The Chicago Tribune, July 15. 1874
It came this time not “like a thief in the night,” but during those hours when all are supposed to be on the alert; when it is expected that a fire will be discovered in a moment, an alarm instantaneously flashed to an engine-house, and the firemen on the spot. It came at a time—just after the fire at the store of M.D. Wells & Co.—when it was expected that the firemen, stung by the charges since made against them, would have worked with double speed and fury.
And yet, in spite of all these things, the fire has come and conquered, and repeated the sad lesson of 1871, that in wooden buildings there is no safety for us. It has proven again the inability of firemen to cope with the forces of nature,—to limit the destructive fury of a flame once under fair headway, or to contend against the unbridles tempest of that fatal southwest wind.
It is needless to go into comparisons, or to relate the story of other conflagrations, that have formed a bright blank page in the history of this city. The one of yesterday can stand on its own merits. It began in an oil factory, while the one in 1871 started in a shanty. With a more aristocratic beginning, it has been less destructive.
It has come to complete in part the work left undone in 1871, and to scoop out of existence another broad belt of wooden buildings which menaced the new structures which have sprung up in the business quarter of the South Division. It has shaken hands with the fire of 1871, and, reaching the ground its predecessor conquered., has stopped, not satiate, and yet satisfied. Well it may be for the palaces that line Madison street that yet another strip of stone and brick is to be piled up between them and the menacing frame structures that lie beyond, and yet we cannot help reflecting that this security of the future has been brought by too great a sacrifice in the present.
Happily for us all, the fire of 1874 was born on this side of the South Branch, far east of the spot its predecessor came to being. Had it started there where it did of old, it would in all probability have again swept across the narrow Branch and out a broader and more destructive swathe than it did yesterday. Happily for all, while Nature repeats herself from year to year, man does not. We have had for days the dry weather; the constant winds,—now from the north; now cool and safe from the lake; and, last of all, laden with “curses dark,” the southwest wind.
Nature said to us, “Beware of the repetition of 1871;” but man, so cautioned just after a fire, is brutally heedless when its memory has faded away. Even the insurance men, of all others most sensitive to the approach of such a calamity, seemed to have no forebodings that there was no particular care, against possible disaster.
And the blow came. Thanks to the negligence of man, it started, not among the cottages that crowd the flat prairies of the West Division, but in the centre of the South Side, in that compactly built, and densely settled district here fire comes laden with all its terrors, since it strikes those who, though lose a little, lose everything.
Here, as before, the fire sprang at a bound beyond the control of the firemen. It mocked their puny efforts, and overstepped the limits they sought to put to its course. They fought it faithfully and without many blunders. Doubtless times there were not enough engines. This fire comes to point the truth of recent declarations, that, perhaps, it would be better economy to to have less sewerage and more fire-engines; that the adoption measures for the salvation of property really saves more lives than those intended for the preservation of health. The hundreds of women and children who spent last night in vacant lots, cowering on the heaps of rubbish which, yet remain to tell the tale of the fire of 1871, would have been happier, have slept sounder, and lived longer, had there been more engines and less sewerage last year.
There have been no great since the one on Halsted street last year, and yet how quickly the people took the alarm, once the danger was upon them. They looked at the rolling smoke clouds, and the flashing flames, and then at the ominous pointing of the steady vanes on the buildings above them, and read the danger in a moment. The tide turned southward earlier then she went. The rush which normally begins at 6 began a little after 4, and away the people went, merchants and employe, rushing on till they were checked by the reflux tide of the sufferers by the conflagration. Their progress was stopped on State, and those hastening home were compelled to flank the fire on Michigan avenue, or on Clark or Wells streets.
Then began again the doleful scenes of other days. The cupidity of draymen and expressmen, asleep so long, sprang once more to arms. From all quarters of the city they hurried to the spot to offer their services to those who were ready to give anything to save their all. It was the golden opportunity they had waited for so long, and unhappily, it had come. But the flames passed beyond the confines of poverty and shame, and swept eastward to the dwelling-houses on Wabash and Michigan avenues, eastward till it lapped its burning tongues in the cool waters of the lake.
How the fire began, and how it progressed, the reporters of The Tribune will now proceed to relate, telling a story which, in many of its scenes and incidents, will vividly recall that of 1871.
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.
The Limits of the Fire
The fire began in the centre of the block bounded by Twelfth, Taylor, and Clark streets, and Fourth avenue. It burned south to near Twelfth street, and went to Clark street. On Clark it burned north one near the corner of Polk street. Its northern and western limits, from this point was northeast to Fourth avenue; thence all the east side of Fourth avenue north to Harrison street; thence on Harrison street, both sides, to State street; thence north on State street, both sides, to Congress; thence north on the east side of State to three doors north of Van Buren street.
The east and south boundaries were: Beginning at the point on State north of Van Buren, southeast through Wabash avenue to Michigan avenue; thence south on Michigan avenue to below Congress street, taking in the old Michigan Avenue Hotel; thence west to the wide alley running north and south between Wabash and Michigan avenues, burning all on the west side of that alley south to Eldridge court; the southwestern limit of the fire was in a due southwest line to the place where the fire originated. Nearly all within these limits were destroyed.
Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1874
Map is of The City of Chicago, showing the burnt district Map highlighting the area affected by the 1874 Chicago Fire or, the “Little Chicago Fire.” Perspective bird’s-eye view map not drawn to scale.
Origin and Early Progress
The fire commenced in that portion of the city known as Cheyenne, between Taylor and Twelfth and Clark street, and Fourth avenue. This part of the city consists of the worst rookeries imaginable, most of which are occupied as houses of ill-fame. The alarm was struck from the corner of Twelfth and Clark streets, at half past 3 o’clock, and a few minutes afterwards, when the first engine arrived, the whole area from No. 503 to 523 Clark street, through to Third avenue, was in flames. The wind blew a gale from the southwest, and, in spite of herculean efforts of the firemen, the fire crossed Third avenue, communicating to Queen’s Chapel (colored), on the east side of that street. The spread of the flames southward on Clark was checked at No. 527, although the buildings from 527 to 537 are badly damaged. The grocery, corner of Taylor and Clark street, and the adjoining four houses, Nos. 497, 499, 501, and 503 were saved, and are now standing solitary alone in the midst of a vast wilderness of blackened ruins. The building on the northeast corner of Clark and Taylor caught fire at about 4 o’clock and slowly burned northward until it reached No. 467, where it was checked.
The southern limit, on the west side of Third avenue, is the large wooden facility of G. C. Russell & Co., No. 278. This rookery was saved through the exertions of the workingmen of the place, and put all their steam-pumps into operation, thus preventing the spread of the conflagration southward on that street.
From this point the fire spread with fearful rapidity in a northeasterly direction, and at about 5:30 o’clock it had burned through to the corner of Taylor and State streets. The strange phenomenon, namely, the jumping of the flames and communicating to buildings whole square distant, was again, witnessed on this occasion.
While the fire had not yet crossed to the north side of Taylor, Mr. Pryor’s millinery, on the northeast corner of Polk and Third avenue, commenced to burn, and in spite of the exertions of an engine and numberless citizens, was soon burning from top to bottom. Shortly afterwards, at about 6 o’clock,
The German Methodist Church, corner of Third avenue and Polk street, caught fire in the steeple, and at the moment it commenced to burn the bell in the tower gave out a loud stroke, although there was nobody in the church at the time.
At about 6 O’Clock it had burned through to State street. Nothing could be done to stop the fury of the flames to the north, therefore the attention of the firemen was mainly directed to the south, and they checked the spread of the fire in that direction at Tim Appleton’s restaurant, No. 518. The southern limits of the fire on Fourth avenue are No. 254 on the west side, and No. 253 on the east side, aboyr ten houses south of Twelfth street.
At about half-past 6 o’clock
The fire crossed State, communicating to the building No. 509, opposite Taylor, and thence burned north on both sides of State. On the corner of Wabash avenue and Peck court, at 7 o’clock, when the fire was going at a rapid rate towards Wabash avenue, the reporter met Ald. Campbell and Police Superintendent Rehm. Mr. Campbell wanted to slow up some of the buildings, but
Rehm Declined to Aid
as he had not the power to do so. Mr. Campbell said he had spoken to the Mayor about the same thing, but the Mayor peremptorily declined to do any such thing. The reporter passed on to Wabash avenue and there met Mayor Colvin, who seemed to have lost all energy and power. He said he could do nothing.
Chief Fire Marshall Matthias Benner and a scene of the 1874 fire.
Benner was the man who had the direction of things. He knew nothing about fires. At this juncture Dr. C. V. Dyer came up and said,
- Thank God, we have got a paid Fire Department.
The Mayor said nothing, and Mr. Dyer passed on, murmuring:
- What a contemptibly managed affair.
At 20 minutes to 7 o’clock
The First Baptist Church, an immense structure, on Wabash avenue, between Peck and Eldridge streets, caught fire, from whence the flames spread rapidly south, and, at 17 minutes past 7, Wood’s Hotel, corner of State street and Hubard court, was burning.
The southern limits of the fire are, at present writing as follows:
- Clark street, east side, No. 527
Fourth avenue, No 286 on the west side, and No. 283 on the east side
Third avenue, No. 264 on the west, and No. 253 on the east
State street, No. 518 on the west, and No. 511 on the east side of the street
Wabash avenue, No. 475 on the west, and No. 452 on the east.
The area between Clark and State and Harrison and Twelfth is in great part occupied by colored people. A large number of these were not at home when the fire broke out, they having gone to a Sunday-school picnic in the morning to Colehour (100th Street and Ewing today), on the Michigan Southern Railroad. It is almost impossible to describe the scenes that occurred when these people arrived at about 7 o’clock in the evening, and found themselves without a home and their and their savings of many years swept away. The men looked sadly at the devastated spots which they called their homes when they left and silent tears ran down their cheeks; the women were more demonstrative, and loudly lamented and bewailed their losses, refusing to be comforted by sympathetic friends, whi offered them temporary shelter.
The fire originated in a little low building that stood next to and adjoining the oil factory that stood between Fourth avenue and Clark street, on Taylor street. The building was inhabited by a family of Polish Jews, who, the neighbors say, but doubtless incorrectly, had set fire to the houses twice last summer. About three weeks ago they had the furniture in the building insured, and it is said that it had been afire twice since.
There was also a fire in the rag shop adjoining the oil factory on the 3rd of July, and the neighbors say the flames have been smoldering ever since in this pile of rags. A woman living in the immediate rear of the flames says that the Jews had moved out when the building was discovered to be afire, and they had no hesitation in charging them from the deed. The flames made rapid progress from the oil factory, which, on account of its character, caught soon enough to be by many thought to be simultaneous with the other. It was surrounded with a dense number of shanties, extending in each direction, north, south, and east. The oil, bursting into fire, flew in every direction, and it was not many minutes before the neighborhood was a blaze of fire. So rapidly did it progress that
Engine No. 21 which had reached the vicinity and got a stream upon the flames, was obliged to be abandoned to its fate, one of the firemen, a negro by the name of Williams, being burned to death. Just to the south of the building which first took fire there was a stable, with fifteen head of horses and cows stabled within it. A woman was also taken out of the the brick building No. 523 Clark street very nearly suffocated with flame and smoke. It is thought she will not recover. The fire extended in a northeast direction and directly north, burning on Clark street from No. 529 to No. 469, with the exception of Nos. 495 to 501, which were left standing amid the general wreck. The fire did not extend, at any point, west of the east side of Clark street, but blew northeast, under the same kind of wind of the great fire. It was only a few moments after it had started before it reached State street, the buildings all about being nothing but tinder-boxes that went down before the hot flames like piles of straw. At this time the general alarm had infected every one, and the residents of Michigan and Wabash avenues were rapidly removing their household goods from their dwellings.
Fire Engine No. 21 was the first Chicago fire department organized with black men. The engine’s first foreman (captain) was David Kenyon, seated in the middle of the front row.
A clump of buildings was saved on the southeast corner of Clark and Taylor streets by the most gallant efforts of the firemen. How it was possible for them to escape no one can tell but those who fought the flames. The corner, No. 495 Clark street, was occupied by a saloon below and boarding-house above. The proprietors of the saloon were L. & E. Gavin, and in their joy at being saved, were dispensing the drinks free to all who wished.
The next number south, 497, was owned by Tom Welsh, and occupied by a saloon and boarding-housel; but the occupants had made good their escape to to some locality on the West Side, a safe distance from the fire.
The next frame building south, 501, owned by S. Jacobs, and occupied by him as a barber-shop and residence, was also saved. A building in the rear of this, however, was burned, together with the match machinery. There was no insurance on this property destroyed.
The next number south, 501, occupied and owned by J. Bennet as a cigar manufactory, was saved, though it was enveloped in flames on the south side and in the rear.
From this point south on Clark street to No. 5538 went up in smoke. Lewis Hollman owned this number, and occupied it as a flour store. He puts down his loss at $8,000; insured for $1,800. of which $1,000 is in the Ætna and $800 in the North Missouri. Engine No. 18, which was at the Twenty-second street fire at the time of the breaking out, finally stopped the further progress of the flames south on Clark street. No. xx8 was the northern limit of the flames on this thoroughfare, and from this point the line was diagonally across to Fourth avenue, near the corner of Polk.
In this street the fire extended southward as far as No. 283. In front of No. 277 the old Winnebago engine No. 21, manned by a colored company, went down an abandoned machine, which
Might have been saved with a little good management and a small amount of courage. The Winnebago was brought here from Pittsburgh at the time of the great fire in 1871, and is an old engine. Nearly opposite is French’s lard-oil manufactory, No. 267, a large four-story brick building, filled with the most inflammable materials and a perfect tinder-box. Here the fire occurred, but what manner
Suffice it to say that it occurred in this building, according to the testimony of many persons. Sweeping up Fourth avenue, the flames enveloped Smith’s Block, a large brick building; Jacob’s, Holstein’s, and other stores and rows of frame buildings on both sides of the streets. The houses were occupied by
Negroes and prostitutes mainly, and they were all busily engaged in removing their effects from their houses—tumbling them into the street, and placing them in unknown and in many cases bad hands.
Marshal Benner was present at all points in this vicinity, and acted with coolness and discretion. Passing around into Twelfth street again, and thence to Clark street, the writer found that the fire had exhausted itself to the southward in No. 527, a three-story brick building occupied by F. Abe, keeper of a lager-beer saloon.
From their building at 5½ o’clock, the flames had passed down to Taylor street, and were speeding along the frame buildings with lightning-like rapidity. There is a large vacant property opposite the block on Clark street, between Twelfth and Taylor, and in this a hundred or more helpless fallen women had packed their hastily removed effects. The flames did not reach the buildings on the west side of Clark, but sped on in a diagonal direction, borne by the strong southwest wind.
There was a large gable-roofed building,
Used as a hay-press, just south of Taylor street, and this burnt with great fury, and gave increased impetus to the flames. The wind seemed to veer a little more to the northward at this time,—about 6:30 o’clock,—and the fire enwrapped the buildings on Fourth avenue to Polk street in a very short space of time, with a probability that all the structures, including both frame and brick, would be destroyed. The scene at this junction was past description—it beggared the understanding. The street from Polk to Harrison was filled with people of both sexes and a chaotic mass of household effects and wagons.
The explosions began at the southeast corner of Polk street and Fourth avenue, under the direction of Capt. Lippincott. It was astounding, even in the midst of the terrible excitement, to witness the coolness of George Briggs, of the Fire Patrol, carried around a keg of powder. He first placed a quantity in Quinn Chapel, or Olivet Baptist Church, the old brick building at the southwest corner of Polk street and Third avenue, and, stretching a fuse to the middle of Polk street, the match was supplied, but the explosion failed. Then a mine was laid in the frame building No. 28 Polk street, and an explosion followed soon after. No. 26 was also blown up, but to no purpose; the flames lapped across the street, and burned with increased intensity until the next block north was enveloped. Prominent among
The officials noticed at this point by the reporter was Gen. Phil Sheridan, who deemed explosions at that point—so near the fire—as useless, and he did not therefore give any directions regarding them. Mark Sheridan, Police Commissioner, was on the scene, in company with Police-Commissioner Reno, and both gentlemen were endeavoring to do all they could, under the circumstance; but the fact of the matter was that the wildest confusion prevailed, and the explosions caused so much running to and fro that they could not nor would not be listened to. Action seemed to be the only thing, and the police and firemen lent a helping hand in pulling down the wooden buildings with a hook and rope. The hook and chain
Became almost red hot and, despite warning, several parties were badly burned in trying to get it loose from the buildings where it remained fastened. Two streams of water, puny affairs, were applied to the burning corners,but they were of no avail, and the firemen holding the pipes were soon compelled to beat a hasty retreat, and turn their streams in other directions.
The fire continued its diagonal sweep, and destroyed in its course all the buildings on the east side of Fourth avenue, to within about 100 feet of Harrison street.
1873 map showing the start of the 1874 fire on the block surrounded by Clark, Taylor and 12th streets.
The pink area represents the 1871 Great Fire.
Most of the white area between Clark, Michigan, 12th and Van Buren streets was the burnt district of the 1874 fire.
A scene of the wildest confusion ensued on Third avenue, where the fire spread rapidly until it spent its fury among a row of dilapidated one-story frame cottages, below grade, and next the large frame distillery of G. G. Russell Nos. 274 to 278 inclusive. The employees of the distillery got on the roof with the hose connected with the engine pump, and worked like beavers. They succeeded in saving the building, while Capt. Kinney, of the Department, confined the fire to the wooden shells. Adjoining the distillery is the new and elegant Third avenue school building, which escaped unharmed, and where hundreds of families had gathered their effects for safety. Looking northward on the avenue, the flames presented a dense mass, and lapped in fury for a distance of 500 or 600 feet.
The writer met on Third avenue Paulina Mincer, a German woman, and her little son, who lived at No. 219. They were crying loudly, and refused to be comforted. Finally it was learned that the mother had left her two youngest children in the house, and, the fire having swept over the spot, she came on the scene to find her home destroyed, and her children—God knew where,—she did not, and believing they were burned, she set up a wail, which made the strongest heart quail. She refused to be comforted by the writer, who informed her that it was probable the boys—little fellows of 6 and 7 years,—had escaped.
Another mother was also found in the same street mourning the loss of an infant child and the scattered members of the family.
The magnificent Jones School building, built a year ago at a cost of $50,000, at the southeast corner of Harrison street and Third avenue, fell in the holocaust. Ald. J. L. Campbell had caused three streams to be used on buildings adjoining the school, and had rendered the surroundings favorable to the saving of the building, but someone ordered the pipemen over to Pat O’Neil’s liquor-store at the northeast corner of State and Harrison streets, and in a short time thereafter, about 9 o’clock, the school building burned.
On Third and Fourth avenues there were a large number of
Houses of ill-fame, and their effects were tumbled promiscuously into the street, and placed in wagons to be taken no one know where, while the poor, frightened creatures, some half wild with fear and excitement, run back and forth on the street or in their houses, wringing their hands in great distress, and crying bitter tears over their misfortunes. One woman, the notorious Annie Stafford, whose palatial, four-story marble front, No. 119 Fourth avenue, escaped the fire, but was threatened for the hence, was pale and trembling with fright. She repeated to many that she had a dream a month ago that there was to be another great fire, and that she was to be
It was in her house that the late Capt. Hyman died, and she asserts that the dead sporting man appeared in her dreams and gave her warning.
At No. 327 South Clark street, a house of ill-reoute, a young woman on the third floor became nearly suffocated, and fell fainting to the floor. Michael McNamara, of Hook and Ladder No. 4, heard the screams of the woman’s companions, and rushed to the rescue. He had great difficulty in reaching the jeopardized woman, and was scorched by the intense heat in so doing. But he went along needless of consequences, and finally succeeded in reaching her, and bore her to his arms through the burning building to the walk below. There were several other acts of bravery performed by the firemen, police, and citizens.
If it but justice to Police Commissioner Sheridan to state, as contradictory of reports, that when the writer saw him at the corner of Polk street and Fourth avenue, at the time the explosions were in progress, he was perfectly sober, and was briefly engaged in giving directions to the firemen and police. The latter, under charge of Deputy Supt. Hickey, and Capts. Buckley and Ellis, were kept in good order in spite of the frequent stampedes of the crowd, and rendered all the service in their power. In an investigation which lasted from the time the fire first began until 9 o’clock, the writer did not observe a drunken fireman or policeman.
Water was in great request, but it ran weakly from the hydrant, and many had to resort to the saloons to shake their thirst. The water supplied from the hydrants on Third and Fourth avenues and Clark street was in small and slow-running quantities, and at times the pipemen were compelled to withdraw altogether, from the lack of water.
Thieves were busily at work among the frail women on Third and Fourth avenues, and the latter were subject to the grossest imposition by the expressmen and irresponsible parties, who seized upon all the effects they could and dumped them into the gutter, only that they might be trampled under foot and ruined.
It is estimated that over 500 prostitutes are sufferers by the fire, and these include all the most notorious keepers of the vile abodes.
Their losses are heavy, for the majority of them had the most most costly and elegant fittings and wardrobes. Many of them had barely time to escape with their lives, and others lost magnificent jewelry and wearing apparel.
The number of lost children was great, in consequence of the absence of their parents at the picnic, which was estimated by about q,000 colored persons.
One man who was busy moving his household effects, was caught in a burning building and badly burned before he could escape. He was taken off in an express-wagon before the writer got his name.
The J.B. Rice steamer, did splendid service on Clark street near Polk, and prevented the spread of the fire north of the latter thoroughfare.
While a majority of the burned-out people attempted to save their effects, many shut their doors and let them burn.
No. 10 J.B. Rice Steamer
House on No. 338 State Street
This is a first class “Piston” engine, built by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. at Manchester, N.H.
Weight when ready for use 8,600 lbs. Is drawn by four horses: attended by one two-wheel hose cart, drawn by one horse.
The fire broke through to State street at about half past 4 o’clock, clearing out in the most ceremonious manner a large number of places occupied by the demi-monde. The line of fire-front was nearly a block in length, and nothing could prevent its crossing the street. The firemen were obliged to return and begin again farther back. It crossed over on a front nearly 200 feet wide, and made a clean sweep diagonally across Wabash avenue.
Pat O’Neil’s wholesale liquor-store burned about 8 o’clock. It seemed for a long time as if the building would prove a barrier to the fire on State street, but the heat from the wooden structure opposite was not to be resisted/ Smoke and flames were soon seen to issue from under the cornice, and the whole structure was all at once a mass of fire. The basement of the building was filled liquor, which burned very rapidly, and the six-story building was a mass of ruins in less than twenty minutes. The residents of the menaced houses early engaged teams and help, and quietly commenced moving their household goods to places of safety. Wabash and Michigan avenues were literally packed with teams moving in all directions. Some people had considerable difficulty in preventing spectators who were too anxious to give a helping hand from entering their houses and carrying off the contents.
The fire progressed southward, at 5 o’clock, as far as No. 508 on State street, No. 278 on Third avenue, No. 295 on Forth avenue, and No. 527 on Clark street, the distance from Twelfth street being about 500 feet to the northward. From the corner of Twelfth street to No. 508 on State, there was nothing but small one and two story frame buildings., and these were soon emptied of their contents. The fire rushed rapidly northward on State, where a Tribune reporter was on hand to note its progress, while another took up the muscle of the conflagration in the west side.
From the roof of the St. James Hotel, situated at the corner of Van Buren and State streets, it was seen, as early as half-past 6 o’clock that the St. James must go, unless several buildings between it and the fire were blown up. Indeed, the opinion was freely expressed, and as the event has proved correctly, that the work of demolition, outside of and against the fire, should have begun at the line of Harrison street, reliance being then had on the brick walls north of Harrison to save much that has since been lost.Before 7 o’clock, it was seen, looking down State street, that the whole wooden district ending at Harrison was doomed. Also, at that hour, looking far down the alley to the rear of the St. James, it was seen that the flames were stubbornly advancing northward and eastward. The First Baptist Church was on fire at 7 o’clock, and a little later the sparks had caught in the surviving pinnacle of the old Methodist Church, known more recently as the Post-Office.
The long warning had of the disaster almost sure to overtake the St. James gave ample time for preparation in the removal of valuable baggage, and it is probable that everything of immediate value (except furniture) had been removed before 8 o’clock, at which hour, the fire on State street, had reached nearly to Harrison. The St. James burned at 10 o’clock. making perhaps the brightest blaze of the evening. The building covered a large area,—160 feet front on State street, by about 100 on Van Buren,—and the amount of wood in its interior construction made it a most combustible pile.
The lessees of the St. James were Messrs. Grant, Cobb, and Hilton, and the building was owned by Pittsburgh parties who had owned the old Oriental House, on the same site, burned in the fire of 1871. Mr. Grant was (with Mr. Danolds) one of the proprietors of the old Orient, and (with Mr. Cudney) of the rebuilt Orient, whose name was subsequently changed to that which it bore when the walls fell, last night. Mr. Cobb was long associated with the St. James Hotel of days ending in 1871. Coming into the firm of Grant, Cobb & Hilton, in 1873, he brought with him the old name for the new hotel. Mr. Hilton—more popularly known to a whole army of hotel customers as “Charlie” Hilton—was for many years connected with the Briggs House, nefore the fire of 1871, and subsequently with the new Sherman until he came into the St. James management. Mr. Hilton’s wife and child, with baggage deliberately packed, started east by the 5 o’clock trainlast evening. Mr. Hilton riding with them on the outward bound to one our inside city stations. As they rode by the fire “Charlie” remarked, in joke, that if the St. James went (then thought vastly improbable) he would now have a new chance to save a change of clothes for himself, as he had not done in 1871. And he subsequently found time as well as the necessity for doing it.
Chicago Evening Journal, July 15, 1874
At 9:15, with the wind blowing a gale from the Southwest, the flames were at the corner of Congress and State streets, consuming the little frame buildings just south and adjoining the St. James Hotel, and skipping across the street, caught the four-story brick building in which Nasson’s photograph gallery was located.
At Harrison street, the boundary of the great fire, between Third and Fourth avenues, a desperate effort was made to check the progress of the devouring element, which seemed to meet with success, and at that point at 9:35, the flames were under control. In the meantime, on State street, with great rapidity, the fire had caught on to
The St. James Hotel, and the glaring flames could be seen through the closed shutters on that street within the rooms of the hotel, and in a few moments had found a strong foothold in the rear of that building, in the small frames that were occupied by the owners of the marble-yard at that locality. It now was evident that, unless something was done, and speedily the buildings on the northwest corner of State and Van Buren streets must succumb to the elements. With that oblect,
Fifty kegs of powder by order of Col. Lippincott were placed under the entire building in the basement, with the intention of blowing up the massive building. On the opposite side of Van Buren, clear back to Wabash avenue, there was assembled an immense crowd, and when the cry rang forth upon the air “powder! powder! they are going to blow up the house; stanf back, clear the way,” etc., the throng stampeded, running everything down in their wild frenzy to escape what they thought was instantaneous death. Several were run over and
Trampled underfoot, but no one, happily, was seriously injured, as far as could be learned. At precisely 10:20 o’clock the explosion took place with a terrific report, hurling glass, sash windows, and doors upwards, but with no good effect; in fact it seemed to be the result was exactly contrary to that for which it was intended, only opening the broad windows in the front of the building and the flames burst forth in all their fury, licking up everything that came in contact with their fiery tongues, until the once magnificent structure presented a grandly illuminated spectacle, and the St. James Hotel was doomed to be numbered with the things of the past.
At about 6 o’clock the fire reached Peck court, on State street. The entire neighborhood was mainly constructed of wood, and at no point, probably, were the flames so fiercely hot and utterly ungovernable as here. For nearly an hour they had been making great inroads south of the court, between State street and Wabash avenue, and, when the fore column on the former thoroughfare had extended as far as Peck court, destroying in its pathway, and leaving an immense open space for the hurricane to sweep through, the fire at the rear burst into the little court with terrible fury, driving firemen and others away at the top of their speed. This locality was certainly
A key to the fire on the northeast, but it was almost wholly neglected by the Fire Department at the time of which we write. There was but one stream to be seen anywhere in the vicinity, and of course that was powerless to make the slightest impression on the swiftly advancing fire. On the south side of Peck court there were a half dozen frame dwellings, and on the southwest corner of the court and Wabash avenue stood a strong brick block. The former were blown away like so many
Grains of chaff and thereupon the solitary stream was concentrated upon the brick structure in the vain hope that a temporary stop might be put to the fire at that point. Had all the contiguous frame buildings for half a block north been torn down or blown up just here, it is almost certain that the course of the flames would be permanently impelled on their lake side, but there was no one there to manage or suggest, and the destruction went on unchecked.
The brick corner disappeared in a few minutes, and then the fire jumped across the street, which was built up of wood altogether. On the northwest corner stood Dr. Nichol’s Jewish frame church. This building actually disappeared from sight before the spectators were aware that it had caught on fire at all. The wind now seemed to be blowing stronger from the northeast, and this served to keep the fire on the west side of Wabash avenue for a time. The woodwork of several houses on the east side of the avenue took fire frequently, but these minor blazes were taken care of by policemen and civilians. The west side of the street, as far as the First Baptist Church, near the corner of Hubbard court, was eaten up in an incredibly short space of time, there being little or no opposing force to the flames. When the fire reached the church, which was a strong stone building and one of the handsomest religious edifices in the city, it sustained
A temporary check, and here a rather determined effort was made to gain the mastery over it. But while the firemen were fighting at the church, the confined flames shot across the street, and swept away the portion of Wabash avenue which had before escaped, and which, it was at one time thought would be saved. The firemen were now compelled to fly again, and in a little time the First Baptist Church, and the other stone and brick buildings which had for a while withstood the assaults of the fire gave way before them, and the foe kept steadily on toward Harrison street, where, as if by common consent, the Fire Department and the crowd halted for a desperate fight.
The post office had been cleared of its valuable contents long before this time, and all the business people in the vicinity had removed their stocks. It was thought at the time that this precaution was by no means necessary, everybody believing that the massing of the engines on Harrison street would effectively put an end to the conflagration. Unfortunately, however, their faith was not well grounded. A manly struggle was made on all sides, and for probably twenty minutes the fire was kept south of Harrison street, but it finally burst through, taking in the entire south half of the block between State street and Wabash avenue at once. The Post-Office and Pat O’Neil’s liquor store held out for a long time, but the turret of the former at length ignited from the intense heat, and being out of reach of any stream on the ground, burned completely away, and let the fire into the main building.
Wabash Avenue north from Peck Court (now 8th Street) was destroyed in the 1874 fire.
Immediately north of the First Baptist Church, on the corner of Hubbard court, was the house of Miss Couch, the principal owner and manager of the Couch estate. This was a fine, substantial stone dwelling, worth about $15,000. It was hoped for some time that the First Baptist Church would not burn, and that it would stand as a barrier to the further progress of the fire in this direction.
Across Hubbard court, on the north side, were three-story brick dwellings used as boarding houses, owned by P. Warner, which were the next buildings to succumb in the line of the fire. In the meantime, the ventilators of the old Church of the Messiah had caught fire, and sent out a loud luried light, announcing the fate of that structure. It was occupied by Pennoyer, Shaw & Co.. carriage makers, and was owned by H. M. Wilmarth & Co. The carriages were all got out of the building before it took fire. The church must have cost originally some $50,000. It was built for Rev. Laird Collier’s church in 1864. Since the great fire, the building has been used by Mr. Wilmarth, up to a few months ago, as a depot for the sale of gas fixtures.
The building next south of this, and on the northeast corner of Hubbard court and Wabash avenue, was a two-story wooden structure owned by Mr. Amen.
The Hebrew Synagogue of Kehilath Anabe Marov, on the corner of Wabash avenue and Peck court, being of wood, fell a quick sacrifice to the flames. It was insured for $7,500, which must have been something near its value.
First Baptist Church.
It was thought for some time that the First Baptist Church would be saved. It was a solid, substantial stone structure, with hardly a bit of wood exposed, the roof being of slate, and the towers of limestone. A considerable number of the members of the church gathered in the building, and made a liberal use of water in quenching the cinders that flew about it in all directions. Among them Messrs. S. C. Briggs, Pope, Walker, Gillett, Daniel Baker, J. E. Tyler, and others. As engine was also brought around, and a stream of water brought to bear upon the roof. But about 6 o’clock the ventilators in the top of the roof caught, the heat became so great as to drive away the firemen, and the magnificent structure was left to its doom.
The building, nine years ago, was probably the finest church structure in the city. It cost about $150,000, and was all paid for. The insurance was small, however, only $30,000, of which sum $10,000 was in the Continental Company. The house was built in 1865.
Since the great fire, the Society have found the building inconveniently far north, the great majority of the church members living south of Twenty-second street. This calamity will almost certainly result in rebuilding on the grounds of the present Indiana Avenue Baptist Church, situated on the corner of Thirtieth street and Indiana avenue. The ground and the building now on that site are the property of the First Church. The catastrophe is, however, a severe blow to the society. The insurance is so small as to make the property but little better than a total loss.
If the use of gunpowder had commenced earlier, and the little immediately south of the church had been blown up, it is easy to predict that the church might have been saved. But the prediction may not be worth anything after all.
The fire was now approaching the Post-Office with fearful strides. All the mail matter and valuables had been removed, and the building stood ready for the sacrifice. The engine made a stand on Harrison street, and poured volumes of water on the frame buildings immediately opposite the Post-Office, but their efforts were useless, and the wooden roof of the building was in flames. At the same time, Mandel’s dry goods store on State street, at the corner of Harrison, caught, and with these two sending forth their billows of fire, every hope of stopping the flames at this point vanished.
The Fire Department seemed at this time to be doing little service. There was an evident lack of organization and waste of force that denoted that they were entirely at a loss what to do. Many buildings caught fire and slowly consumed in the direct path of danger, but there was no engine to stop it. The hose had also burst on State street and on Clark street in many places.
Two engines at this time were working in the useless task of pouring water upon the fallen embers on Clark street, between Polk and Harrison.
About 6 o’clock the Continental Hotel became enveloped in fire, and hot flames were blown southwesterly across to Wabash avenue, and soon burst out of a large brick store standing on the corner of Wabash and Hubbard court, and spread to the Jewish Synagogue on the opposite side, then to the First Baptist Church, snd across the avenue to the old Church of the Messiah. Many of the buildings surrounding these were frame structures, which soon succumbed to the flames, and the brick building was able to resist them but a short time. The brick residence and stone front adjoining the corner of Wabash avenue and Eldridge court stood the intense heat from the Continental Hotel and surrounding buildings, and the fire was apparently checked from going further south.
At 8 o’clock the fire caught by a spark on the
An engine attempted to throw a jet on the roof of Aiken’s Theatre from the north, but unsuccessfully. The building was a splendid object in burning on account of the large amount of dry goods inside. About half-past 8,
The Inter-Ocean building, on the northeast corner of Wabash avenue and Congress street caught, but burned very slowly, and it was an hour before the roof fell in. The firemen evidently made a desperate effort to stay the fire here, where the high rows of buildings began, but the wind was blowing a gale northeasterly, and as the fire was running in that direction, they were compelled to throw the water against the wind and it was
Scattered in spray without touching the buildings. Fir a long time it seemed as though the the fire would not cross Van Buren street, but about 9 o’clock the north end of the St. James Hotel broke out in flames and in fifteen minutes after the stove warehouse of Boomer & Jenks was in flame.
The business-men seemed to take it as a matter of course, and quietly went to work to pack up. Andrews & Co. seemed to have an inexhaustible stock of wagons, and leisurely carted iff their stock, waiting occasionally to see the progress of the fire.
Gage, Mallory & Co. packed up almost every article in the store, even taking the counters and shelving.
Burley & Tybbell, whose building stood untouched for a long time when sparks were falling thick as snow, packed up a considerable part of their crockery in barrels and rolled them down to the lake shore or carried them off. Their store afforded an excellent place to see the fire. The crowd at this point was comparatively small. The fierce wind, and spray blown back, together with a ceaseless shower of sparks, rendered it almost impossible to stand nearer to the fire than Adams or Jackson street. The spectators were very quiet, and no plundering of the stores or thieving was apparent. Many, indeed, of the stores were not open at all, the owners apparently being ignorant of the danger stunned by it.
At a quarter past 9 o’clock
Prussing’s Vinegar establishment, at 341 State, stood in the way of the fire, and it soon became apparent that the building was doomed. The flames soon licked the windows, and in a few minutes the top portion of the building, the tallest in the locality, was in flames. The burning of this building decided the fate of many of the buildings to the north of it on the same side of the street. At 9 o’clock the question was whether the fire would cross Congress street on Wabash avenue. The most strenuous efforts were made to save
Several streams were kept constantly playing upon the roof of Aiken’s Theatre building, but the western end of it was discovered to be in flames, which mastered the water, and crept along steadily toward the eastern end of the building. To the north of Aiken’s Theatre was a large vacant lot, and, as another vacant lot was right opposite, it was hoped that a check to the conflagration could be effected here. The theatre then became the point d’appui of the firemen’s efforts, but as soon as the flame took fair hold of the building it became apparent that the theatre had to go. As is usua; when such buildings burn, the flames were of the hottest description, and the sparks from the wooden-work of the most dangerous kind. These fled along Wabash avenue and lit on the top of all the buildings to the northeast, and but little effort seemed to be made to prevent them performing their mission of destruction.
Pierce’s Gun-shop and Hardware storewas soon a blaze, and, as the floors gave way, the masses of hardware stored therein fell through, reports sounded, which caused the crowd of on-lookers to rush yo and fro in most excited style.
Thence the flames leaped over to Hough’s building, just south of J. Young Scammon’s Inter-Oceanic structure. At this point the firemen combatted the flames with praiseworthy doggedness, creeping up close and throwing their jets into the burning buildings. At half-past 9 o’clock the lurid flames which licked Aiken’s Theatre from roof to basement suddenly ceased, as an ominous report told of the collapse of the interior of the building. At this moment Wabash avenue was
Enveloped in smoke and darkness, and those who knew nothing about it fancied that the end of the fire was at hand. The darkness and gloom was but temporary however. The flames took hold of the mass of inflammable material which had been massed together in the fall, and the theatre fire became larger and more dangerous than ever. The ignition of the houses opposite the theatre became a mere question of time, which was very shortly answered, their top stories very shortly breaking forth into flames.
At a quarter to 10 o’clock Aiken’s Theatre was a ruin, while the fire burned actively in the opposite buildings. At a quarter past 10 o’clock it was evident that
The Scammon building, on Wabash avenue, had to go, and the prospect that the fire could be kept south of Van Buren street looked very slim. All hope in this direction vanished when, at half-past 10 o’clock, the fire broke out at the northeast corner of Van Buren and State.
The first appearance of fire on Michigan avenue was at half-past 10 o’clock, when it touched a low brick building. The firemen were soon on the spot, however, and extinguished the flames. At the Gardner House, opposite, a man from the roof poured an incessant stream of water upon the windows which are placed in the top of the south wall of the building, and saved the building from sharing in the general conflagration.
The Gardner House 1872-1922
SW corner of S Michigan and E Jackson streets
Michigan avenue was loth to move, since the elegant household furniture in the aristocratic mansions on that thoroughfare might almost burn as well burn as to be hustled int carts and consigned to the hands of the hundreds of strangers who offered their services in the act of removal. But at length the conviction began to take possession of everyone that that portion of the avenue between Peck court and Congress street was sure to burn, and then commenced a repetition, on a small scale, it is true, of the great fire. Massive mirrors were hustled out, and the hustling were frequently broken; significant Turkey carpets were torn up, gilt-edged books of the most costly sort were thrown from upper windows to be carried off, and appropriated in many cases, by the spectators. The lake front was made the receptacle for the household goods, and for two or three blocks was covered with the most elegant articles. It made little difference to many of the occupants whether the houses were consumed or were saved, the feeling it would never be got together again as it was. The greatr mass of it was hopelessly ruined or lost in the hasty removal.
The buildings in the track of the fire were No. 255, occupied by R. Webril, a three-story and basement stone front, on the southwest corner of Hubbard court. The next building, No. 256, was a vacant wooden building, two stories high, owned by Mr. Kimball.
No. 258, owned and occupied by James McKinley, was a three-story and basement building.
No. 259 was owned by D. W. Wheeler, a o2-story and basement structure, occupied by George E. Johnson, of the firm of N. Matson & Co,
The next building, No. 259, was owned and occupied by A. B. Lyon.
No. 264 was owned by Mrs. Huntington, and was occupied as a boarding-house. It was a two-story and basement building. The next building south was a three-story wooden building.
The Hon. Thomas Hoyne occupied and owned No. 267. a three-story and basement brick building. It was insured for $15,000, and was worth about $30,000.
No. 270 was occupied by J. Bauer.
No. 274, a three-story and basement brick building, was owned by Lyman Blair, and occupied by E. Crockett, Jr.
North of Hubbard court, on Michigan avenue, was the elegant residence of T. B. Blackstone, President of the Chicago & Alton Railroad Company. The costly furniture was unceremoniously shoved out and piled away on the lake shore, what was left of it.
The next house north was owned and occupied by Judge Freer. It was a two-story and basement structure.
To the north of the latter, George W. Gage had his fine residence. Mr. Gage was absent in New York, and his wife was sick; but the hands of kind friends did their utmost to make the removal as tolerable as possible.
House No. 241, a two-story building, was occupied by J. Beecher.
From the top of the residence of Thomas Hoyne, No. 267 Michigan avenue, a sight was seen over the flames which extended from Polk street to the Post-Office, which was grand awful beyond description. The whole burnt area was still alive with fire, while the main torrent was sweeping with terrific force northward. The volume of sparks circled and fell far out in the lake, and as far north as eye could reach through the dense smoke. The spire of the First Baptist Church stood high above the general volume of fire, and from it a thin stream of flames like a fiery banner shot outward. The walls of James Morgan’s building, formerly occupied by the Liebenstein Furniture Company on Wabash avenue, fell in with a roar, and for a moment it seemed as if Mr. Hall’s fine residence would go. Mr. Stern’s residence also caught fire in the cupola at the same time, but both these buildings were eventually saved.
The Post-Office seemed to prove hardly any impediment to the flames. It burnt in an incredible space of time, and gave forth a heat that soon set fire to buildings further north.
The Scene on Michigan Avenue.
The great throng of people who had been burned out, or were in danger, were crowding towards the lake shore, carrying, pulling, pushing, and wheeling in every conceivable manner their loads of household goods. The down-town vehicles were pushing southward, and at half-past 6 o’clock, the street became so blockaded that a panic prevailed, and a scene of the wildest confusion ensued. The red glare of the rapidly-approachiung flames seemed to cut off retreat to the southward, while in the minds of the apprehensive the part north of the fire seemed doomed to immediate destruction.
The flames at 6 o’clock had swept north of Harmon court, and the danger seemed over to the south of this point. No valuable buildings had yet been burned, and great hopes were entertained that now the main portion of the low frames in this locality had gone, the fire could be stayed.
This hope was doomed to disappointment, for a minute later the fire broke through Wabash avenue at No. 515, just below Eldridge court, and very soon both sides of the street were literally a sea of flames.
The Grace Methodist Church and the Jewish Synagogue, the Commercial Hotel on State street, and Robert Laird Collier’s old church, seemed to take fire at about the same moment. Very shortly after the roof of the First Baptist Church caught and was soon consumed.
The wind came sweeping down toward the circle of flames in such power as to almost carry people off their feet. A blackness gathered over the lake, and the lurid torrents of fire streamed upward from the burning buildings in a manner both majestic and terrifying. Every one seemed to give up hope, and conceded that, with such a volume of air back of it, the flames must be driven into the heart of the city, and that the scene of general destruction would be repeated.
No. 14 Steamer Fred Gund
House No. 180 N. Dearborn street. This is a second class “Piston” engine, built by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. at Manchester,
Weight when ready for use 6,700 lbs. Is drawn by two horses: attended by one two-wheel hose cart, drawn by one horse.
The Battle of the Elements.
When the fire had reached the corner of Wabash avenue and Van Buren street, it seemed to be under control to the westward, and centered all its forces upon this one point. Two engines had located here, and, facing the oncoming flames, made a herculean effort to stop it. The store on fire was that occupied by Gilbert & Sampson as a furniture establishment, and it burned with a terrible fierceness. Engines Nos. 14 and 12 alone faced it. To the east and here the danger lay. If the fire crossed the street there seemed no chance of saving the city, for should this occur it would be impossible to stand the heat, and the stores adjoining the fire would surely go. With these great blocks in flames, who could tell where it would end? The firemen recognized
This terrible emergency, and stood to their work unflinchingly. The two pipes from 14 and 12 were “siamesed,” or put into one, and a heavy stream of water rose to the top of the five-story building. Again and again the flames burst forth in torrents, and threatened the opposite buildings. Twice they were on fire, but the stream was turned upon them for a moment, and the course of the fire was stopped, and the engines again returned to the task of staying the flames. The wind would every now and then in a great gust blow the water aside, but in a moment the stream would once more be soon amid the smoke pouring its steady torrent of water into the fiery furnace before it. It seemed small and pitiful to fight such a battle, but here, if ever, it nust conquer. The crowds in the streets
Watered this contest with bated breath, and as the flames or water seemed to gain the mastery, gave forth groans or cheers of sympathy.
All hope centered in this one chance, and it was indeed a desperate one. At one time the flames would shoot up high above the surrounding buildings as if defiantly, and then again, as the steady stream continued to pour in its volume, it would sink to a red glare, and writhe and toss as though in agony. For a full half hour the battle continued, and never once in that time did the heavy stream cease to pur in to the burning warehouse.
The firemen were buttressed behind heavy barricades to keep them from being scorched or burned alive, and they
Stood to their posts in the midst of a danger few would face, and the huge engines just in their rear, almost ready to burst with the force they were using, kept urging on the only power that could successfully combat the flame. At last the fiery streamers paled and sunk. Again they started up fitfully, but it was plain that their power was gone and they again sunk darker and darker. The smoke rolled forth in great volumes, a hopeful sign, and then the flames finally died away. With a great sign of relief the people in the streets turned their steps homeward, thanking God that the city was saved. In all the mistakes and inefficiency of the Fire Department, this honor must be accorded to them, that here they made a noble fight, and earned a great victory.
The culmination and end of the fire was in the middle of the solid brick block on the west side of Wabash avenue, between Van Buren and Adams streets. Here, on each side of the broad avenue was a solid brick-front five-stories in height. If the fire should cross Wabash avenue it would inevitably destroy at least a million dollars worth of property, including the Gardner House, the Matteson Hotel, the Exposition building, and a massive row of business fronts. The Fire Department evidently saw that this was a
Vital point, and the crisis of the catastrophe; and it was nothing else than grand to see the concentrated power of forty engines brought to bear upon this small space. The flames would ever and soon leap up and span the street as if determined to devour structures in their front. The next instant they would sink in a mass of steam and smoke to burst out again after a moment’s repression, with fully renewed vigor. The broad avenue was packed solid with people, all of whom fully grasped the importance of the crisis. Probably 100,000 people witnessed the grand culmination and close of this battle between the fire and the water.
The Northern Limits of the fire are as follows:
- From 469 South Clark street in a northeasterly direction to No. 182 Fourth avenue, a few houses south of Polk street; thence along Fourth avenue to Harrison street, burning everything on the east side of the street. West on Harrison to Third avenue, and up on the east side of this street to No. 65, about half way between Jackson and Harrison streets; thence east to No. 310 State street, at the head of Congress street; along the east side of State street to No. 271, two houses north of Van Buren; thence in southeasterly direction to Michigan avenue.
“Report of the Board of Police in the Fire Department to the Common Council”, 1874-July-14. pp. 134–159.
The fire affected addresses between 449-533 Clark Street, 109-284 Fourth Avenue, 83-266 Third Avenue, 283-516 State Street, 267-475 Wabash Avenue, 49-53 Eldridge Court, 41-50 Hubbard Court, 6-52 Taylor Street, 6-26 Polk Street, 46-52 Van Buren Street, 198-230 Michigan Avenue, 12-20 Congress, and 17-98 Harrison. In the Report of the Board of Police issued immediately following the fire, there was no information included about the individual losses or insurance claims, but the total loss from the fire was estimated by them at the time to be $1,067,260, with insurance claims for $1,860,000. The report broke down the list of the 812 damaged buildings into categories, including:
- 619 frame buildings (one four-story frame, 21 three-story frame, 471 two-story frame, and 126 one-story frame structures)
190 brick buildings
3 stone buildings
And of those buildings affected, they comprised:
- 708 stores and dwellings
1 post office
1 school house
This second fire frightened insurance company executives. Pressure from, insurers led to more stringent regulations and more thorough safety inspections along with extending the Fire Limits boundaries to include the entire city.
Improvements in fireproofing systems was an important prerequisite for the age of the skyscraper.
History of Chicago, By A. T. Andreas, 1884
FIRE OF 1874
On July 14, 1874, at 4:29 P. M., a fire of supposed incendiary origin was started in the two-story frame building, No. 449 South Clark Streets, owned by Le Grand Odell, and occupied as a saloon by E. T. Cregier. The locality was crowded with frame structures, and the fire obtained a headway that soon called every available fire vehicle in the city to the scene. The flames took a course similar to that of the great fire of 1871, and by midnight had swept north and east over Clark Street, Fourth Avenue, Third Avenue, State Street, Wabash Avenue, Eldredge Court, Peck Court, Hubbard Court, Taylor Street, Polk Street, Van Buren Street, Michigan Avenue, Congress Street and Harrison Street. The number of buildings consumed was eight hundred and twelve, classified as follows: One-story frame, 126; two-story frame, 471; three-story frame, 21 ; four-story frame, I. Total number of frame building’s burned, 619. One-story brick, 14 ; two-story brick, 99 ; three-story brick, 41 ; four-story brick, 31 ; five-story brick, 5. Total number of brick buildings burned, 190. Two-story stone buildings burned, 3. Of the structures consumed, 89 were barns, and there were 8 churches, I school-house, 4 hotels, 1 theater, 1 post-office and 708 stores and dwellings. The whole covered an area of forty-seven acres, with a total loss of $1,067,260, and an insurance of $1,860,000.
The ensuing day, at nearly the same hour in the afternoon, a fire, the result of carelessness, destroyed twenty-five buildings near Milwaukee Avenue and Sangamon Street, with a loss of $75, 750 and insurance of $40,700.
Chicago Fire Department
December 19, 1874