Tremont House, Northwestern University Law School
Life Span: 1873-1937
Location: SE corner of N Dearborn & W Lake streets
Architect: John M. Van Osdel
The Tremont House was one of the “Big Four” of the post-fire hotels including the Palmer House, the Grand Pacific and the Sherman House. This was the fourth Tremont House in Chicago. Jewett Wilcox was a lessee for six years and was so luxuriously furnished that it called itself “The Palace Hotel of America.”
On 20 October 1902, the Northwestern University Law School moved into the old Tremont Hotel Building at the corner of Lake and Dearborn. The School occupied the third floor of the building, sharing the location with the dental and pharmacy schools.
Tremont House No. 4
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1874
The Tremont House has been rebuilt on the site of its predecessor, and will be opened on the 16th. The present structure is as handsome and the internal arrangements as perfect as it is possible to make them. The Couch estate erected the structure, and James and Ira Couch have furnished it in magnificent style, and will be the proprietors. The Tremont has an interesting history. It is the oldest hotel in the city, and under the management of Ira Couch from 1837 to 1858, the Gage Bros. for several years, and John B. Drake from 1861 to 1872, enjoyed a reputation second to none in the country. It was the temporary home of all the distinguished men who came to Chicago. Douglas died there, and Long John haunted it until the 9th of October, 1871.
THE TREMONT OF OLD.
There are very few people living now who remember the first Tremont, which was erected in 1833, and to obtain reminiscences of it a reporter called on Dr. Dyer, one of the oldest citizens, and learned from him what is subjoined:
When I came here in August, 1835, I stopped at Trowbridge’s Hotel, on Dearborn street, just north of Lake, because the Tremont was full. That winter I was out of town a good deal, and when I returned, I generally succeeded in getting a bed at the Tremont.
THE HOTEL WAS LOCATED
on the northwest corner of Lake and Dearborn streets, where the Commercial now stands. It was built in 1833, I think, and was a three-story frame building, about 80 feet long and 70 feet wide. Starr Foot was the first proprietor; the game man who afterwards became County Agent, and was known to everybody. He kept the house for about a year, selling out in 1835 to Mallory & Able.
There were at the time five hotels in Chicago:
The “Green Tree,” located on what is now West Water street, near the junction of the two branches of the river, which was called “Rats’ Castle;” The Sanganash, a homely-looking combination of logs and boards, perched on the “Point” near Lake street bridge, and covering the ground on which the Wigwam subsequently stood; The Mansion House, on the north side of Lake street, just east of Dearborn, Trowbridge’s Hotel, and the Tremont. The Tremont was considered to be the only first-class hotel, but many thought the Mansion House was its equal in every particular.
PRIMITIVE RATES OF BOARD.
Board at the Tremont was $5 a week for the best rooms, and nearly all the men who afterwards became wealthy and distinguished in the city lived there. Any unusual event at that time was an occasion of rejoicing, and when one came into the harbor the people would form a line and march to the banks of the creek and cheer the Captain.
A MONTH’S TALE.
One night the people in the Tremont were victimized by Col. James M. Warren, of Warrenville, who was an excellent mimic. He knew he could deceive the boarders, and did so completely. Taking a position in an alley near the hotel, he personated two negroes, and began quarreling. He changed his voice so perfectly that everybody imagined there were two negroes in the alley, both very angry and determined to fight. Had it been daylight there would have been no one in the hotel,—all would have rushed out to see the encounter. But it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and all were in bed. The noise awakened them, and after the sound was heard, a head protruded from every window in the house. The Colonel finally got tired of talking and retired. The quarrel was the subject of conversation all over the town the next day, and was not forgotten for a month. Very few in the secret, and when the truth came out, the joke furnished a topic for further talk.
Able & Mallory sold out to a man named Dorwin in 1837, but he retained possession only a few months. His boarders did not pay their bills, and he became disgusted, and disposed of the property to Ira Couch. Nearly 200 people were in the habit of taking dinner at the Tremont, and the dining-room was so small that the hungry fellows were frequently obliged to form line in two ranks around the tables, and dispense with plates, and oftentimes with knives and forks.
The boarders became “terribly enraged” at Dorwin, because he damned them for what they owed him, and one evening they held a meeting in one of the large bed-rooms to solemnly determine what they would do with him. The conclave was really gotten up as a joke, but in those days of vigilance committees it was considered to be a serious matter, and Dorwin became much alarmed for his safety. Festus Clarke, of Nackett’s Harbor, was elected Chairman, and a committee was appointed to escort the proprietor to the room. When he entered he was almost stifled by tobacco smoke, trembled like a leaf. The “enraged” boarders surrounded him, and demanded to know why he had outraged their feelings by asking them for money. He became pale from fright, and told them that he must have money or he could not pay his bills. A lawyer then made an argument in behalf of the boarders, asserting that it was foolish for them to pay anything when this fellow did not discharge his own indebtedness. Much discussion followed, and a friend of the proprietor whispered to him to sell his bills to someone and run away. Dorwin said he would if anyone would buy them.
a long, lank, and black-eyed man offered tho take them, and the next mnrning Dorwin got into the stage-coach, and left Chicago for New York. where he afterwards died, it is said, of a broken heart. Mr. Couch paid the money for the bills, and the joke proved to be a reality. He would not be put off with “Wait until next week,” but went for the delinquents, and drove out all those who would not square their accounts. He introduced a new order of things at the Tremont, and was very successful. I boarded there until the fall of 1837, when I was appointed Surgeon in the army, and moved into the garrison at Fort Dearborn. Nearly all the business men in town stopped at the Tremont, and Couch made much money by buying up specie at 10 and 15 per cent premium and shipping it East. He did not touch real estate until long afterwards.
THE HOTEL WAS BURNED
up somewhere about 1839, and he bought the property the present building occupies of Mr. Wadsworth, and put up another frame building in 1840, which was also burned several years afterwards in 1848 he began talking about building a new and handsome hotel. At that time the business portion of the city was on Lake street, west of Clark, east of Dearborn street being undeveloped prairie. It subsequently became residence property, but not long after Mr. Couch had erected the Tremont House on the southeast corner of Dearborn and Lake streets, and the hotel had been in operation and achieved a name for excellence throughout the country.
THE “HOUSE OF DAVID.”
For many years a coterie of prominent citizens of Chicago made the Tremont their headquarters. They would congregate in the barroom, which had been christened the “House of David” by John Brougham, the actor, and pass the evening in imbibing moderately of wine and whisky, and relating stories. Some of the best men in the city belonged to this party,—eminent lawyers, physicians, and capitalists, who occupied a high social position, but occasionally threw off all restraint, and spent four or five or six hours together, and indulged to conviviality, and enjoyed themselves. Of this conclave
was the leading spirit,—the noblest Roman of them all. He was one of the most accomplished men in the city, and could tell a story as it should be told, and quote from the Latin authors with the facility of an Eton boy. He was born in Killarney, Kerry, Ireland, and was intended for a priesthood, into which three of his brothers had already been admitted. After receiving a thorough education, he became convinced that preaching was not to be his vocation, and emigrated to America, landing in New York in 1829 or 1830. While there he married the daughter of a distinguished physician, and studied medicine. About the the troops evacuated Fort Dearborn he came West, and settled in Chicago. He entered into partnership with a physician, but found time to indulge in real estate speculations, and soon became a leading dealer in corner lots. When
- Chicago had advanced as a city indeed he used to say:
Why, who would have thought it! I need to tell the fellows the most amazing and astounding stories about the future of Chicago, but she has outdone my anticipations of her distinction and grandeur.
A GOOD STORY.
is told of him. His mind was so much engrossed with real estate that one day, on going into George Smith’s bank to have a check cashed, he said, in reply to the question of the Teller as to what he would have, gold or notes,
- Oh, the usual terms, one-quarter down, and the balance in one, two, and three years, with 6 per cent interest, canal terms.
In society he was the presiding genius, and was so happy in his manner that he could do the honors of the host more gracefully than anyone in the West. His education, manners, and habits were such that everybody respected him. He made but one faux pas,—appearing at a dramatic entertainment at McVicker’s, in the character of a smuggler, “making,” as Dundreary would say, “an ass of himself.” His experience convinced him that acting was beyond him, and he never attempted to face an audience again. He did it this once at the solicitation of his friends, to aid a worthy charity, his generous and accommodating nature prompting him to do anything honorable, to please. He died in September, 1860, regretted by all who were fortunate enough to know him.
Another shining light was
He represented Detroit ion Congress one term, and came to Chicago about 1855, and commenced practicing law. He at once took a prominent stand among the members of the profession, and, socially, was the “lion.” He was personally attractive, and although inclined to be dainty in his dress, was not at all foppish. He was highly educated, and possessed remarkable conversational powers, and was a welcome guest everywhere. When the War of the Rebellion broke out, he became Colonel of an Illinois regiment, and served faithfully until the surrender of Gen. Lee. After his discharge he went South, and settled in New Orleans, where he died several years ago.
A third was
one of the most distinguished members ofg the Wing party in Chicago, and a great admirer and friend of Henry Clay, whom he eulogized, when dead, in an oration which he believed by many to have been as eloquent as any production in the English language. He was born and reared in Philadelphia, his father being a wealthy citizen of that place, and received instruction in the best schools. He studied law there, and was admitted to the Bar, but while he lived here he never practiced, his father having left him more money than he knew what to do with. He was one of the best orators in the West, and the Whigs looked upon him as a political Gamaliel.
Another was Dan Mclroy, an enthusiastic Irishman, who was thought by many to be the handsomest man in Chicago. He commenced life in Lowell, Mass., as a teacher and afterwards studied law in the office of Judge Storey, of Boston, Ben Butler was his associate and fellow-student. McIlroy came West, after being licensed tom practice and settled in this city in 1843 or ’44. He at once became prominent as a representative of the Irish element, and shortly after his arrival was elected State’s Attorney, and achieved the reputation of being one of the best criminal lawyers. He was a perfect Adonis, but not airy; on the contrary, he was humble and modest in his deportment, but his figure was such that in walking along the street he would attract attention on account of possessing more than ordinary physical beauty. When
the actress, came to Chicago, McIlroy fell deeply in love with her. One summer day an excursion party was gotten up, and on the banks of the Calumet a Fête champêtre was held. McIlroy and Miss Dean said to the romantic youth at her side, “You Irish gentlemen are so full of enthusiastic admiration that you make love to a lady I cannot tell whether you are sincere or otherwise.”
McIlroy assured her he was sincere. Miss Dean interrupted him by saying:
- Now, can you manifest your chivalry like the Knights of old?
McIlroy would do anything. “Well,” said Miss Dean, “see this rose (throwing it into the stream). Bring it to me as proof of your fidelity and devotion.” McIlroy junped into the mud at once and captured the rose, and ascended the bank dripping like a Newfoundland dog. Handing the rose to the lady, he said:
- I return the rose as proof of my devotion, illustrating the affection of an Irish gentleman for the noblest of her sux.
This incident became known to the excursionists, and they, of course, told of it when they returned home, and McIlroy was ever afterward commended for his gallantry. He died at the age of 47, loved by all who know him.
The next was Jim Carney, who arrived in America from Ireland in 1834, and came to Chicago two years afterward. He built a brewery on South Water street, and held the office of Public Administrator for several years. He owned the farm on which Evanston now stands, and sold the property to Dr. Evans. He was genial and intelligent, and a great favorite in the coterie, and when he died in 1855, at his house on South Water street, everybody expressed sorrow at the loss.
Capt. Jim Smith was an occasional visitor at the “House of David.” He was born in Scotland, and came to Chicago when a boy, and was given a position in the bank of his relative, George Smith. He remained there several years, finally becoming a lumber merchant, forming a partnership with John Sherifin. He was a fireman, and a member of the artillery company of which he was elected Captain just before the War. He went into the field and remained until peace was declared. Returning home, he became a part owner of the Emma Mine, and moved to Salt Lake City to look after his interests. He died there three or four years ago, leaving a competency to his only son.
was another of the genial party. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and graduated from the University there. After coming to America he settled in Rochester, New York, where he studied law in the same office with Isaac N. Arnold, and was admitted to the Bar. Subsequently he went to Buffalo, and thence to Detroit, where he continued practicing. He was noted for his classical attainments, and was induced to accept a Professorship in the University at Tecumseh, which position he held for five years. He came to Chicago during the heat of the contest between the Democrats and the Whigs, and soon became a recognized leader of the former, his eloquence contributing largely to the success of their candidate. In 1863 he slipped, while ascending stairs leading to the basement of the Tremont House, and fell into the area. When found in the morning he was dead.
who is remembered by many, was born in Ayr, Scotland—the birthplace of the poet Burns. His father was Principal of an Academy there, and Pat received a splendid education. He came to Chicago in its early days, and endured the fluctuations of life experienced by the pioneers. He studied law in the office of Judge Theophilus Smith, became his partner, and was conceded to be one of the most brilliant lawyers in the West. He was hias own worst enemy, and was found dead in bed by his brother.
There were several other members of this select party who made the “House of David” their headquarters. Among them was Allen Robbins, a whole-souled gentleman, who loved pin-pool and gin and sugar; Dr. Kimberly, George Meeker, and W. H. Murfey. Only two of the coterie, Dan O’Hara, and Charley McDonald, are now living.
THE LAST TREMONT
When Mr. Couch began laying ther foundation of a large brick structure in 1849, he was called a “fool” and a “madman,” the project being considered the wildest speculation ever before undertaken by man, and everybody firmly believed he would sink all the money he had. He, however, was not dismayed, and his enterprise paid him handsomely. The Tremont became well known, and was the resort of all the prominent politicians and distinguished people who came to Chicago. Mr. Couch managed its affairs until 1858, at which time it ranked with the Delavan of Albany, the Burnet House of Cincinnati, and the Massasoit House of Springfield, the four being considered the best hotels outside of New York and Philadelphia.
In the latter part of the year last named, Mr. Couch made arrangements to sell to David A. and George W. Gage, of Indiana. Their whole available capital was built on for $8,000, which they tendered to Mr. Couch. When they reached Chicago they went to the hotel to take possession, but Mr. Couch had changed his mind, and would not give up his house. The Gages were much annoyed, even accommodation in the house being refused them, and they consulted Larned & Woodbridge, attorneys. The money was counted in their office, and a legal tender to be made. Couch still refused to accept it, or to agree to the appointment of a Committee of Arbitration to value the fixtures, plate, etc. After much talk, he finally agreed to appoint his own committee, and did so, the Gages offering no objection. When the Committee had made their examination and determined the value of the property, Mr. Couch declined to accept their award. The Gages then threatened to sue him, and at last, consented to give them possession, he remaining as a border at the hotel.
ANOTHER HOTEL PROPOSED.
He had a very large income at this time, and idleness did not agree with him, and he began to talk of erecting an enormous hotel on the site of the Garrett Block, corner of State and Randolph streets, where there was a small eating-house kept by Hugh Spear. The latter asked such an exorbitant sum for his interest, although the other property could be purchased for a reasonable price, that Mr. Couch was obliged to abandon the idea. He became angry over his disappointment, and went down East, and died from the effects of a chest disease. contracted while working at his trade of tailor before he embarked in hotel-keeping.
JOHN B. DRAKE.
he Gages ran the Tremont for several years, when John B. Drake was taken into the firm, he having been their manager. From his advent a new era began in the hotel business of the city. Mr. Drake going first and his brother following, to tale possession of the Sherman House, leaving Mr. Drake the sole proprietor. The house became the resort of all politcians, and whenever a convention was held in Chicago the Tremont was the headquarters of the delegates.
MR. DOUGLAS’ ADDRESS.
An anecdote is related of an admirer of Douglas, who always stopped at the Tremont when in the city. He was from the country, and asked that he might be assigned to a room where Douglas slept. The clerk directed him to “No. 3,” which he found full of beds. He returned to the office, and said it was his ambition to sleep where Douglas had slumbered, but he did not want to sleep with the whole Democratic party.
THE BUILDING BURNED.
In 1861 the Tremont was remodeled, and Raising of Chicagoraised seven feet in the air, a basement being put in, and the “House of David” moved to the ground floor. The building was raised by jack-screws, and the undertaking was a great one, and, being the first of the kind ever attempted in the city, it attracted much attention.
AFTER THE FIRE.
The house was conducted by Mr. Drake, who kept up its reputation and secured the best custom by his excellent management until the Great Fire, which left only a pile of bricks on the site. The enterprising proprietor soon had the Michigan Avenue Hotel under his charge, and, changing its name to the Tremont, for a time did an excellent business.
The debris remained on the property some months, but was at length removed, the Couch estate, represented by James and Ira Couch, having at length decided to build another hotel on the same site, “in style and grandeur commensurate with its former reputation and the progress of modern improvements.”
Tremont House No. 4
THE NEW TREMONT.
The new Tremont Hotel, located on the southeast corner of Lake and Dearborn streets, fronting 181 feet on Dearborn and 160 feet on Lake street, is six stories high above the basement, exclusive of the attic-story, and surrounds an open court 60 feet wide and 92 feet in length. In this court is an office building, or rotunda, 44 by 73 feet, containing basement and principal story, 25 feet high. The first story of the main building is elevated three steps above the sidewalk, and is 14 feet high in the clear. The second story, being the principal story of the hotel, is 18 feet high in the clear. The principal dining-room on this floor is 20 feet high. The height of the third story is 16 feet, but over the dining-room 14 feet. The fourth story is 14 feet; fifth story, 13 feet; and the sixth story, 12 feet. These extraordinary heights of stories gives the building great elevation.
on each street is relieved by a central and flank pavilion projects 2 feet from the face of the main wall, and the others project 1 foot. The pavilions are enriched with pilasters and ornamented fancy columns, with carved capitals, which, extending through the height of two stories, give them large diameters and great boldness of relief. The fronts of the first story are of iron, with large plate-glass shop fronts. The angles of the pavilion are supported by massive piers in the first story. The fronts above the first story are of Amherst sand stone of uniform light drab color. The pilasters, columns, and paneled piers have their base at the top of the first story, and support a highly-ornamented cornice. At top of the third story there are similar patterns.
COLUMN AND PIERS
extend upward in front of the fourth and fifth stories, supporting the main cornices at the top of the fifth story. Above the cornice, the pavilions have stone fronts in the sixth story, fully relieved with columns and pilasters. The space between the pavilions in the sixth floor is a Mansard roof, slated, and enriched with fine dormer windows of fire-proof material. Each pavilion is surmounted with a quadrangular dome, convex on each side, having large and highly-wrought former and loop-hole windows. The angles of the roofs of the domes are heavily molded, and, separating, form an arch under the crest railing. The spandrils of these arches are fully relieved with ornamental carvings and scroll-work. The crest-railings are massively and highly ornamented. Each pavilion is furnished with stone balconies at the third and fifth stories, supported on sculptured stone brackets, with balustrades of stone-work.
THE PRINCIPAL ENTRANCE
is in the centre of the Dearborn street front, marked by a four-column portico extending to the top of the second story. The columns support an arched canopy, forming a balcony at the third story. The eastern portico is of iron, painted and sanded tom imitate stone-work. The private or ladies’ entrance is in the centre of the Lake street front, and has a balcony at the top of the first story supported on elaborately sculptured brackets. This entire entrance is enriched with carvings and sculpturesb of the most elaborate character.
of the main, as well as of the private, entrance is finished in black-walnut. The doors and finish are in the highest style of the joiner’s art, and were exhibited at the late Exposition, and attracted much attention on account of their extraordinary beauty in design and execution. The halls leading from these entrances open directly into the rotunda, or office. This rotunda is lighted through the roofs of three domes. Ventilation and light are also obtained by means of windows in the side walls. The entire
Tremont House No. 4
Andreas’ History of Chicago
ROTUNDA AND HALLS
are wainscoted, with black-walnut with half-balunter in relief on the wainscoting; the finish of walls and ceiling are of stucco-work. The pilasters, columns, and paneled work are fully enriched and ornamented.
An easy flight of stairs leads from the floor of the rotunda to the principal floor of the hotel. This stair is entirely of black-walnut, fully enriched and ornamented. At the right of the ladies’ entrance hall is a waiting room for ladies; from this room a passenger-elevator will convey the guests to any of the upper floors of the building. A flight of elegant stairs also leads up from this room to the principal floor.
THE GRAND STAIRWAY
from the principal floor to the sixth story is located at the junction of the two principal corridors, near the head of the last-mentioned stairs, and is constructed around a large quadrangular well-hole, lighted from a dome in the roof. There are two landings or platforms in each story, so that the second is by three easy flights from one floor to another. There is also a fine flight of stairs in the south end of the principal corridor from the second to the sixth story. The
is at the southeast angle of the building. The main dining-hall, 64 feet wide and 100 feet long, is directly north of the kitchen, and extends to the front on Lake street. This room is lighted on three sides, and is noted for the elegance of its flush of ornamental stucco-work and the elaborate character of the joiner’s work.
THE LADIES’ ORDINARY,
located west of the kitchen, is 84 x 70 feet, with a ceiling 18 feet high. It is lighted similarly to the main dining room. A flight of stairs is located in the passage between these dining rooms, and extends up to the seventh story. The ladies’ parlors and dressing-room occupy three spacious rooms from Lake and along the Dearborn street front to the centre of the building. They are connected by beautifully-arranged sliding-foors filled with cut-glass panels. These doors, when opened, pass into boxes formed of large mirrors on either side. The elaborate cornice and finish of the head of the door-casings extend over and include the mirrors on either side. The doors and finials of the principal story are of the most elaborate character of carvings and sculpture, and give an air of eloquence and costliness seldom seen in hotel architecture. Above the dining-rooms
extend around the entire building, having spacious rooms for guests on either side of either corridor. A fourth stairway commences at the third floor, over the main dining-room, and extends to the sixth story. There is also a servants’ stairs from the basement to the seventh story.
PANTRY-ROOM AND BAKERY
are in the first story and directly under the main kitchen. The boilers and heating apparatus are in the basement, directly under the bakery and pantry-room. An exclusive and complete laundry is arranged in the basement. Ice-rooms and large patent refrigerators, and all modern conveniences, are provided in all working apartments. The building contains about 200 rooms for guests. Many of them are en suite, with all the modern conveniences of bath-tubs, water-closets, etc.
THE FOLLOWING FIRMS
contributed toward the erection of the beautiful structure:
- John W. VanOsdel, architect
Louis Boldenwick, cut stone
Peter Buttors, masonry
Smith & Eastman, plastorers
Foote & Rice, carpenters
N. S. Bouton & Co., iron works
Dewey & Jones, galvanized iron roofing
W. S. Shepherd, plumbing and gas-fitting
The hotel will be magnificently furnished, over $260,000 having been spent in securing the best of everything. Even the rooms in the domes will have Brussels carpets and black-walnut bed-steads and washstands. Many of the apartments are already in order, and a hundred men are hard at work getting the house in readiness for the opening. The parlor furniture, which is to excel that of any other hotel in the city, has not yet arrived, but will be here some time this week.
The heads of departments, clerks, and employes whose services have been secured for the house are well and favorably known in their respective positions, both East and West, and include Richard Somers, caterer, R. S. Brownell, A. Hurlbut, Harry Hamlin, Jesse Hipple, C. G. Spalding, F. A. Stevens, E. G. Mayo, and George A, Hook.
The proprietors say, in a circular they have issued, that no efforts will be spared to retain the reputation of the old Tremont, by making their guests comfortable and their visits pleasant; and they hope to have the pleasure of extending a cordial welcome to all friends of the old as well as the patrons of the new house, and to the traveling public generally, whenever they visit Chicago.
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1874
THE FOUR TREMONTS
To the Editor of The Chicago Tribune
SIR: In 1833 there was built upon the northwest corner of Lake and Dearborn streets an unpretending frame structure known as the Tremont House, and the following year Ira Couch became its proprietor. He found the house a mere shell, without any sidewalk around it, and poorly furnished, as none of the rooms were entirely carpeted, little pieces in front of the bed being considered sufficient for anyone; and very many of the beds were minus one pleasant luxury, a pillow.
THE MUDDY DAYS.
Around this corner, in early spring-time, it was impossible to drive the stage, and the passengers had to walk some two blocks; on account if the marshy state of the ground, the horses could not navigate; and the ladies were very willing to wear their husbands’ boots in those days, when they felt fearful of losing their footing upon ground that seemed bottomless.
Tremont House No. 1
THE FIRST FIRE.
In the fall of 1839, the Tremont House was first consumed by fire. It had been renovated and repaired shortly before, so that, for those days, when he was beginning life upon a new basis, Mr. Couch’s loss was felt to be quite a serious matter, especially as the building was entirely uninsured.
He then purchased the ground where the elegant hotel now stands, and erected upon it, in 1841, Tremont House No. 2. In all these efforts from the first, Mr. Couch was assisted by his brother James, for they were always together and helping one another.
This also was a frame structure, three stories in height, and for those primitive days—before there was any communication world except by steamboat and stage—the Tremont House was considered too large, and the builder was ahead of the times.
Tremont House No. 2
THE SECOND FIRE.
Mr. Couch seemed pursued by fire, as, in 1849, the popular hotel was again destroyed. The third Tremont came to know as a fixed fact early in 1850. It was certainly an improvement upon his predecessors, for it was built of brick, five stories high; and again the people thought Mr. Couch must be insane to build such a palace, so they familiarly dubbed it “Couch’s Folly,”—predicting failure to this man of energy and perseverance.
During these early days of building, Mr. Couch (in company with his brother James) was upon the ground early and late watching the building as it progressed, until it was finally completed and ready to be opened.
Tremont House No. 3
THE THIRD TREMONT.
Gas was used in Chicago for the first time at the opening of the third Tremont House; and, as everything was in perfect keeping, the house must have presented a fine appearance, with its large, airy rooms beautifully furnished, and having all the conveniences of those days. Mr. Couch lived to see this enterprise a perfect success, far beyond the most sanguine expectations. In its early days the hotel was crowded to its utmost capacity, and it was soon far too small, for the increasing travel made it often necessary to resort to various methods in order to accommodate those who sought shelter within its walls.
RAISING THE BUILDING.
In the spring of 1861 the Tremont House was raised up to grade—more than 6 feet. This was done by screws; there were 5,000 of these under the building, and 500 men, each man having ten screws under his control. At a given signal they would turn it half round and stop, then go to the next one, and so on. This raised the building boldly, so that not a pane of glass was broken, and the business of the hotel went on as usual. When the house was raised, the court in the centre was enlarged and quite a number of rooms added, and some radical and important changes were made—all under the direct management of Mr. Jame Couch, as the original builder of the Tremont had passed away to his final rest some few years before.
Among our old settlers many of them took rooms the morning of the opening, and sat down to the first breakfast in the house. Messrs. Mosely, McCord, Drew, and Luther Haven are well remembered. With the exception of Mr. Haven, these gentlemen occupied the same rooms they then took, and remained until called to their bright and better home above.
DURING THE WAR
how many sad, as well as pleasant, events took place in the Tremont House, which was the home of so very many public men. Here Lincoln loved tp come on his Western trips. Douglas felt at home nowhere except at the Tremont House, and during his last illness was tenderly cared for in this pleasant, familiar stopping-place. This seemed to be the only home such men as Gens. Ransom, Kirk, and others sought when traveling,—indeed, it was here they closed their labors and passed from sight forever. Our military men, together with President Grant, and those directly under him, usually made the Tremont House their headquarters, coming to it as readily as those who want in and out its doors each day.
Tremont House No. 3
October 9, 1871
THE LAST FIRE.
In the great conflagration of 1871 this dear old landmark was removed, and then there was much to discourage them, still those most interested felt there must be a Tremont House on the old spot. Our New Chicago would not look right unless it were so; and thus we now see Tremont House No. 4 finished and almost ready to be opened.
THE NEW TREMONT.
Mr. James Couch has had left the entire supervision of the building, being upon the ground from early morning until dark. He has spared no pains in the construction, and it is, without doubt, one of the finest buildings yet erected in our new city. It has risen almost by magic, as it were, and Mr. Couch has been most untiring in his arduous enterprise. It was no small task to build up such a hotel, and the inside is just as perfect as it can be made.
Everything about the building is in excellent taste,—the office and the various rooms are arranged in the best possible manner, and the credit belongs entirely to Mr. James Couch, for he has made every effort in his power to have this Tremont House just as it should be in all respects.
Mr. Couch has been ably and greatly assisted by his son Ira in the erection, and especially in the furnishing, of this truly magnificent hotel. Mr. Couch himself will be the proprietor, and upon entering the homes very many of his old familiar faces will greet the guests in the various domestic departments, office, etc., and it is to be hoped that around the genial boards will be congregated very many of the old faces, together with hosts of new ones, for they will be sure of a pleasant greeting and the best of attention from all those connected with the Tremont House.
The Tremont House
Robinson Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 1
Northwestern Law School
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map