Wabash Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, Post Office
Life Span: 1858-1874
Location: Northwest corner of Wabash avenue and Harrison street
Architect: Boyington and Wheelock
Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1858
Now that the beautiful sanctuary of the Wabash Avenue Episcopal Society has reached completion—a completion at once wonderfully happy in its success, and remarkable in having been carried steadily forward through a season disastrous to many, and placing a heavy drag upon enterprises, public and private, it will interest a large share of our readers if we refer to it in more detail than we have yet done.
It is a noble edifice, among the edifices of its class present and prospective in our city, and of these, that to which we are about to refer will occupy no inferior place, in either respect of style, finish, and perfect adaptation to the purposes for which it was designed. A few words by way of preface will fittingly introduce the subject by giving a brief outline of the history of the Society who have erected it.
Six years since, in 1851, a colony from the Clark Street Methodist Episcopal Church found a location in a new field in what was then our southern suburb. They opened a new place of worship on Harrison street, and became known as the State Street Methodist Episcopal Society. They enrolled at the outset, twenty-one members in their church organization. By a wise forethought they availed themselves of a canal sale, and made a most fortunate purchase of the corner lot eighty feet fronting on State street, for the sum of $1,325, a property now worth $25,000. On the rear of this lot their wooden structure of plain exterior, but comfortable and convenient, was erected fronting on Harrison street, the State street front having been favorably leased for business purposes, thus yielding them annually a handsome income, and securing for them pecuniary prosperity as an organization.
The Church has received successfully the pastoral ministrations of Rev. F. A. Reed. Rev. W. B. Slaughter, and their present pastor, Rev. Dr. Ryan, under all of whom it has enjoyed a steady and permanent growth. When the question came up of the erection of a new place of worship, State street had so changed, and became so prominent a business thoroughfare, that the trustees were glad to effect a most favorable exchange of property, by which they came in possession of a lot on the corner of Harrison and Wabash avenue, of the same size as their former State street property, by an exchange of foot for foot.
Wabash Avenue Methodist Church
Wabash Avenue, south of Hubbard Street
John Carbutt, Photographer
Upon this lot they have reared a beautiful and costly church edifice, seventy-seven feet front by one hundred and four in depth, with a block of dwellings in the rear, one of which, adjoining the church is designed for the patronage. The material is the Athens stone, with bush-hammered dressing. The style of architecture is early English gothic, it has no main tower, but two graceful turrets, one on each of the front corners, which, together with the heavy buttresses and large central window and the superior dressed stonework of which the walls are furnished, gives a most substantial and imposing exterior.
Beneath the audience room which is of the full area of the church, is a fine lofty basement enter by arch entrances. This basement gives four well arranged class-rooms, a lecture and conference room eighty-two by sixty-two feet in dimensions. This lecture room is one of the finest in every respect we have ever entered. With an eye to convenience for the purposes of the Sabbath School, a share of the seats have been fitted with revolving backs. Every other appliance to insure the success of this room for its general purpose seems to have been to a high degree secured. Just adjoining the lecture room is a charming little apartment fitted up with seats arranged on an inclined plane for infant scholars, and singing classes, and this room must have received the attention of those well qualified to judge of what the little folks require. The tiny seats are graded from the front to the rear with a regard for childish comfort and health which only in our own age architects have thought creditable and worthy of attention. A side entrance on Harrison street leads to the lecture room, to class rooms, and to the Pastor’s study/ In this latter are speaking tubes connecting it with the living room of the family in their patronage adjoining, a convenience the lady of the house, and in her behalf, all others will appreciate.
The height of the basement story is twelve feet. The main audience room is reached by two commodious and easy flights of stairs springing from either end of the basement vestibule. The size of the main audience room is sixty-two by eighty-four feet in area, and forty-five feet high to the center of the vaulted ceiling. The style and finish of the interior is exceedingly tasteful and appropriate, unlike in its details to that of any other of our cuty churches, and in being a novelty, a happy one which will at once find warm admirers.
The shades and tints of the internal coloring and decoration are harmonious as a whole, and severally appropriate and pleasing.
The general order and arrangement chosen, may be described as the locating of the pulpit at the rear end of the church, opposite the entrance of which portion of the audience room the desk and its appurtenances and ornaments, form a central and solely prominent feature. The organ and choir occupy the gallery over the entrance. This gallery, as well as the side galleries, is commodious, convenient of access, and in arrangement.
The lights are from the sides, the corridors being of richly stained glass, presenting different patterns and colorings. The main central windows, over the organ loft, is exceedingly rich and tasteful, and of the light, as a whole, it may be remarked that it is pleasingly adapted both in strength and tone, to the general characteristics of the interior.
The subject of acoustics has not been overlooked in the proportions and details of this church. As in other churches designed by the same architect, this subject is particular is one of the important points, and never proves a failure. To an architect it is a very requisite to understand the principles of construction so as to prevent a jargon of sound, which too frequently happens in some of our most costly churches. There is no danger of producing an echo in an ordinary church, but a much worse fault arises when a congregation is seated in a church and not permitted to hear the speaker distinctly in but a small portion of the house, but on the contrary a confused, rumbling sound is produced.
The designs for all various parts of this building have been carefully and very judiciously arranged and proportioned by the architect, under whose immediate supervision the whole work has been executed, the trustees and pastor co-operating.
The work of the carpenters deserves especial and honorable mention. The pews are all pannelled and richly moulded, the piers are rich and chaste, the shape and proportion of the pews are easy and graceful. The pews on each side of the leading pews, are set at angles, which face the pulpit. The pulpit and altar are well arranged, and finely proportioned to the house. The side galleries are but two seats wide, and are self-supporting from the walls, The gallery fronts are finished with gothic arch and tracery work, gibing the gallery front a light and airy appearance, and in connection with other details of finish, adding greatly to the appearance of the audience room. This style of galleries avoids the heavy moulded ribs and purlins, the ribs springing from large spandrel brackets, resting on heavy but gracefully carved corbels, securely attached to the walls. At then intersection of the main ribs and the ridge purlin, are richly carved bosses.
At the sides of the church intersecting the ceiling and the perpendicular clear-story, are elaborately wrought and moulded cornices and pannelled tracey work in stucco. The ribs and purlins of the ceiling form pannels about 8×12 feet, which are painted in fresco, giving a grand relief to what otherwise appear rather plain. There is a pannel in the rear of the pulpit, by the art of the fresco-painter very tastefully worked into a recess. The walls of the main room are finished with plastering left with a sand surface, and of the natural color of the sand, blocked off into masonry, while the wood and ornamental work is all painted and grained in imitation of oak.
The corner stone of the building was laid in the month of June, 1857. The entire cost of the building when completed, exclusive of the two dwellings in the rear, which are first class three-story structures, in Milwaukee brick, will be $60,000.
Chicago Illustrated, February 1866
On the north-west corner of Wabash avenue and Harrison street stands this stately and imposing edifice. It was completed in 1857. The style is Gothic, with old English detail. The fronts are of brisk-hammered stone, with fine cut stone trimmings and cornices. Two turrets, with projecting buttresses at the sides and angles, complete the exterior finish. The dimensions of the building are as follows: depth on Harrison street one hundred feet, breadth on Wabash avenue sixty five feet, height of walls, forty-two feet, height to the apex of the roof seventy-five feet, height of the corner turrets one hundred feet. The interior of the church is handsomely finished. The basement is divided into a lecture and Sabbath-school room, forty by sixty-two feet, several class rooms, and the pastor’s library room. The heating apparatus is also in the basement. These several rooms are neatly and comfortably furnished.
The main audience room occupies the full size of the interior of the building—sixty-two by ninety feet in the clear, including the vestibule. The church is furnished with self-supporting galleries on the sides, and with a spacious choir and organ gallery over the vestibule; the view in the church is therefore unobstructed by columns. The height of the ceiling is forty-five feet. This audience room, including the galleries, will seat nine hundred persons. The interior finish is quite ornate, with open timber-work in the roof, forming a ceiling divided into sections and panels, which spring from corbels on the walls, terminating with richly carved pendants at the vaulted portion of the ceiling. Various fine specimens of Gothic carving adorn the spandrels and panels. The timbered work of the roof, and the pulpit and pews, are grained in imitation oak, and the walls are stuccoed. These carvings were designed by the architect. The windows are of stained glass, and the choir gallery is finished in Gothic style. The organ, which is a very fine one, was built by Mr, William A. Johnson, of Westfield, Massachusetts, and was put into the church at a cost of three thousand five hundred dollars.
The church has had its financial troubles. It was completed just before the panic of 1957, and the debt oppressively felt for a long time. The church in April, 1857, numbered fifty-seven members; several of these have passed away, but the smaller number has largely increased. The first Board of Trustees were Messrs. George C. Cook, E. G. Reynolds, Daniel Goss, W. B. Philips, H. W. Clark, W. M. Doughty, Lott Frost, and C. H. Abbott. The Building Committee were Messrs. George C. Cook and Danial Goss. The design of the building was furnished by Boyington and Wheelock, but it was erected under the superintendency of W. W. Boyington, architect of Chicago. The whole cost of the building was sixty-five thousand dollars. The present Board of Trustees consists of Messrs, George C. Cook, Orrington Lunt, Daniel Goss, W. B. Philips, C. B. Heartt, L. Richards. Ralph Connable, S. P. Lunt, and W. H. Rand.
The first pastor was the Rev. William M. D. Ryan, who had previously been pastor of a congregation in the city. Through his exertions a subscription was made of about half the cost of the building. Before the building was ready for occupancy the financial disaster had fallen upon the country, and a large portion of this subscription was never realized. The debt due upon the church, when completed, was about forty thousand dollars. Dr. Ryan was succeeded in the pastorate by the Rev. Mr. Krebs, of Baltimore, who remained one year, and left in 1860. In that year the Rev. Henry Cox was appointed pastor, and remained two years. During his time the debt, which had increased, was somewhat reduced. In 1862 the Rev. Robert Collier was appointed to this church. In the mean time the membership had steadily increased, and under the management and liberality of such men as John V. Farwell, George C. Cook, Orrington Lunt, John F. Carter, and others, the whole debt was discharged. Mr. Collier was succeeded, in 1865, by the Rev. R. M. Hatfield, the present eloquent and much loved pastor. The congregation have been fortunate in the choice of the several gentlemen who have been pastors from the first organization to the present day. They have all been active, earnest, and able men, and have contributed to increase and foster that unity which has marked the affairs of the church, both spiritual and temporal, during all that time.
James W. Sheehan, Esq.,
Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1871
CHICAGO RISING AGAIN.
It is stated that our Senators announce their intention to insist on a three million dollar building on the old site of the Custom House and Post Office. In the meantime a force of one hundred men is at work on the Wabash Avenue Methodist Church, fitting it up for use as a Post Office; the other government buildings will be located there or in the neighborhood.
Wabash Avenue Methodist Church
Wabash Avenue, south of Hubbard Street
Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1871
The use of churches for postal purposes is not new in the history of our government. The most notable instance of this character is in New York, where the old Dutch Church, on Nassau street, has served as a Post Office for nearly twenty-five years. The epistolary business of the great metropolis is somewhat confined within this diminutive shell, but it will manage to creep on until the new building in the City Hall Park is completed. The postal business of Chicago is second only to that of New York. Even in the on Dearborn street it was considerably hampered by limited quarters. In Burlington Hall, whither the Post Office was moved after the fire, to the disagreeable apace and inconvenient appointments was added the disadvantage of remoteness from the centres of trade and population. Another removal, and a change which will be decidedly for the better, is not far in the future.
Our readers have already been informed that the new Post Office is to be the Methodist church at the corner of Harrison street and Wabash avenue. As this sacred edifice will now have all the prominence of buildings devoted to such uses, and as that prominence is likely to continue for the next four years, a few words in regard to it will possess, perhaps, an ephemeral interest. Our city is yet too young to have historical buildings. The ecclesiastical Post Office in New York dates back to Colonial times. Our new Post Office has had only a brief existence of fifteen years. But as Chicago, like Byron, is old in deeds, not years, that period of time is not to be regarded as utterly contemptible. There are few things seemingly more incongruous than the putting of sacred things to base uses; the invasion of the chancel by secular business; the apparent profanation of the altar by offerings to Mammon; the perfuming of holy air with cigar smoke instead of the wonted frankincense. Itv seems strange that from the sanctuary whence emanated only messages of grace, there should issue coarse epistles in regard tom pork, grain, and vegetables, and all the vulgar wants in common life. The babble of clerks re-echoes noisily among grained arches, through which lately trembled the voice of a prayer, or swelled the songs of praise. The odor of sanctity is gone. The hush of peace that prevailed through the long silent week days is rudely broken. The crowds that stream under the Gothic archway are widely in contrast with the well-ordered lines of well-dressed people who passed through the same portal in days that will not return. The maiden who in quiet Sabbaths in the past entered meekly to worship, now comes as a love-lorn damsel inquiring for love-letters. The pious elder who presided at class meeting with lengthened visage and unctuous manner, comes to the scene of his former religious musings with other looks upon his face, and other thoughts in his heart. The contrasts between the secular now and the religious then are strongly defined, and too numerous for the limits of an article like the present. The suggestions of the subject are almost as infinite as the letters that radiate from this great epistolary centre.
Wabash Avenue Methodist Church after being converted to the Post Office.
Copelin and Hine, Photographer
The church edifice is not a showy one, having been built before the era of ecclesiastical magnificence in Chicago had fairly commenced. It is of the drap Ohio sandstone, ornamented on the exterior with a few unpretending turrets. The style is Gothic, with such wilful admixtures as are common in modern architecture. The interior is a little more ornate. There is some elegant carving, the paint is fresh, and the frescoing of the walls and panels of this ribbed roof still of bright, cheerful colors. The handsome stained windows will be removed, and white glass out in their places. The top of the large window in front, which is of chaste and beautiful design, will remain as most suggestive of the former history of the building. The entrance doors will not be altered, except that a storm door will be placed just within.
The main entrance is nearly on a level with the Sunday School room. Passing in from the street, the visitor will see directly in front of him the retail stamp department placed directly in the passage leading to the Sunday School room. At the right, in one of the small class-rooms, will be located the registry department. The cashiers and accountants will be placed in the class-room at the left, leaving tolerably commodious quarters. Back of these, the lecture or Sunday School room, will be the distributing department, which will have nearly all its former facilities. There will be five distributing cases here, of the usual semi-circular patterns, four for newspapers, and the other for letters. About the walls are the pigeon-holes for tags, arranged neatly and in order. The room is frescoed. but the work is not recent, and the low windows are set with stained glass with dull colors, and an inexpensive kind. This department will be quite as light and cheerful as the rooms devoted to this portion of the postal service usually are.
The department in the rear, at the right, formerly the largest class room of the church, will be used for the opening of the mails. It is not conveniently located for the purpose, the pouches having to be taken from the wagons on Harrison street and carried the entire width of the building before they can be opened. This arrangement, nevertheless, will have to answer for the present. At the rear of the distributing department, on the left, was the pastor’s study. This will be used for the cancellation of stamps on newspapers.
The vestibule of the auditorium is reached from the entrance by two flights of stairs. The partition will be removed, throwing the vestibule and auditorium together, thus materially increasing the space. Just within this partition, as it now stands, is a semi-circular counter, where the private boxes and drawers will be limited in number to four hundred, it being the design of the Post Office Department to discourage this mode of delivery as much as possible, the the carrier system being now deemed so perfect. A little to the left of the centre will be the wholesale stamp department. At the extreme left will be the room of the Assistant Postmaster, that of the Postmaster being directky behind it. The general delivery will be conveniently located. The top of the counter will be of black walnut, highly polished. The gallery, which will be appropriated to the uses of the carriers, of whom there are one hundred and ten—the old number. The front of the gallery will be topped with black walnut, upon which will be placed their cases, extending the entire length. Another row of cases will extend the entire length. Another row of cases will extend around the gallery, next to the wall, used for the same purposes. The general receptacle for carriers’ matter will be above the main entrance. The galleries will be reached as formerly, and also by additional stair-cases rising from the place once occupied by the pulpit. With the new windows of white glass, the principal department will be light and airy and cheerful.
To increase the space, which will be at the best be somewhat limited, a new building of two stories and a basement is to be erected in the rear, extending back to the alley. The basement will be used for coal, water closets, etc. The first story will be a receiving room, and the second will be given up to the Special Agent and his assistants, and to the railroad clerks. Upon completion of this addition, postal matters will be discharged from the alley in the rear. From the first to the second story it will be raised by means of an elevator, where it will be taken and distributed to the carriers and to the prvate boxes.
The building will not be open ton the public for two weeks. A further change is not likely to occur before the year 1876, as the new government buildings cannot possibly be completed until that year.
The Wabash Avenue Methodist Church just missed being burned and was used for the Post Office after the 1871 Fire. However, it was destroyed by the 1874 Chicago fire.
Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1874
The above cut gives the boundaries of Tuesday evening’s fire, and also of the fire of October, 1871, so far as the West and South Sides are concerned. The heavy dots give the outline of the first fire; the dots and dashes, of the second. The engraving will enable the outside world how small the disaster was as compared to the great conflagration of 1871. The numbers designate the following places: 3. Union Deport. 4. Sherman House. 5. Court House Square. 6. Chamber of Commerce. 7. Fort Wayne Depot. 8. Clifton House. 9. Palmer House. 10. Grand Pacific. 11. New Custom-House. 13. Matteson House. 14, St. James Hotel. 15. Rock Island Depot. 16. Wood’s Hotel. 17. Continental Hotel. 18. Adelphi. 19. Post-Office Building. 20. Jones School. 21. Michigan-Avenue Hotel.
Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1874
THE NEW POST-OFFICE.
That the recent South Side fire was in some respects a blessing to the city has been clearly shown since its occurrence. One of the great advantages arising from it will be the removal of the Post-Office from the tumble-down ecclesiastical edifice on Wabash avenue, which it occupied after the great fire of 1871, to its future site in the Honore Hotel building, where it will remain until the completion of the new Government building. This building, commonly known heretofore as Honore’s white elephant, has been standing on Dearborn street, corner of Adams, a very handsome, but and altogether unproductive, mass of stone and mortar, and its utilization by Uncle Sam will be for some years yet a source of perennial joy and profit to the man with the monotonous initials and the acutely-accentuated letter at the end of his name. Yesterday afternoon a Tribune reporter called at the building in question, in order to find out what progress had been made in the fiting-up of the hotel as the new Post-Office. He found the lower floors of the northern three-quarters in the hands of
A small army of carpenters, joiners, plasterers, bricklayers, and calciminers, all working away in a very energetic manner. After viewing their operations for a few minutes the reporter hunted up Mr. C. S. Squires, the Assistant Postmaster, whom he found superintending matters in the upper part of the building. This gentleman was evidently well pleased at the idea of their new premises being examined and written up in The Tribune, and at once set to work explaining to the reporter the way in which the building bad been altered and portioned off. The alterations did not amount to much, the most extensive being the building of brick division-wall between that portion of the hotel to be occupied by the Post-Office and that still left vacant, and the making of a few necessary lath-and-plaster partitions here and there.
It was found that the rooms to be occupied by the Post-Office were situated on the basement and first and second floors on the north side of the main building, and the basement and first, second, and third floors on the north side of the addition across the open court. The first room entered was that to be occupied by the Assistant Postmaster, Mr. C. S. Squires, and his Secretary, W. E. Patton, which is the .first room north of the main stair-landing on the second floor the main building. This roo measures= about 38×18 feet. Next to this room and further north is the room intended for the Postmaster, Gen. McArthur, which measures about 38×12 feet. The room north of this will be occupied by Cashier John McArthur, Jr., and Accountant James E. Brady, and is of the same dimensions as that of the Assistant Postmaster. The room to the north of this is a large one, and is intended for occupation by James E. White, Superintendent of the railway mail service. This room measures 38×31 feet; a corner of it is portioned off for the accommodation of postal clerks we a checking room.
Across the hall to the west the most northerly room will be occupied by Local Agent. J. M. Hubbard and assistants. A small room to the south of this is intended to be need as a stationery and supply store for the accountant. Another small room is intended for occupation by Special Agents U. R. Hawley and J. S. Elwell.
The large dining-room on the second floor of the addition to the hotel west of the open court is to be occupied by J. M. Hubbard, Superintendent of the city distribution and carriers’ department. The public entrance to this will be through the main entrance, on Dearborn street, while the entrance for carriers and clerks will be from the alley.
The most northerly store on the first flat of the building is being fitted up for use of P. M. Clowery, Superintendent, and the staff of the general and box-delivery department, and the wholesale and retail stamp department under Fred Groth, Superintendent, the former occupying the north and the latter the south side of the room, which is a large one, measuring 65×35 feet.
The next store south, which is of equal size, is being prepared for occupancy by Capt. W. Gregg, Superintendent, and the staff of the money-order department. The third store south, which is next to the the main entrance, is to be occupied by W. D. Rawlins, Superintendent, and the staff of the letter-registering department.
The Mailing Department, under tbe superintendence of Capt. M. J. Mc.Grath, will be in a room on the first floor, at the end of the main entrance. Here will be received all letter mails, and the receptacle will consist of four holes, which will be intended respectively for foreign parts, the city, and Eastern and Western States, and marked accordingly.
The mailing of all prepaid transient printed matter, articles and samples of merchandise, etc., will be done through a shoot into the basement on the right of the main cutrance to the
building. Newspapers for city distribution will be received by the watchman at the door of the entrance on the alley to the north of the building, and messengers calling for newspaper exchanges will be supplied at the same door.
The basement of the main building will be used as the room for newspaper distribution, the other basement, underneath the mailing-room, will be used for the stalling and dispatching of paper mails. In the open court there will be a large elevator, capable of hoisting 4,000 pounds, which will be employed in hoisting the papers up to the mail wagons in the alley. For the reception of railroad paper mails two shoots have been placed in the main building in the north alley, while city matter of a like character will be received in an iron shoot at the corner of the north alley and the open court.
The room just back of the mail deposit room is to be occupied by the Superintendent of Mails,
the entrance to it being on the south side from the main entrance to the building. The large
dining-room to the west of this is to be occupied for letter distribution, and also for the receiving and distributing of the letter mail, two doors in this room opening up on the northern alley, that to the east being used for receiving; and that to the west for dispatching mails. This is a large room, measuring 86×33 feet.
The only room left undescribed is that on the third floor of the building, across
the alley. This room will be divided into and fitted up as sleeping-apartments for the railway postal-clerks and route-agents.
There is apparently no attempt at ornamentation in the building, the work that is put in being substantial and strong, rather than ornate, even in the rooms which are intended for the public use. The necessity to hurry up work so as to remove the Post-Office from its present cramped quarters at the corner of Washington and Halsted streets is being fully appreciated, and anybody going through the new building at present has to pick up hus steps, if he does not, want to get plastered into one of the walls or get his No. 13 boots nailed to the floor by one of the carpentering brigade. It is probable that the building will be ready for occupation in a week or ten days more at most.