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Chicago Post Office and Custom House
Life Span: 1878-1898
Location: Adams, Clark, Jackson, and Dearborn streets
Occupies a square bounded by Adams, Clark, Jackson, and Dearborn streets, but the building, standing in the center of this plot of ground, has a width on Adams and Jackson of only 212| feet, and a length on Clark and Dearborn of but 305.2 feet. After the destruction of the old Post Office, at the northwest corner of Monroe and Dearborn, there was a strenuous attempt to buy the whole of that square for the Federal Government, but the property was considered too high-priced. Some further history of this institution in Chicago is given in our chapter on “Notable High Buildings.”
Its weight was too great for the soil, and there has always been an uneven settlement, destructive in character, and at times dangerous to the occupants. To hold it together, heavy rods have been run through the upper walls. The material entering into the construction of this fabric is of the best—Buena Vista sandstone, steel, cement, terra cotta, brick, and marble. The heavy stone walls rise to a height, with their roof, of 102 feet, and there are 4 stories and basement. On the three upper floors are 65 rooms, occupied by 8 divisions with 20 different departments of the Government service. On the main floor, surrounded by a great lobby, is the Post Office. In the building are 3,500 employes, who use 1 freight, 10 mail, and 4 passenger elevators. Into this house, which never closes, it is estimated that 50,000 persons go every day.
Post Office and Government Building
From Marquis’ Hand-Book of Chicago, 1884
The United States Government Building (Postoffice and Custom House), completed in 1880 at a cost, including grounds and surrounding street improvements, of $6,000,000, is one of the handsomest government edifices in the country. Its base dimensions are 342 by 210 feet, which leaves spacious elevated lawns, surrounded by heavy coping. It occupies the square bounded by Dearborn, Clark, Adams and Jackson Streets, and is three stories in height, with basement and attic. The style of architecture is known as the Komanesque, with Venetian treatment. It is almost entirely of iron and stone, and is fire-proof throughout. The basement and first floor are occupied exclusively by the Postoffice Department. In the basement, reached by an inclined driveway on the west side, extending from Adams Street through to Jackson, all mail matter is received and dispatched. The first floor is devoted to the general delivery, carriers, money order, registry and stamp divisions, and executive purposes. The interior of the building above the basement forms a court, 83 by 198 feet. This court is covered by an immense skylight at the second story, being an open court above. The second floor is used by the Collector of Customs, Internal Kevenue Collector, Sub- Treasurer, Commissioner of Pensions and special mail agents. The third floor is occupied by the various United States Courts and offices connected with the Interior and Law Departments.
Post Office and Government Building
The interior of the building is exceedingly rich in finish. The floors are all in tiling of black and white marble. The grand staircases in the north and south halls are especially notable, being of solid iron, artistic in design, and painted to represent wood, with steps laid in small particolored tiles. The building is furnished with four elevators and every improved convenience of the age, and is heated throughout by steam from engines in the basement, the temperature being regulated to 60° the year round. The approaches are from each of the four streets ; they are exceedingly spacious, and are made uniform with the broad sidewalk surrounding the square, which is covered to the curb with massive stone flagging. Each of the four streets forming the square were also paved to the center by the government. The prominence of the building is made more imposing by the appearance of isolation given it by its surroundings, which throw it out in bold relief.
Left: U. S. Sub-Treasury Office
Right: Collector’s Office-U. S. Customs.
Large as the building is, the postoffice department is already crowded, such has been the growth of the business since it was occupied. Eight branch offices, located in different parts of the city, each with its corps of clerks and carriers, help to relieve the pressure ; but by far the largest portion of the work is done from the main office, among the largo business houses situated within its immediate delivery district. The total number of carriers employed is 317 ; number of clerks, 480 ; total number of pieces delivered in 1883. 78,754,271 ; total receipts for the year ending June 30. 1884, $1,892,241. The amount of duties collected in the customs department in 1883 was $4,075,166.85. on merchandise valued at $10,453,701. The internal revenue collections for the fiscal year ending June 30,1883, were $9,118,191. On the lawn plat formed by Clark and Adams Streets, and facing their intersection, stands a monument seven feet in height, bearing this inscription:
A life size bust of Mr. George Buchanan Armstrong surmounts the pedestal of polished dark marble which rests on a base about three feet square.
Post Office showing location of the George Buchanan Armstrong bust.
Post Office & Custom House
Robinson Map 1886
Volume 1, Plate 7