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W. D. Kerfoot
Life Span: Oct 1871-June 1872
Location: No. 89 Washington Street, near LaSalle Street (Shack)
Architect: W. D. Kerfoot
From A. T. Andreas’ History of Chicago, 1884.
The first business structure erected on the ruins of former greatness was that put up by W. D. Kerfoot, the well known real-estate agent and operator. He lost all his worldly possessions of a pecuniary sort on October 9. On the morning of October 10, he repaired to the locality where he had formerly conducted business, on Washington, between Dearborn and Clark streets, and with the assistance of his clerk and his clerk’s father, had, before noon, erected a twelve by sixteen shanty of boards, and was ready to resume business Surmounting the structure was a board bearing the words, “Kerfoot’s Block,” and on the building a sign:
W. D. Kerfoot.
Everything gone but wife, children, and energy.
The ruined walls around were too hot to permit the building of the shanty within the line of the sidewalk, and it was put up a few feet from the pavement, in the middle of the street. Here it stood until October 19, when, the ruins around having sufficiently cooled, the Board of Public Works required Mr. Kerfoot to move his “business block” back, within the street line. He continued to do business here until the following June, when he removed to permanent quarters. The enterprise and pluck displayed in the erection of the board office did not a little toward reviving courage and drooping spirits. The comical features of the situation appealed to the humorous sense of the passers-by, and their attention was for a time diverted from their own losses and misfortunes. The office soon became a “halfway house” between the South and West Divisions, and a sort of general headquarters. In front of the building was placed a long board, covered with notices of removals, etc. a sort of extemporized city directory and this circumstance, added to the general character of the place, made Mr. Kerfoot’s office a general “Bureau of Information.” Hackmen, seeking to learn the address of the person at whose residence or place of business they should leave a passenger, drove by the building to get information which might be more easily obtained there than elsewhere.
W. D. Kerfoot Realtor
First “Building” Erected in Burnt District
Erected at the same location of pre-fire building.
Realtor, W. D. Kerfoot’s Office
Painted by W. J. Burton
Realtor, W. D. Kerfoot’s Office
Photographed in 1871
From Chicago’s First Half Century, 1833-1883
WM. D. KERFOOT & CO.
CHICAGO REAL ESTATE AGENCY.
If architecture is “frozen music,” the accompanying illustration, which explains its own sharp” contrast, will sing eloquently and truthfully of real estate and loan brokers sans peuret sans reproeh— a house established twenty-one years ago, a house foremost in deals, a partnership of gentlemen—Messrs. William D. Kerfoot, William A. Merigold, George Birkhoff, Jr., No. 90 Washington street. The parties, estates, and corporations represented where are they not found? And wherever found, they are clients still or friends. Asked to name the real estate house of Chicago, who that is well informed would not say, “Wm. D. Kerfoot & Co.?”
October 13, 1871
W. D. Kerfoot to the Chicago Tribune, 1896:
We put up a board in front of the shanty with a sort of directory printed on it, and nearly everybody coming to the city consulted it to find where the people were they wished to see. The shanty was army headquarters for a time. All the surveys of the burnt district were made from that office, re-establishing the lot lines and street lines.
It is impossible to compare the city now with what it was then,” said Kerfoot, reminiscing about pre-fire Chicago. “There were no substantial buildings then, no fire walls, nothing over six stories high. Most structures were of wood. While it was a calamity at the time, the fire turned out a blessing in disguise, for it set Chicago ahead in building certainly fifty years.