Original Chicago Historical Society; Photoprint (ichi-39192)
In 1856, five leading citizens gathered in the Marine Bank Building office of J. Young Scammon at Lake and LaSalle Streets "for the purpose of organizing a Historical Society." Early the following year, one of these men, attorney I. N. Arnold, then a member of the Illinois legislature, successfully introduced a bill to incorporate the Chicago Historical Society—only twenty years after the city itself had been incorporated. In November of 1864 the Society formed a Building Committee that soon purchased from Arnold a lot at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Ontario streets, on which it proposed to erect a headquarters that would be "solid, substantial, and fireproof." The architect Edward Burling prepared the design seen here. Only the west third was completed by the time of the opening on November 19, 1868.
Ruins of Chicago Historical Society Building; Photograph, 1871 (ichi-02770)
The original building, and virtually all of its irreplaceable contents, were lost to the fire. Those few things that were salvaged were stored in downtown building owned by Scammon, but it was destroyed in the fire of 1874 that consumed several downtown blocks. The task of collecting the record of Chicago’s brief but tumultuous past--so much of which was now gone forever--had to be started again virtually from scratch.
Chicago Historical Society, 1896-1932; Photograph (ichi-26018)
The Chicago Historical Society was inactive for three years following the fire of 1871, and it was not until 1877 that it opened a temporary building at Ontario and Dearborn, which was its home for the next fifteen years. In 1892 the cornerstone for a second permanent building was laid at the same site. The Society (now the Chicago History Museum) would move to its current site at the southwest corner of Lincoln Park in 1932. The 1892 building has since served a number of owners and purposes, though the words “Chicago Historical Society” remain carved over the entrance.
Fire Commemoration; Photograph, Chicago Daily News, 1924 (DN-0077731)
Dr. Otto Schmidt, Chicago Historical Society President, and Caroline McIlvaine, who served as the Society's Librarian for the first quarter of the twentieth century (during which time she solicited memoirs from those who had experienced the fire), join a fire department official on Dearborn Street beside a ninety-year-old pumper, which predated the fire of 1871 by several decades.