J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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N AUGUST 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated, that being
the date of the first meeting of the Board of Trustees. This board con-
sisted of Thomas J. V. Owen, president, George W. Dole, Madore B.
Beaubien, John Miller, and E. S. Kimberley. Isaac Harmon was appointed
clerk of the board. The first boundaries of the town were those of the
Canal Commissioners' first subdivision, as shown on "Thompson's Plat," namely,
Kinzie, Desplaines, Madison and State streets, embracing an area of about three-
eighths of a square mile. 1

The incorporation of the Town of Chicago was made possible by an act of the
legislature, passed February 12th, 1831, by the provisions of which citizens of any
community of over one hundred and fifty inhabitants were authorized to incorporate
as a town, with limits not to exceed one square mile in extent.

Soon after its incorporation, that is, on November 6th, 1833, the limits of the
new town were extended so as to embrace an area of seven-eighths of a square mile,
thus keeping safely within the limits specified in the general act. These new and

1 Canal Commissioners' Report for 1900, p. 252.



enlarged boundaries were in general as follows: The boundary on the north was
Ohio street, that on the west was Jefferson street, that on the south Jackson street,
and that on the east State street as far as the river, and thence north along the
lake shore. This irregular eastern boundary was made necessary to avoid including
the military reservation within which the fort was situated. It will be seen that
although the boundaries were thus extended on three sides, the western boundary
was placed at Jefferson street, thus cutting off the six blocks numbered 10, 11, 25,
26, 47 'and 48, lying west of Jefferson street. This was rendered necessary in order
to keep within the "one square mile" limit of the act, while adding rapidly growing
districts to its area in other directions. The curtailed portion, however, was again
placed within the limits of the town, as we shall see, in the next extension of its


Even at that early period Chicago began to show a wonderful expansion in
population and trade, and before the end of another year its population was esti-
mated at about two thousand, a newspaper had been established, lake commerce
was becoming important, and building operations were very active. This phe-
nomenal rate of increase, and the prospects for a continuation of its growth, made
felt the need of extending the powers of the trustees. In order to increase the
area of the town a special act of the legislature was passed February 11, 1835,
and under its provisions another extension of the area of the town was made. The
enlarged boundaries were as follows: the boundary on the north was Chicago
avenue; that on the west Halsted street; that on the south Twelfth street, and that
on the east the shore of the lake, excepting the military reservation, thus enclosing
an area of about two and two-fifths square miles within its limits.

The number of trustees was increased to nine, with enlarged functions and
powers. The new board prohibited gaming houses, and the sale of liquors on
Sundays, provided for public cemeteries, made police and fire regulations, and
adopted an official seal. As the town consisted for the most part of flimsy frame
structures, the care of the trustees was especially directed against the danger from
fire. No person was allowed to endanger the public safety by passing a "stove
pipe through the roof, partition or side of any building," unless guarded by an iron
shield. All persons were forbidden to carry open coals through the streets except
in a covered fire-proof vessel. 2 In the year 1836 was erected a one-story and base-
ment brick building for a courthouse on the public square. This building was
classic in its style of architecture, the pediment being supported by four Doric
columns, and the portico approached by a flight of steps the full width of the
building. This handsome structure fronted east on the northeast corner of the
public square. The county offices were in the basement, while the courtroom, which
was above, was one large apartment, capable of seating two hundred persons. 3


It should be remembered, however, that the County Commissioners of Cook
County were also exercising their functions within the usual limitations of county

2 Grosser.

3 Andreas: I, 176.


government. The scope of authority exercised by the two forms of government,
one within the other, are set forth by Greene in his work "Government of Illinois,"
as follows: The county board is primarily a legislative body acting under the laws
of the state, on the broad general principle of American politics, that "the people
of anv particular district or community ought, so far as possible, to manage its
own affairs." The county board has the right to lay a limited amount of taxes, it
must maintain a system of county courts, and its officers must execute the orders
of the said courts. It must keep a record of deeds to lands ; and, where such
duties are not delegated to boards of town trustees, must provide the machinery
for elections, keep the peace, maintain schools and charities, survey and main-
tain Highways and bridges, and, in general, look after all local affairs.

The board of trustees of a town is permitted by law to assume many of the
lesser responsibilities which would otherwise be exercised by the county board. It
assumes charge of the streets and bridges within the limits of the town, enforces
authority through justices of the peace and constables, lays taxes for local pur-
poses, and acts as agent of the state and county in the assessment and collection
of taxes. 4


The last board of trustees of the Town of Chicago was elected on June 6, 1836.
The members of the board were Eli B. Williams, president, Samuel G. Trowbridge,
Peter Bolles, Peter L. Updike, Augustine D. Taylor, William B. Ogden, Asahel
Pierce, Thomas Wright, and John Jackson. The belief in the future of the town
was now so strong that an insistent demand arose for a city charter. The work
on the Illinois and Michigan Canal having been fairly begun in 1836, the In-
dians having been finally removed to their new reservations, large numbers of
immigrants continually arriving, and real estate advancing at a rapid rate, it was
an appropriate time, it seemed, for the Town of Chicago to take a step forward
in its civic development, and assume the powers and responsibilities of a full-fledged


Following the incorporation of the Town of Chicago on August 12th, 1833, the
next important event in the civic life of the place was its incorporation as a city.
This bears the date of March 4th, 1837.

In the previous November the President of the Board of Trustees of the Town
of Chicago had invited the inhabitants to select three persons from each of the three
districts into which the town was divided, to meet the Board and "consult upon the
expediency of applying to the Legislature for a city charter." A meeting was
accordingly held and a committee of five was appointed to prepare the draft of a
city charter and report at a subsequent meeting. The members of this committee
were Ebenezer Peck, John D. Caton, Theophilus W. Smith, Peter Bolles, and Will-
iam B. Ogden.

On the 9th of December, 1836, the committee presented their draft of a city
charter, which was voted on by the people at a public meeting, held in the Saloon
Building. Four-fifths of those present favored the charter and it was approved.

4 Greene: "Government of Illinois," p. 95.


The mention of the Saloon Building, famous in the early history of Chicago, re-
quires a brief description, as the hall contained within it was considered at that
period the finest and most commodious hall "west of Buffalo." Its name was
chosen as being the equivalent, in English, of the similar French word, salon, in-
dicating a spacious and grand hall. It was much used as a place for popular as-
semblages and public entertainments, and had but recently been built. It stood at
the southeast corner of Lake and Clark streets.

The charter having been approved by the people it was sent to the Legislature,
and was passed by that body on March 4, 1837, which is the date chosen by the
historians on which the municipality began its corporate existence. The election
to choose officers was not held, however, until the following Maj r .

The elective officers under the new charter were a mayor, board of aldermen,
one clerk, one treasurer and six assessors. The corporate limits of the city were
defined to include the district of country, in the County of Cook, in the State
of Illinois, with boundaries as follows : The boundary on the north was North
avenue; on the west, Wood street; on the south, Twenty-second street; and on the
east, the lake, excepting the military reservation where the fort stood. The city
was divided into six wards, each of which was empowered to elect two aldermen.

"Under the city charter," says President E. J. James, in his work on the
"Charters of Chicago," "all corporate power was vested in the council consist-
ing of the mayor and aldermen. The mayor was, however, little more than a fig-
urehead. He was presiding officer of the council, but had no veto, and not even a
vote unless there was a tie. Nearly all the officials of the city were appointed by
the council and made subject to its immediate direction. The council not only or-
ganized the various city departments under its ordinances, but it governed the
city through these departments as its own immediate agents."


An election was held on the second of May, 1837, to choose the officers pro-
vided for in the charter. At this election William B. Ogden was chosen the first
mayor of Chicago; Isaac N. Arnold, clerk; and Hiram Pearsons, treasurer. Soon
after, a census of the city was taken, on July 1, 1837, which gave a total of 4.170
souls, as follows: Men, 2,570; women, 1,600. In this total is included seventy-
seven colored people of both sexes. The census also showed that there were three
hundred and ninety-eight dwellings, four warehouses, twenty-nine dry-goods stores,
five hardware stores, three drug stores, nineteen grocery and provision stores, ten
taverns, twenty-six "groceries" (liquor shops), seventeen lawyers' offices, and five


It must be remembered that there were two incorporations, that of the Town
of Chicago in 1833, and that of the City of Chicago in 1837. Briefly rehearsed,
for the benefit of the casual reader, it will be seen from the foregoing pages that
the first plat, that is, "Thompson's Plat," was made and "published" on August
4, 1830. 8 This did not, however, give any legal status to the place, although this

5 Andreas: I, 174.

vV .^




date is regarded as that of the "founding of Chicago." The place still continued
to be a voting precinct of Peoria County, and so remained until the organization
of Cook County on January 15, 1831, when it became the county seat of the new
county, but still without any town or village organization.

The "Town of Chicago" was incorporated August 12th, 1833, a little over three
years after the time when Thompson's Plat was made, under a general act of the
legislature which had been passed on February 12, 1831, enabling communities
of over one hundred and fifty inhabitants to incorporate as towns, the limits of
which were not to exceed one square mile. 7 The area comprised within the limits
of the town at the time it was incorporated was about three-eighths of a square
mile, though in 1835, by special act of the legislature, the area was increased to
about two and two-fifths square miles.

The "City of Chicago" was incorporated March 4th, 1837, under a special
charter passed by the legislature on that date, and entered upon its existence as a
city, with an area of about ten square miles comprised within its limits.


The following chart presents a view of the more important events occurring
between the periods of making the first plat and the incorporation of the City of






Chicago, Precinct of
Peoria County, since
January i3th, 1825.

Plat of Chicago made by
Canal Commissioners
(Thompson's Plat),August
4th, 1830.

Sale of Lots, September 2?th,


Chicago, County Seat
of Cook County, Jan-
uary isth, 1831.

No Change

Cook Country Organized, Jan-
uary i5th, 1831.
Chicago Post Office Established,
March 3ist, 1831.


Continuation as above.

No Change

Black Hawk War Ended, Aug-
ust 3d, 1832.


Town of Chicago In-
corp'orated, August
i2th, 1833.

Area of Town when In-
corporated, |ths of a square
mile. Area enlarged to
Jths of a square mile, Nov.
6th, 1833.

Harbor Works Begun, July ist,
Indian Treaty, September 26th,


Continuation as above.

Area of Town again en-
larged to 2| square miles,
February nth, 1835.

Speculative Mania.
Indian Removal.


Continuation as above.

No Change

Illinois and Michigan Canal
Commenced, July 4th, 1836.


City of Chicago In-
corporated, March 4th,

Limits: North Ave., Wood
St.,Twenty-second St., and
lake (excepting Military
Reservation). Area, a lit-
tle more than ten square

Population, 4170.

"James: "Charters of Chicago," 18.
7 Andreas: I, 174.

Vol. 115



"Wherever there is a considerable gathering of people/' says Greene, "the
simple machinery of town and county government needs to be supplemented by
that of the village or city. These municipal governments, unlike the towns, are
intended largely to serve the special local needs of the community for which they
were organized. When a city becomes large enough to include one or more town-
ships, a large part of the purely local town business is transferred to the city,
and the town becomes more than ever a mere agency of the county government." 8

In outlining the general purposes for which a city government is instituted,
Greene says: "In the first place, the city council is responsible for good order
It therefore organizes the police and makes such other rules as are necessary to
suppress disturbance. It also. provides places of detention for petty offenders. In
the second place, it has charge of the safety and health of the people. Under
this head come provisions for the fire department and health regulations of vari-
ous kinds. In the third place, the council makes provision for the proper care of
streets, and regulates the use of them. ... In the fourth place, the city
regulates various kinds of business within its limits by requiring licenses from
those engaged in them, as in the case of hackmen, peddlers, and liquor dealers.

"The proper management of all this business requires the spending of money.
The council has therefore the right to lay taxes and to borrow money. These fi-
nancial powers are, however, carefully limited and guarded by the constitution
and laws of the state." Further details of the method of organizing a city, and its
powers and duties after organization, may be found in chapter twenty-four of
Kurd's "Revised Statutes."


The old colonial system of surveys was crude and unsatisfactory as compared
with the simplicity and precision of the system now in use. Lands, by the old sys-
tem, were described by the rather cumbrous method of "metes and bounds;" and
much difficulty and confusion between adjoining property owners, in deciding what
were the actual boundaries and location of their lands even after surveys had been
made, often resulted. People accustomed to the straight section lines used in our
western country, look with curiosity at the irregular and apparently unaccountable
shapes of tracts covered by surveys in the east.

The system of surveys, now in use throughout the west generally, was devised
by Thomas Hutchins, the first surveyor-general of the United States, and it has
been called "the simplest of all known modes of survey." This system, known as
the "township system of surveys," was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1796,
which is still in force, and which provides that all public lands shall be divided
into townships six miles square, "as near as may be."


As a starting point in the township system of surveys, some prominent geograph-
ical position is taken, as for instance the mouth of a river; and through this is
drawn a meridian line, running, of course, north and south. This line is known

8 Greene: "Government of Illinois," p. 101.


as the principal meridian, and through this line, at some point selected, another
line is run at right angles to it. This is called the base line, and commencing at
the intersection of these two lines the surveyor measures off distances of six miles
on both. The result is squares of land containing thirty six square miles, or sec-
tions, in each square of land thus laid out; and these squares are called townships.
Of course, by reason of the converging of meridian lines a readjustment must be
made at certain intervals, which an inspection of any township map of the state
will readily show.

In Illinois, the Third Principal Meridian runs true north from the mouth of
the Ohio River, thus nearly bisecting the state. The base line begins at the Third
Principal Meridian near Centralia, Illinois, and is continued eastward through the
state. "All the lands of Illinois north and east of the Illinois River . . . are
surveyed from the Third Principal Meridian. Lands of Illinois west of the Illi-
nois River are surveyed from the Fourth Principal Meridian. The two surveys are
usually planned to meet at some natural division, as the Illinois River, which di-
vides the two surveys between the Fourth and the Third Principal Meridian." 9

In numbering the sections of a township, the first number is given to the sec-
tion at the northeast corner of the township, proceeding thence along the northern
tier of sections, doubling back on the next tier south, and so on to the last one, that
is, number thirty-six, situated in the southeast corner. Section Number Sixteen
in every township is always reserved by law for the support of public schools,
though in many townships the trustees have sold part or all of the land at low prices,
and thus lost the advantage of the subsequent increase in values.


The first survey and plat of the town of Chicago was made by James Thomp-
son, in 1830. He was employed by the commissioners of the Illinois and Mich-
igan Canal to survey and plat Section 9, Township 39, Range 14 east of the Third
Principal Meridian, that being one of the sections which was granted to the state
by the general government to aid in the construction of the canal. The entire sec-
tion is bounded on the south by Madison street, on the west by Halsted street, on
the north by Chicago avenue, and on the east by State street. Only part of this
section, however, was platted, the map made by Thompson including the land
no farther west than Desplaines street, nor farther north than Kinzie street, the
other boundaries being those of the section as above described. It thus comprised
about three-eighths of a square mile, 10 or two hundred and forty acres, including
the river surface, within that area.

This first plat of Chicago provided for a public levee along the banks of the
river, upon the plan of our western river towns. It was found expedient in later
years, however, to abandon this plan and the ground was eventually sold and built
upon. We may note that at the present time there is an awakening desire that
these river banks shall be restored to the public, and made into broad places which
will "combine business uses with drives and promenades for traffic, and for the
pleasure of the people." This is one of the suggestions contained in the Chicago

9 Gibson: "History of United States," p. 271.

10 Andreas: I, 174.


Commercial Club's "Plan of Chicago." And this result must come to the Chicago
River, says the writer, "when the city comes to give attention to other needs in addi-
tion to those of commerce and manufactures."

Thompson's plat bears the date of August 4, 1830, which may be taken as the
date of the founding of Chicago, though it was not regularly incorporated into a
village or town until three years later. It will be observed that no land east of
State street was included in the first plat, as the government reservation, on which
was situated Fort Dearborn and its surrounding grounds, covered a large portion
of it. Just south of Section 9 was Section 16, known as the School Section. The
School Section was not subdivided until some years later.


It was decided by the Canal Commissioners to sell part of the land, which had
been subdivided, at public auction. The sale occurred September 27, 1830, James
Kinzie being the auctioneer. All the regularly shaped blocks on that part of the
tract which was on the South Side were divided into eight lots in each block. Block
Number One, bounded by North State street, Kinzie street, Dearborn avenue, and
North Water street (using the names by which they are known at the present
time), was sold to Alexander Wolcott, who was at that time the United States
Indian Agent, for six hundred and eighty-five dollars; and also eighty acres of
the tract just north of it to the same purchaser for one dollar and sixty-two and one-
half cents an acre. 1 1

At that time no postoffice had yet been established at Chicago, the County of
Cook had not yet been organized, and the population was less than two hundred
outside of the garrison at the fort. An estimate of the population may be formed
from the poll lists at an election held a short time previously to this sale. For
July 24th a special election had been ordered by the commissioners of Peoria
county, within which the "Chicago precinct" was then situated, for the purpose
of electing a justice of the peace and a constable. The election was held at the
house of James Kinzie, a son of the first settler, John Kinzie, who died in 1828.
There were fifty-six votes cast, the names of the voters appearing in the records
of Peoria countv. These names were printed in the Fergus Historical Series,
and in the list appear many of the well known names of that early period, such as
James Kinzie, the Beaubiens, Wolcott, Laframboise, Galloway, Clybourn, Ouil-
mette, Scott, Bailey, Hunter, McKee, Heacock, and others. (Fergus No. 7, p. 54.)

The following list of sales is only a partial one, having been gathered from the
lists printed by Bross and Andreas in their histories of Chicago; but the list serves
to give a fair idea of values at the first sale of lots in Chicago. It will be seen
that the partial list of sales given below is for fifty-nine lots only out of one hun-
dred and twenty-seven which were sold by the Canal Commissioners.

The partial List of Sales of Lots in the "Original Town," included within
Section 9, Township 39, Range 14, East of the Third Principal Meridian, on
September 30, 1830, was as follows:

11 Andreas: I, 115.


TO 43; 52 TO 58; COMPRISING 197 LOTS

Block No. 16, Lot 1 Purchaser, Charles Dunn; boundaries of block, S. Water,
Dearborn, Lake, State ; price, $75.

Block No. 16, Lot 4 Purchaser, O. Newberry; boundaries of block, S. Water,
Dearborn, Lake, State; price, $78.

Block No. 17, Lots 1 and 2 Purchaser, J. B. Beaubien; boundaries of block,
S. Water, Clark, Lake, Dearborn; price per lot, $50; total, $100.

Block No. 17, Lot 4 Purchaser, O. Newberry; boundaries of block, S. Water,
Clark, Lake, Dearborn; price, $100.

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 32 of 59)