The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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August 19, 1848

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With the canal opening in April and business bustling Chicago was experiencing financial optimism in the late summer of 1848. The canal trustees assembled on Friday morning, September 1 at 10:00 a.m. at the Merchant's Exchange. Their purpose was to commence a sale of Chicago canal lots. The first day's offerings included those remaining lots in the Original Town (O.T.) survey. The number of anxious bidders present was so large that the proceedings had to be moved outside to public grounds. The sale adjourned from 1:00-2:00 p.m. for lunch and then continued until 4:00 p.m. From 4:00-9:00 p.m. canal officials made themselves available to receive the twenty-five percent down payment which successful bidders were required to put forward in order to secure their purchases.

J.C. Clark had successfully bid $7,785 for Chicago canal lots for S.I. McCrady. When settling up time came Clark did not have the one quarter of that amount required to finalize the deal. Consequently he informed the trustees of his forfeiture. The sale resumed on Saturday, September 2, and with the exception of that Sunday, continued through Thursday, September 7. Chicago real estate investment had been a speculative adventure from the beginning (see document 6). Those with the required capital, optimistic outlooks, and strong stomachs took the plunge. Some became fabulously wealthy while others went bust.

Points to Consider

What did S.I. McCrady want J.C. Clark to do for him?
Describe McCrady's journey from Pittsburgh to Chicago.
If a canal laborer had averaged a dollar a day wage in 1848, how much was the $25,000 mentioned in this document in today's money?
Is a twelve-month fifty percent return on an investment reasonable? Is there risk involved in such an adventure?

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