Chicago, IL The Great Fire, the Damage - part two

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The following estimate of losses of city property under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Works is given by Commissioner Redmond Prindiville, who has devoted considerable attention to the subject. This estimate does not include the school-houses, engine-houses and apparatus, police stations, sidewalks, &c. The item of sidewalks only referring to those in front of city property, together with all street and alley crossings, which are constructed by the Board of Public Works. The item of the City Hall embraces only the west half of the Court-house, the remainder being owned by the county. The list is as follows:

City Hall, including furniture
Water Works engines
Water Works buildings and tools
Rush street bridge
State street bridge
Clark street bridge
Wells street bridge
Chicago avenue Bridge
Adams street bridge
Van Buren street bridge
Polk street bridge
Washington street tunnel
La Salle street tunnel
Lamp posts
Fire hydrants
Street pavements
Sidewalks and crossings
Water service

Total $1,085,080

The schooner Stampede and the bark Glenbendal, with several other crafts, were burned in the river and in the dry dock, and two steam fire-engines at least, viz., Long John, and A. C. Coventry, were destroyed by the flames on the West-side, being caught among the burning buildings.

The walls of the Custom House, the First National Bank, and the Tribune building, are yet standing, but it is doubtful whether they will be serviceable again. Nearly all the mail matters were secured from the Custom House building. Bank safes were terribly heated, to such an extent, in fact, that in several instances gold was melted into a solid mass, and notes reduced to ashes. Several packages of postage stamps, worth about $100,000, presented a curious appearance upon being taken from one of the safes. The gum-adhesive had become heated and the sheets were soldered together into masses as hard as wooden or composition blocks.


As has been previously mentioned accounts vary as to the destruction of property in Chicago, estimates varying from 150,000, 000 to more than double that amount. But certain it is that over sixty miles of streets, and more than 20,000 buildings have been utterly and completely destroyed. Fifty million feet of lumber have been consumed, together with thousands of tons of coal. The stock of leather was reduced about one quarter, $95,000 worth being burnt.

Cyrus McCormick the manufacturer of the "reaper and mower machines," was perhaps the heaviest individual sufferer by the fire, losing, independently of insurance, no less than three millions. William B. Ogden, who also lost considerable property in the great Wisconsin fires, suffered to the amount of two millions. Potter Palmer was said to have lost the incredible amount of ten millions, and really loses at least a fifth part of that amount. John V. Farwell and John Young Scammon lost respectively $1,500,000 and $1,000,000. Several other eminent millionaires lost similar amounts.

The city of Chicago must have lost at least five millions in public buildings, bridges, destruction to fire-engines, &c., none of which property was insured. The loss by damage to street improvements, sidewalks, pavements, &c., falls upon the owners of building property. This is probably about the heaviest loss of all.

Only about 50,000 people have left the city, leaving it still with a population of over 280,000. The shrewdest business men of the West are all confident that in less than five years the commerce and prosperity of Chicago will be even greater than it had been previous to the fire.

The Methodist Episcopal church lost over $295,000 worth of property, insured for about $80,000. Eight school-houses were destroyed, the loss on which aggregates $290,000. The churches burned on the North-side were the North Presbyterian, Westminster Presbyterian, Grace Methodist, Moody's Mission, St. James Cathedral of the Holy Name, St. Joseph's, with the Orphan Asylum, and Convent of the Immaculate Conception, St. Ausgine's, New England, Unity, Fullerton avenue Presbyterian, and one or two other smaller. On the Southern Division the following were consumed: First and Second Presbyterian, St. Paul, Trinity, Swedenborgian, St. Mary's, Wabash avenue Methodist, and First Methodist Churches.

Thousands of valuables, that cannot be replaced, were of course consumed. The original Emancipation Proclamation of Lincoln, and a statue of that President, being the only one for which he ever sat, have been destroyed. The losses involved by the destruction of the Court-house are irreparable, and among them one of the most important is the destruction of all of Pinkerton's Criminal records, &c.

Allan Pinkerton has long been famous as the, "champion thief-catcher" of the States, and his reputation was the result of years of patient, successful toil, and energy. His detective agency was as famous as the Boston Common, and besides the central office at Chicago, there were branches at New York and Philadelphia. This agency was first started in 1852 at Chicago, and two years later the famous records were commenced. The most minute details of every case were carefully recorded, the statement of the applicant seeking for assistance to recover his lost property, the names of the detectives employed, his orders, and reports of his operations - in a word, every detail of the case, even to the testimony given in court, and the sentence of the prisoner. More than $50,000 had been paid for clerical work alone upon this matter, which filled no less than four hundred huge volumes of great value. The greater portion of these were placed in six of Harris' safes, and some of them in wooden cases. They were all burnt.

Pinkerton had been offered $30,000 by the Goverment [sic] for fifty-nine large volumes containing complete records of the secret service of the Army of the Potomac. They were the only set in existence, and valued by their owner at $50,000. Negotiations for the transfer of these volumes were still going on when the fire broke out and reduced them all to tinder.

The reports of the night police occupied forty great volumes, of enormous value. There were forty-eight patrolmen whose duty it was to report everything that had happened on their respective beats, as well as the state of the weather and other important particulars. They were frequently consulted in court proceedings for the purpose of obtaining information as regards the weather, the condition of the streets, the presence or absence of the moon, and policemen. Only two of these huge volumes were saved. There were, likewise, 105 volumes of files of all the daily and weekly papers since 1854. Pinkerton had printed instructions pasted all around .the walls, ordering the men to remove these valuable articles first of all in case of fire, but before they could be lowered into the wagon the flames compelled the men to flee for their lives. Thus the work of more than twenty years was destroyed in about half an hour.

The Chicago Tribune declared, in an editorial after the fire, that there was no necessity for any able-bodied man to leave Chicago. This is certainly true. There was and is plenty of work for hundreds more at present. Quite a number of merchants intend building up their business edifices shortly, and many are already in course of erection.

The lost city! Drama of the fire fiend, or, Chicago, as it was, and as it is! And its glorious future! : a vivid and truthful picture of all of interest connected with the destruction of Chicago and the terrible fires of the great North-west : startling, thrilling incidents, frightful scenes, hair-breadth escapes, individual heroism, self-sacrifices, personal anecdotes, &c., together with a history of Chicago from its origin, statistics of the great fires of the world, &c. by Frank Luzerne, New York: Wells & Co., 1872, Pages 84-113