THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHICAGO FIRE.
It is difficult to realize that where the great commercial palaces of Chicago now stand was, within so comparatively short a period, a desolated ruin, and that her industry, wealth and importance, as the metropolis of the West, have all grown to be fixed facts within the space of but ten years. However much like a fairy story the narrative will read in the pages of the world’s history, it is, nevertheless, but the truth, that in the history of Chicago, for the first ten years after the great fire, will the generations of the future find a record ot courage, enterprise and achievements unequalled in the history of the world up to the present writing. Within the past ten years the ” burned district,” which embraced all the business portion of the city and very nearly the entire North Division, has been covered with imposing blocks of marble sotne, brick and iron, and the North side is once more beautiful, with hundreds of elegant and comfortable homes. Within that time the population of the city has almost doubled, and the manufactures and commerce of the city have more than doubled. At no period in its history has Chicago been as populous, as wealthy, and as influential as at present. Never before has her prominence as a commanding and invaluable railroad centre been so apparent as at present, when, with eighteen distinct railroad lines radiating from her limits, and connecting with a net-work of railroads which covers the entire country, she fills the metropolitan position which is her destiny.
The narrative of the damage to Chicago, the State, and, in fact, the whole country, which w as brought about by the celebrated cow of the equally celebrated Mrs. O’Leary, has passed into history, but for the benefit of those who w-ere not in Chicago at the time of the fatal exploit of the celebrated beast, and who know but little of ante-fire Chicago, the following reminiscent synopsis of the story of the world’s greatest conflagration is herewith submitted. Mrs, O’Leary was an ancient dame who lived In ft small house in the vicinity of the corner of De Koven and Jefferson streets, in the West division. She was the possessor of a milch cow, the milk from which gave her an humble subsistence, and was, as the old lady moaned out, the morning after the “big blaze,” the only thing she had between herself and starvation in the wide world. It had been her regular nightly habit to visit the stable and see if her cow was all right. On the Sunday night of the fire, about 9.30 o’clock, she took her lamp in her hand and went to have a look at her pet. Then she took a notion that the cow must have some salt, and she put down the lamp and went into the house to get some. In a moment, the cow had accidentally kicked over the lamp, an explosion followed, and in an instant the structure was enveloped in flames. Hardly had the first alarm been sounded when it was followed by another from the same box, No. 342, and this in turn by a third, or general alarm, which summoned to that vicinity every available Steam Engine in the city. But all the Engines that could have concentrated and worked upon the place of conflagiation would have been powerless to avert what then threatened inevitable and overwhelming disaster. The wind was blowing a peifect hurricane from the south-southwest. With dreadful effect the flames leaped forward, and, seizing upon everything combustible, spread the fearful calamity in every direction. Block after block went down, and the contest with the fire seemed utterly useless.
The flames crossed Ewing and Forquer streets, and stalked on as though destined to consume the entire West side. Upward of twenty blocks were burning, and more than 1500 buildings on fire, while at least 500 families were fleeing from the great destruction. The fire made its way into the planing-mills, chair factories, and other great works which skirted the South branch of the river. When Polk street was reached a determined and desperate stand was made, but after the flames had scorched the limbs of the Engine horses, and the Engineers and Stokers had lost almost all their whiskers, the Department was compelled to retreat. Across Harrison and Tyler streets and along Van Buren street swept the devouring monster, carrying universal destruction in its course. Hardly had the excited and stricken people realized that possibly the entire city might suffer from the ever-increasing fire, when to their horror a small flame broke forth at a point about five blocks to the north and east of the place where the fire was raging. The sight of that bursting fire so near the commercial heart of the city thrilled the spellbound thousands with horror. Just precisely from whence it sprang could not for a short time be determined, but all knew that it was in the immediate neighborhood of the South-side gas works, and an overwhelming sense of the terrible danger impending began to grow upon the multitude.
About midnight the air of the South division was hot with the breath oi the conflagration. The gale gathered force and cairied with it black smoke, bits of blazing wood, and blazing coals. 1 hesc rained over the tops of houses already combustible as tinder from a protracted dry season, and prepared them yet bett. r for the great conflagration that was destined to swallow them to in the general ruin. On swept the fire until Van Buren street was reached, and here again the Fire Department made a desperate but useless rally, and then for the first time it began to be feared that the fire was really beyond control and that the city of Chicago was doomed. The first foothold gained by the destroying element in the South division was in the tar-works, near the gas works, and nearly opposite the old armory. Fiorn Adam street the flamdi leaping from house to house, gained Fifth avenue—then called Wells street—and were already gaining limits far beyond any human control, when the explosion of the great gas-works and the immediate extension of the calamity put all doubts of the ultimate magnitude of the pending ruin out of the question. The Grand Pacific Hotel, upon which the roof had just been placed, was the first great public building that fell a helpless prey to the devouring flames, which began to take upon themselves mighty proportions slnd carry fragments of burning ruins for blocks ahead of the centre of the fire. Thus it was while a hundred buildings were burning, others far in advance of the track of the onward sweeping fire could nX be protected, and, burning, they in their turn carried the havoc to a still greater distance. The business blocks on La Salic street, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Court House followed, the great wooden dome of the latter building igniting from a blazing timber hurled upon it from a burning block on La Salle stre« t. The course of the fire was now directed nearly due East, and in short order Ilooley’s Opera House, The Republican office, and the whole of Washington street to Dearborn street was consumed. Crosby’s Opera House, upon which improvements and decorations costing nearly $80,000 had just been completed, and which was to have been dedicated by the Thomas orchestra on the next evening, rapidly followed, as did the St. James hotel, at the comer of State and Washington streets, and the magnificent white marble store of Field, Letter & Co., immediately opposite. The fire then burned back to complete its circuit or ruin, destroying McVicker’s theatre, The Tribune office, the post-office, the Dearborn theatre budding, the De Haven and Bigelow blocks, the Honor* block, and all the handsome modern buildings which had but recently been completed on what was then upper Dearborn street. In fact the fire was now the enemy of every quarter and the rut bless conqueror of every obstacle, and the ruin of the commercial heart of the city was utter and complete.
The Times building, on Dearborn street, was the first structure erected in th city designed for and devoted exclusively to the purpose of publishing a new spaper. U was a substantial five-story, stone front building, the basement being occupied for press rooms, the first floor by the office, library, etc., the upper floor as the compoutkm room, and the intermediate floors by the editoiial and ieportorisq .tails The report JI t&i force bad been engaged in preparing an account of the terrible conflagration, which had so greatly exceeded anything in the annals of Chicago, and at 2 o’clock on Monday morning were still engaged in furnishing the latest reports possible for the first edition. The reporters and compositors continued their work ur.til what had been probable became a certainty, that the Times building was doomed.
The last words written were in the shape of a postscript, as follows:
“The Very Latest—The entire business portion of the city is burning up, and the Times building is doomed.”
When endeavors were directed to the saving of property, it was found to be too late to accomplish much in that direction, and comparatively little excepting the files were saved. The building caught fire in the upper story at about 3 o’clock, and in half an hour so intense, was the heat, nothing remained but a pile of smoking, smouldering debris.
The north division in proportion to its size, suffered more than both of the other divisions united. Here it was that the remorseless fire fed upon the homes of the helpless and despairing multitude. It was in this section ol the city that the loss and suffering from the fire fell with a double and absolutely crushing force, for it carried away the homes and literally the “all” of those who in the ruin that had overtaken the south division had already lost their stores, offices and employment. The fire in one gigantic, resistless torrent of flame swept the north side thoroughfares, from the river to the lake, and from Kinzie street to Lincoln park. Where but twelve hours before had rested in safety and repose tens of thousands in palatial mansions or humble homes, the devastation was complete and a widespread smouldering ruin replaced a flourishing and happy neighborhood.
The estimates and guess’es of the losses incurred were at first of the wildest character, and reached absurdly extravagant figures. Conjecture reached .the extraordinary figure of $300,000,000, but a careful calculation, upon trustworthy approximation, showed that .$200,000,000 would cover the destruction of property by the fire. What has been the cost of replacing that $200,000,000 it takes an old Chicagoan who knows how to tell stories of things that happened “ before the fire,” to adequately explain. No one else can do justice to the subject.— Times.