Wednesday, November 21, 2018

November 21, 1893 -- Chicago River Encounter

November 21, 1893 – An interesting anecdote appears in the Chicago Daily Tribune on this day, giving a brief glimpse of what day-to-day life on the river must have been like. At about 3:00 a.m. the steam barge Colin Campbell entered the river, proceeding up the main branch without delay until the Captain came to the Clark Street bridge.  At Dearborn Street he signaled the bridge tender at Clark Street, the next bridge to the west, with “three long blasts” [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 21, 1893] to swing his bridge.  There was no response.  “Again the whistle was blown, but still no signs of life appeared about the bridge. The engines were stopped and the boat slowly drifted down toward the bridge with the whistle blowing a continuous blast.”  A few folks gathered in the darkness “to see how the affair would terminate” as the boat, laden with lumber, drifted close enough to the bridge so that the engines had to be reversed.  At this point the captain appeared from the pilot house “and addressed the crowd on the peculiarities of bridge tenders.”  The report notes, “the Captain was nearing the apoplectic point” when suddenly “a figure clad in a heavy ulster came tearing down Clark street and grasping the bell rope gave it a couple of spasmodic jerks and rushed to the starting lever.”  As the bridge began to turn “and the Captain cooled down” someone shouted, “What are you doing?  Hold on there!”  A horse-drawn cab was scooting across the bridge, hoping to make to the north side of the river before the bridge was turned.  All ended well as the bridge was stopped in time “long enough for the reckless cabby to get across … Then with a final growl, the Captain of the Campbell went on.” The report does not say, but it is fun to wonder about where the bridge tender could have been on Clark Street in the middle of the night.  The Clark Street bridge is at the very top of the illustration.

November 21, 1885 – The Chicago Daily Tribune runs a fascinating piece on the development of grain elevators in the city, innovations that began to handle grain in large quantities in 1851.  The transition from shipment of grain in sacks to elevators changed an entire economic system and gave birth to the futures market, and the whole thing happened right here in Chicago.  Early elevators were horse-powered, the power furnished by a “sweep” on the roof of the elevator, which a melancholy horse dragged around from morning till night,” setting in motion an “endless chain and buckets that elevated the grain.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 21, 1885] The first steam powered elevator stood on the south bank of the river about 80 feet east of what is today Clark Street and was completed in 1858.  By 1868 there were 17 elevators in the city with a storage capacity of 10,680,000 bushels. By the time the Tribune article appeared, there were 28 elevators with a total storage capacity of between 26,000,000 and 28,000,000 bushels of grain.  The system of grading the quality of grain was gradually perfected and by 1858 a committee of the Chicago Board of Trade created a system that eliminated complaints about inferior grain being mixed into a shipment at the elevator.  The largest elevator in Chicago in 1885 belonged to Armour, Dole and Company. Its Elevator D was 300 feet long, 100 feet wide and stood 115 feet high.  Its main driving belt was said to be the largest belt of its kind in the world and was run by an 800 horse-power engine.  On one remarkable fall day in the early 1880’s the elevator delivered 160,000 bushels of grain into the holds of the ships BostonScotia and New York between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Another remarkable day came when the elevator loaded 410 railroad cars in nine hours. In 1838 the city handled 78 bushels of grain.  When the Illinois and Michigan Canal was opened in 1848, 2,160,800 bushels of wheat came through Chicago, all of it handled in sacks.  By 1891 the city was moving 38,990,168 bushels of wheat through its elevators, along with 66,578,300 bushels of corn, 68,771,644 bushels of oats and close to 20,000,000 bushels of rye, barley and flower.  [Chicago and Its Resources Twenty Years After, 1871-1891:  A commercial History Showing the Progress and Growth of Two Decades from the Great Fire to the Present Time.  Chicago:  Chicago Times Company, 1891] Armour Elevator "D" is shown in the above photo.

November 21, 1875 – Holy Name Cathedral at the corner of Superior and State Streets is dedicated.  William Ogden and Walter Loomis Newberry donated the site on which the cathedral stands in 1846 and a small church was built in 1848.  In 1853 a more impressive building was begun, but it was still unfinished when it was consumed in the 1871 fire.  The new cathedral was begun in 1873 while the congregation worshipped at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Cass Street.  One noteworthy aspect of the dedication pertains to the music chosen that was heralded as something that would begin “a revolution in Catholic church-music in Chicago . . . the first fair illustration in this city of the new school of music . . . [to] prohibit operatic and dramatic music in the church . . . to assist, instead of distracting, devotion.” The choir includes only 25 voices and the orchestra only 25 instruments. The Rt.-Rev. P. J. Ryan, Coadjutor Bishop of St. Louis, preaches the Dedication Day sermon before a 3,000 congregants.

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