspicion of insecurity, yet such as to interpose the least possible interruption to seeing and hearing.
The entire cost of the building is between $5,000 and $6,000. Its capacity has been fixed by good judges, based on careful estimates, at from ten to eleven thousand. Its interior was left rough and unplanned, the wall back of the platform being the brick platform of the adjoining store.
Upon this rough interior, the light, graceful, and entirely successful handiwork of our Republican ladies has been bestowed, until when for the first time the effect of gaslight was added Saturday evening, the effect was brilliant in the extreme.
Photographed by Alexander Hessler
Around the front of the gallery are the coats of arms of the States, and between them wreaths of evergreen. The pillars and supports have been painted white, and wreathed with evergreens, and front each to each have been twined draperies in red, white and blue, with artificial flowers and miniature national flags.
The pillars supporting the roof, which form a continuous row along the front of the platform, bear, on the side to the audience, busts of distinguished men, supported by figures of Atlas. The speaker’s stand is a double dais or platform on rollers, to be pushed back to the rear of the great stage when the Convention is in session, or brought forward when the great arena in front is filled for a mass meeting.
This latter was the case last evening. The dais bore elegant appointments of furniture, and statuary on either side. The chief decoration has justly been bestowed upon the stage. The brick wall at the rear has been painted and divided into arched panels, in which are colossal statuary paintings. Over the centre of the stage is suspended a large gilt eagle. Altogether the Wigwam is a success in design, and in its carrying out.
1860 Republican National Convention
Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1869
The Republcian Wigwam of Chicago is no more. It departed in a volume of fire and cloud of smoke at 9 o’clock last night. Peace to its ashes! It was the grandest and at the same time most dilapidated structure in the United States. Within its walls freedom was born, and it gave to America the most illustrious character in her history. It was built for the convention that nominated the first Republican President. The choice fell on Abraham Lincoln. It stood through his term of office, and stood yet firm when the bullet of the traitor assassin ended the martyr’s life. The mission of the party that reared it was not yet accomplished. It stood unshaken during all the years of the war—biding its time, and knowing that the right must conquer. It got to be a shabby building. Standing in the very heart of the business part of the city, it seemed like a relic of another age, between the colossal brick and marble palaces that looked down upon it from every side. But no one possessed the hardinhood to lay the ruthless hand of the innovator upon its sacred walls, while its mission—the full freedom of every inhabitant of America—was not yet accomplished. It stood in imminent peril of fire a doen times, the last instance being less than a month ago. But before last night the protecting genius of liberty seemed to watch and guard over its historic timbers, to save it from destruction before its allotted time. That time had come. America is now free.
was erected in May, 1860, by the Republican Central Committee of Chicago and cost $15,000. As soon as Chicago had been fixed upon the place for holding the National Republican Convention, the necessity for providing some building capable of containing the vast crowd of people which would be in attendance, led to its inception. The funds required for its construction and preparation were the free gift of the patriotic, public-spirited people of the city. It was constructed entirely of wood, John McEwen being the contractor, and when completed, presented a plain but tasteful appearance. It stood at the southeast corner of Lake and Market streets, on what was known as the “Sanga-nash” lot, with a frontage of one hundred feet on Lake and one hundred and eighty feet on Market street, and a height, at the front, of thirty feet. At the centre of the Market street front was a semi-circular facade, surmounted by an eagle and shield, supporting a tall flag staff, while on the facade was inscribed the words: “Irrepressible and undivided.” Towers of suitable size at either end completed the architectural adornments. On the inside, at the east side of the building, was an immense platform one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, standing in the centre, with a committee room at either end. At the opposite side, and extending along the entire length, were the galleries for spectators. The building was capable of holding ten thousand patrons.
that assembled within the walls of the Wigwam was the most important that has ever assembled in this country. It embraced among its delegates nearly all the industrious men of the young party, and many who, on that occasion, were for the first time brought to public notice, but have since carved their names among the highest in the land. A retrospective view over the upturned faces brings back to the mind the following, which is but a partial list of the men who were counted among the foremost. Some have left the land of the living, others have deserted the noble cause that then fired their hearts and ambition, but the majority are yet yet true to their principles, and stand high in the esteem of their countrymen;
Edwin D. Morgan, Gideon Welles, Cassius M. Clay, Cornelius Cole, Zachariah Chandlier, Ales H. Ramsey, Samuel Hooper, John A. Andrew, Geo. S. Boutwell, Timothy Davis, James F. Simmons, William H. Evarts, Preston King, Geo. W. Curtis, William Curtis Noyes, James W. Nye, A. Oakey Hall, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, John J. Blair, Marcus L. Ward, David Wilmot, Thaddeus Stevens, Wm. D. Kelley, F.P. Blair, Sr., Montgomery Blair, F.P. Blair, Jr., J.C. Underwwod, John H. Pettigrew, F. Haspanurek, Thomas Corwin, Columbus Delano, Joshua R. Giddings, Daniel D. Pratt, Austin Blair, Gustavus Koerner, David Davis, O.H. Browning, R.J. Oglesov, Carl Schurz, James F. Wilson, J.B. Grinnell, William M. Stone, William B. Allison, Thomas Fletcher, Horace Greeley, &c.
After the Convention
the Wigwam was used for large gatherings of all kinds. A series of Union religious meetings were established in June, 1860, the opening demonstration being presided over by Rev. Dr. Patton, now editor of the Advance.
A short time later Adelina Patti gave a concert there—a grand success of course. Then the Young Men’s Christian Association held their meetings there; fairs and festivals occupied it occasionally; great Republican rallies during the first Lincoln campaign found a place where all who wished to come could find ample room; even the Italian opera was fain to avail itself of the spacious auditorium. An then came the war, and the old Wigwam afforded comfortable lodging to regiment after regiment passing through Chicago en route for beleaguered Washington. At last the valuable ground on which the building stood was needed for other uses, and it was put up for auction and sold, at a trifle compared with its cost, to the Garrett Biblical Institute. It was soon after remodeled into stores, and since that time has done its share toward making up the sum total of Chicago’s commercial greatness.
The Fire Last Night.
The fire bells had been clanging for some time, during the evening, and the ears of people had become somewhat accustomed to the noise. But all at once the bells broke out in a general alarm, and simulacra therewith the whole sky became illuminated with a fiery red. Owing to the peculiar misty state of the atmosphere, the effects of the flames were greatly exaggerated, and, reflected on the dense clouds which almost obscured the moon, looked grand in the extreme. The great black clouds, which moved swiftly through the heavens, glared upon by the angry flames of the burning pile, looked like moving pillows of fire.
In the distance, it would seem as if a whole section of the city was burning. As far down as the lake, the streets were made brilliant with light. To the south, for many miles, the grand conflagration could be mainly seen, hovering, as it would seem, like a shining cloud over the whole city. The news was soon communicated from one to another that the Wigwam was burning; that one of the very few historic landmarks which Chicago boasted was being swiftly and surely destroyed; that our Faneuil Hall, not in which Liberty was rocked, but in which she was clad with a giant’s strength, would soon be no more. The effect was electric. There was a general rush from the theatre, from the opera, from the billiard and lager-beer saloons. Perhaps never in the history of the fires of this city, great and destructive as many of them have been, has there been such a large turnout. None went to see the burning building, but were more or less inspired with the feeling that there are many better buildings which Chicago could rather afford to spare rather than this. Not that its architectural appearance added ornament to the city, or that its destruction involved any great degree of pecuniary loss, but that in its humble walls was erected an event which will always mark an era in the history of this nation.
Preventing the Spread of the Fire.
Arriving at the scene, the prospect was truly magnificent as well as mournful. The flames had spread with lightning-like rapidity soon after the fire brook out, and, in a very brief space of time, fully one-half of the structure was beyond the power of water to remedy it. It soon became evident to the firemen that their principal attention should be directed to preventing the spread of the flames to the adjoining buildings, as on either of the Wigwam these were built of very combustible material. The wind prevailed from the north, and the buildings on the south side were low, rickety shanties, dry and seasoned with age, which promised a very serious night of it in case the fire should communicate to them. The firemen fought manfully, and in the course of a very short time, had driven the flames into the northern end of the building, where they were finally extinguished, with little damage to adjoining property.
But, so far as the Wigwam was concerned, no human effort could save it. The fire ran through its entire length and breadth, as if it had been so much powder, and, in a short time after the flames burst forth, there was nothing left of the old structure but blackened beams, crisped rafters, and charred cinders.
The Origin of the Fire.
The origin of the fire is unknown, but is supposed to be the work of an incendiary. The policeman who turned in the alarm said he saw the flames first issuing from the centre of the building on Market street. Another account is that it broke out to Fry & Allen’s store. Which report is correct it is impossible to deter. Fire Commissioner James was present, but all his attempts to ascertain the origin were futile, owing to the excitement which prevailed. He will make an investigation to-day, and the true cause may, perhaps, be learned.
Cost of the Wigwam.
The building, when erected, cost about $15,000—that is, $10,000 for the structure itself, and $5,000 for fitting it up for the convention. The cost of subdividing it into stores was probably $2,500. It was valued by the Trustees of the Garrett Institute at $6,000, and rented for $8,000. Whether it was insured or not could not be ascertained. It was probably not, as, at a recent meeting of the Trustees, it was recommended to be torn down, in order that a more substantial structure might be erected on it site.
in the vicinity of the burning building was such as has rarely been witnessed even at the great fires of Chicago. The bad news had travelled fast, and it seemed as though almost half of the entire population of the city had left its evening occupation with common consent, and sailed forth to see the last of the old Wigwam. Men, women, and children thronged every approach, and by the time the mounting flames had reached their zenith of brilliancy, they illuminated a vast, expanse of humanity in every direction. Only by the strongest exertions of the policemen was the street kept clear and the firemen enabled to work unhindered.
SE Corner of Lake and Market Streets
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1870
The Ground Now Covered with the ruins of the old Wigwam building, lying at the corner of Lake and Market streets, is soon to be cleared of the rubbish, preparatory to the erection of fine block of four-story brick stores. The improvement will be made by the Trustees of the Garrett Biblical Institute, and will consist of four stores on Lake and an equal amount on Market street. George Smith, Charles McDonnell, and Mrs. Bush, the owners of the remaining property on Market street, will also soon commence the erection of fine brick blocks on their land.