Thursday, July 16, 2020

July 16, 1943 -- Museum of Science and Industry Opens Yesterday's Main Street
July 16, 1943 – Invited guests preview a new exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry that will open on the following day.  “Yesterday’s Main Street” will provide viewers with a reproduction of State Street between 1900 and 1910.  Reproductions of stores and business fronts, such as The Hub, Charles A. Stevens and Co., the Gossard Corset Shop, Commonwealth Edison, the Illinois Central Railroad, and the John R. Thompson Restaurant Company line the street that stretches three-quarters of a block.  The street is still there, and a stroll down the cobblestone streets that ends in a visit to Finnegan’s ice cream parlor is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

July 16, 1894 – In the midst of the Pullman strike Light Battery F, Second Artillery, is proceeding down Grand Boulevard, today’s Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, escorted by a cavalry escort, when disaster strikes.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports the following day,  “ . . . going at a gentle trot over a smooth boulevard a shell somewhere in one of the ammunition chests exploded, the detonation set off all the cartridges and all the rest of the shrapnel shells—a storm of powder and leaden balls and scraps of iron sufficient to stop the charge of a brigade of cavalry.  There was first the booming, deafening crash of the powder; it smashed every bit of glass in the neighborhood, jarred the whole southern side of the city, tore the caisson that had held it into bits of twisted iron and splinters of oak, crushed the life out of the four horses attached to it and to the gun following.  Two cannoneers had been sitting on the ammunition chest that exploded first.  Their comrades found the fragments of them, one to the right, one to the left, 150 yards away.  They did not look as if they had ever been men.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17, 1894]  The men had left camp that morning for a 25-mile ride along the city’s boulevards to exercise the horses, learn more of the streets of the south side of the city and to convey the image that in the midst of the labor crisis the troops were there to maintain order.  Joseph Gaylor, Edward Doyle, and Jeremiah Donovan are buried at Fort Sheridan, where their graves can still be found today. Relatives claim the body of Private Fred Stoltz, and his remains are sent home to Sago, Michigan.  The photo above shows Grand Boulevard about a half-dozen years after the tragic event.

July 16, 1890 – A cable car leaves the Fortieth Street station and the West Chicago Street Railroad goes into operation with a cable running at the rate of seven miles an hour. The opening of the line is an event on the West Side as the Chicago Daily Tribune reports … “Small boys reveled in the excitement, and some of the farmers got up early enough to see the first grip-car start.  Horses attached to hay wagons and green-grocery carts became frightened at the phenomena, and the sidewalks were utilized as plank roads.  People who were coming down-town on horse-cars got off and paid another fare to ride on the grip.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, July 17 1890].  The superintendent of the line says, “Our most difficult task will be the teaching of gripmen … A man can learn to run a grip in about four days, and it will take the same man six weeks to learn to drive a horse.”  The West Side cable system consisted of two lines – the Madison Street line, running directly west and the Milwaukee Avenue line which ran northwest.  Both lines connected to the Loop circulator through a tunnel under the Chicago River at La Salle Street. The principal power house for the system was located at Madison and Rockwell Streets although at the height of its operation the system had six powerhouses, pulling two dozen cables that moved 230 grip cars and at least three times that many trailing cars.

July 16, 1866 – For three hours a fire that begins in a haystack at the rear of State Street near Polk Street rages out of control, consuming 40 buildings over three acres of the southern section of the Loop.  Forty families are burned out of their homes as “The resistless fury of the flames for the first two hours was indeed sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of all who lived in the neighborhood.” [Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1866] The fire department cannot immediately respond to the fire because much of the equipment is tied up in another part of the city, and by the time help arrives the flames have spread from the west side of State Street to homes on the east side. In the 30 minutes that it takes for the fire apparatus to begin work, “the flames were spreading from house to house and every moment gaining ground.”  Wabash Avenue is impassable as homeowners are busy moving furniture, bedding and trunks into the street in panic.  They had reason to be afraid as firefighters, realizing that fighting the conflagration on both sides of State Street is fruitless, make a stand in the alley between State and Wabash, hoping to prevent the fire from spreading.  It is “Here, after a desperate struggle their efforts began to tell. The fire was kept in bounds, and the fears of those residents in the vicinity were, in a measure, allayed.” Two firefighters are injured seriously and carried to their homes, and a resident is also injured after falling from the roof of his home.  Preliminary estimates place losses at over $140,000 but “the most distressing part of the calamity is in the great number of poor families who are thus deprived of their homes, who have lost all their furniture, and are thrown into a state of destitution.”  As bad as the day is, it is only a preview of what will befall the city five years later.  The 1858 photo, which looks southwest from Washington and LaSalle Streets, gives some idea of how close together the mostly wooden homes were placed as well as how easily a fire could consume a large area, given the right conditions.

July 16, 1859 – A reporter for the Chicago Press and Tribune takes a walk “in the eastern extremity of the city, within the North Division, in search of a breeze …”  [Chicago Daily Press and Tribune, July 16 1859] During his walk up Pine Street as far as Huron the reporter sees “very many splendid residences in rapid course of erection, and which when finished, with the beautiful houses and grounds of that vicinity, will make it one of the most splendid and interesting neighborhoods of the city.”  At the corner of Pine and Ontario Streets, a block of ten residences are being constructed, “similar to the great marble block on Michigan avenue.” At the corner of Pine and Huron Streets are two residences that Solomon Sturgis is building, each four stories in height with a basement.  Word is that Cyrus H. McCormick intends to begin a “first class dwelling” on Rush Street, between Erie and Huron and that work on a sewer on Huron Street from Rush to Cass Streets has been started.   All of the beautiful homes will, of course, be lost in another dozen years when the great fire of 1871 destroys the entire north side of the city.  There is no more Pine Street these days … the street on which the rich were busily building their beautiful homes back in 1859 is today’s Magnificent Mile on North Michigan Avenue.  The above etching shows Pine Street looking north toward the water tower from Huron Street not long after the tower was completed in 1869.  The photo below shows the same view today.


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