View from Court House Cupola--South/Southwest; Alexander Hesler, Photograph, 1858 (ichi-05730)
In Constructing Chicago, Daniel Bluestone notes that in the 1840s a number of Chicago churches—the First Presbyterian, the First Baptist, and the First Methodist Episcopal—were built on corner lots facing the Washington Street side of Court House Square, while the First Unitarian, First Universalist, and Second Presbyterian were erected nearby to the east. First Baptist stood on the southeast corner of Washington and LaSalle streets, just south of the square.
These clustered houses of worship made Washington Street Chicago’s “street of churches.” According to Bluestone, the congregations chose this location because it adjoined “the only distinctly civic block in the original plan of the city,” that is, Court House Square, which formed a buffer of sorts between the churches and the heavily commercial area extending south from the Main Branch of the Chicago River.
The view here of the Greek Revival building and its lofty spire is one of the eleven photographs from the top of the Court House taken by Alexander Hesler in 1858. We are looking south-southwest down LaSalle Street.
Chamber of Commerce; Louis Kurz for Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1866-67 (ichi-63073)
Shortly after the Hesler photographs were taken, members of the congregation responded to the rising demand by business interests for real estate in this area by selling the property to the Chamber of Commerce for $65,000. They pledged a third of the proceeds to other congregations and erected a new building of their own several blocks south and east at Wabash Avenue and Hubbard Court (now Balbo Street). This was part of the broader trend in which First Baptist and most other Washington Street churches (the exception was First Methodist) moved out of the developing business section to South Wabash, making it the new center of worship in the city. The relocated First Baptist Church declared that it had the largest membership and biggest home of any Protestant congregation in the West, but the dislocations and accelerated movement away from the central city caused by the fire soon diminished the number of members, and the serious downtown fire of 1874 destroyed the new building. First Baptist is now in the Kenwood neighborhood, at 935 E. 50thStreet, and has a primarily African American congregation.
The Chamber of Commerce dedicated its new building on August 30, 1865. The building was designed by Edward Burling. Charles Randolph, President of the Board of Trade, delivered the main address of the day. By far the most important business conducted in this building, whose grand hall was decorated with frescoes and paintings, was the commodities exchange overseen by the Board.
Chicago in Flames--Burning of the Chamber of Commerce and the Crosby Opera House; from Harper's Weekly, October 28, 1871 (ichi-63127)
Driven by a fierce wind from the southwest, flames shoot out of the Chamber of Commerce and Crosby's Opera House as Chicagoans flee for their lives.
Finishing the Roof of the Chamber of Commerce; Glass Lantern Slide, ca. 1872 (ichi-02860a)
With workers employing derricks and other innovative techniques aimed at speeding up the pace of construction, the Chamber of Commerce rebuilt in time for its chief tenant, the Board of Trade, to move back in on the first anniversary of the fire—October 9, 1872. In 1885 Board would move into its own building at Jackson and LaSalle. The structure pictured here was much renovated, but it was replaced in 1890 with a third Chamber of Commerce building, thirteen stories and two hundred feet high, which occupied the site until 1928.