View from Court House Cupola, North; Alexander Hesler, Photograph, 1858 (ichi-05742)
This image is one of the eleven photographs that Hesler took in 1858 from the walkway that encircled the cupola of the Court House. The Sherman House was one of the most impressive buildings erected in the city of Chicago's early years. It was originally built in 1836-37 and was called the City Hotel. It was then three stories high. In 1844 Francis C. Sherman, who served two terms as Chicago’s mayor in the early 1860s, added two stories and changed the name to the Sherman House.
Sherman House before the Fire; J. Carbutt, Stereograph, ca. 1870 (ichi-00761)
Sherman tore down the original five-story Sherman House and replaced it with this six-story luxury hotel, designed by W. W. Boyington and covered in "Athens Marble" from the limestone quarries of nearby Lemont. The fence that enclosed Court House Square, just to the south, can be seen on the left side of the image. The hotel’s main entrance was on Clark Street, through a two-story portico. One proceeded up stone stairs to the Grand Hall and a group of parlors and reception areas. These spaces, wrote journalist James W. Sheahan, “are not surpassed in size or general convenience by any similar hotel apartments in the country.”
Sherman House; Louis Kurz for Jevne & Almini, Lithograph, 1873 (ichi-63067)
Groups of Chicagoans, several fashionably dressed, marvel at a circus parade, complete with elephants and camels, marching south on Clark Street past the Sherman House.
The Great Fire in Chicago: Panic-stricken Citizens Rushing Past the Sherman House, Carrying the Aged, Sick and Helpless, and Endeavoring to Save Family Treasures; from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, October 28, 1871 (ichi-20909)
The pandemonium in the streets at the intersection of Clark and Randolph Streets, with the doomed Sherman House in the background. A wealthy couple in a coach try to force their way through the mob of terrified people and horses, as a host of others in the wild melee variously attempt to save their nearest and dearest and look out for themselves. The young man carrying an older one on his back in the right foreground recalls depictions of Aeneas bearing his father Anchises out of the fallen Troy, an allusion which invests the burning of Chicago with an epic quality.
"I went through to Wabash Avenue," New York Assemblyman Alexander Frear wrote in the New York World of October 15, "and here the thoroughfare was utterly choked with all manner of goods and people. Everybody who had been forced from the other end of the town by the advancing flames had brought some article with him, and, as further progress was delayed, if not completely stopped by the river--the bridges of which were also choked, most of them, in their panic, abandoned their burdens, so that the streets and sidewalks presented the most astonishing wreck. Valuable oil paintings, books, pet animals, musical instruments, toys, mirrors, and bedding, were trampled under foot."
In the Sherman House itself, desk clerk John Hickie and an assistant reportedly saved the life of an ill female guest. According to an account published in several places, they rushed into “the now trembling building,” knocked down the woman's door, soaked her nightgown in water from the pitcher and basin in the room, and carried her to safety, just before the fire transformed the Sherman House into “one of the most complete wrecks of the night.”
At the close of a long and otherwise serious letter to his sister recounting his experiences in the fire, William Gallagher inserted a bit of humor. "Theodore Thomas was at the Sherman House with his orchestra," Gallagher wrote, "and was to have commenced his concerts on the Monday night after the fire. He was compelled to run for his life, and leave some of the instruments, and some one wants to know why he is different from Nero. Ans. One fiddled away while his Rome was burning, and the other roamed away while his fiddles were burning."
View from Top of Ruins of Courthouse Looking North after the Fire of 1871; Stereograph, 1871 (ichi-64335)
The image speaks for itself. There is no recognizable trace of the Sherman House, though some post-fire shanties are already in place.
Enterprising Young Merchant Disposing of Relics Opposite the Ruins of the Sherman House; from E. J. Goodspeed, History of Great Fires in Chicago and the West, 1871 (ichi-63818)
This illustration, which was reproduced in several different publications, contains an abundance of information and meaning. A canny street urchin out of Horatio Alger (whose first book, Ragged Dick, appeared four years earlier) offers a doll for sale to a well-to-do middle-class family in front of the destroyed Sherman House hotel, a symbol of lost Chicago. The tipped-over safe whose door has been torn off, the relocation sign, and the backdrop of ruin and rubble establish a general context of instability amid which citizens of means are uncertainly reestablishing their authority by buying back the city from such opportunistic representatives of the poor in the aftermath of the disaster.
The Sherman House; Photograph, ca. 1890 (ichi-64638)
Apparently undaunted by the fire, Francis Sherman reestablished his business immediately by taking over another hotel just outside the burnt district, on Madison Street a block west of the river. He meanwhile hired Boyington to build a new Sherman House on the corner of Clark and Randolph. It was completed in 1873 and is pictured here. Visible on the left is the northeast corner of the 1885 Chicago City Hall and Cook County Courthouse. The 1873 Sherman House was succeeded in 1911 by the Sherman Hotel, designed by Holabird & Roche, which went through several additions. Since 1985 the entire block formed by Clark, Randolph, LaSalle, and Lake streets has been the site of the James R. Thompson (State of Illinois) Center, which was designed by Helmut Jahn.