Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 50REQUEST FOR THE SALE OF BRICK AND IRON FROM BURNED PUBLIC BUILDINGS
October 23, 1871
On Saturday night, October 7, 1871, a fire broke out in the West Division between Canal and Clinton streets and north of Van Buren Street. It was put out hours later but over $1,000,000 in damage had been done to wooden shacks, lumberyards, and factories. The firefighting had exhausted the fire department and ruined much of its equipment. The next night at 9:30 p.m., a new fire erupted in the West Division on DeKoven Street and swept toward the river through narrow streets and alleys. By midnight it had leaped the river at Adams Street and by 2:30 a.m. Monday morning it had reached the courthouse. It was soon across the State Street Bridge and went on to consume the Northwestern Railroad yards, the McCormick Reaper Works, grain elevators, lumberyards, and residences beyond. The Water Works were gutted and the North Division decimated. In all 250 people were killed and 17,450 buildings were destroyed. About a third of the population, 98,000 people, were left homeless and $196,000,000 in property was destroyed.
Points to Consider
How did the city respond to the Great Fire of 1871?
What was the damage in lives and property?
Why was the fire so devastating?
What caused the fire?