Great Fire of 1871 - A DEVASTATED CITY

A DEVASTATED CITY (Illustration) American History Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Famous Historical Events Social Studies STEM Nineteenth Century Life Disasters

The Great Fire of 1871 consumed Chicago’s business district, including its courthouse.  This photograph, by Jex Bardwell, depicts some of the devastation and the courthouse ruins. Online via Chicago History Museum.


The famous Palmer House was instantly ruined. James Goodsell describes the hotel (at page 10 of his book) as it succumbed to the relentless fire:

The Palmer House was the tallest building in the city, eight stories high, three of which were in its mansard roof, and the scene of its demolition, which was more rapid than the account can be transmitted to paper, was inexpressibly grand. The march of the devouring element from this point to the lake was uninterrupted, the intervening buildings, including many of the finest private residences in the city, melting away like the dry stubble of the prairie.

Although the entire city was not destroyed, the business district was annihilated:

The entire business portion of the city was obliterated. Two-thirds of the territorial area of the city was unscathed, but Chicago, as a great business mart, the proud commercial centre of the growing west, was no more. Was ever devastation more complete!  (Goodsell, page 11.)

"All the fire engines being at work on the south side," resulted in unchecked damage once the fire moved north of the river. The north side "perhaps suffered more than both of the other divisions united."  (Goodsell, page 12.)

Churches were not spared from devastation. Some, like St. James Episcopal, were partially ruined and partially standing.

The same was true of the Water Works. The famous Water Tower, an important landmark in Chicago today, was spared while the rest of the complex was consumed:

The whole building was soon in flames, and in a few minutes the engineers had to rush out of the building to save their lives. The machinery was very considerably injured. The water tower, however, to the west of the pumping works, was almost entirely uninjured.   (Goodsell, page 15.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 29, 2019

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"A DEVASTATED CITY" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2002. Feb 24, 2020.
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