Harbor and Marine [v. I, to 1857]
Table of Contents

Title Page
Harbor and Marine [v. I, to 1857]
Chicago Harbor
Marine Interests
From 1857 until the Fire of 1871
Harbor And Marine [v. III, 1871 to 1885]
Table of Illustrations

Chicago Harbor

Chicago in 1830. From the Lake
Like other works of public utility the improvements and protection of Chicago harbor were accomplished only after many years of experiment and at great expense. The canal and the harbor were twin enterprises. The former would be almost worthless if there were no clear way of exit into Lake Michigan; and without a good harbor to shelter vessels from the storms which raged over the lake, it was early seen that Chicago could never become a port of entry. Previous to the voyages of Joliet and LaSalle, the accretions which had fallen to the lake bottom as they rested upon the ice piled up in the river's mouth, added to the natural formations caused by the lake currents, had formed a large sandbar, and, at times, blocked navigation.(1) LaSalle, from his observations in 1682, fails to see how a shallow cut canal could supply navigable water for the Illinois River during the dry season, or if that should be accomplished, how commerce would be benefited, since even in a rainy reason the surplus water which flowed over the portage from the Desplaines (the "Chicago," he calls it), would not cover the sandbar at the mouth of the channel.(2) It is reasonable to suppose that all the early travelers noticed and commented upon this impediment to navigation, but until Fort Dearborn became one of the most famous of the Government trading-posts no decisive movement was made for the improvement of the river's mouth. In 1805 the agent at the United States Indian Factory, which was established that year, suggested to the Government the necessity of clearing away the obstruction, in a limited way, from the mouth of Chicago River. But his idea of a harbor was just as limited as his dreams of what the location was destined to be. All that was necessary to insure a safe entrance to the river was a narrow ditch, which might permit the easy passage of a Mackinaw boat up to the very door of the trading house; and, this effected, his conception of improvement was fulfilled. In a few years, however, keen observers traveling over the Western country saw the geographical advantages which this muddy point possessed, and realized and prophesied its future importance. The canal enterprise was therefore not only pressed to public notice, but the ideas of the new generation in regard to a harbor expanded prodigiously. In 1816 came Colonel Long, and he had something to say about the canal and the harbor. During the next year Samuel A. Storrow, Judge Advocate, traveled through the West, and like many another enterprising man since then, visited "Chicago" and talked about it. He admired the wonderful portage which separated the waters of the Great Lakes from the waters of the Great River, and said that the canal should be a matter of national concern. The Judge also described the site of Fort Dearborn, and (as all observers were beginning to do with unanimity) bewailed the fact that "it had no advantage of harbor, the river itself being always choaked, and frequently barred." Then, in 1818, William Darby, a New York author, took a trip through the West, and by him there was further expatiating on the wonderful portage and the importance of the canal. The United States commissioners, with their surveyor, Mr. Sullivan, were then running their lines to mark the lands which had been ceded by the Indians in 1816.(3) A map was therefore made of Chicago and vicinity. The main river flowed northeast and east, for about three-fifths of a mile, to a point nine hundred feet west of the parade ground. From that point it commenced to make a complete bend around Fort Dearborn, and entering upon its direct course south, flowed between the great sand-bank on the east and the marsh on the west, entering the lake (when it could), about eight hundred yards south of a line drawn east from the present southwest corner of River Street and Michigan Avenue. Some two hundred and fifty yards from the confluence of the river and the North Branch a small creek entered the main channel from the north, while from the south, at a point north of the present Wabash Avenue, another stream entered the river. Opposite Fort Dearborn a small bayou stretched back from the river to the north-west. The entire length of the main river in 1818 was about one and a half miles. No suggestion was made, however, to improve the harbor. It was reserved for H. R. Schoolcraft, secretary of the Indian commission which visited Chicago in 1821, to first call attention to the matter as a measure of general utility and humanity. It is observed that he expressed some doubt as to whether a harbor could ever be formed, but his plan was definite and bordered upon the prophetic:

"We allude," he says, "to the formation of a harbor on Lake Michigan where vessels may lie in safety while they are discharging the commodities destined for Illinois, or encountering the delays which commerce frequently imposes. It is well known that after passing the Manitou Islands there is no harbor or shelter for vessels in the southern part of Lake Michigan, and that every vessel which passes into that lake after the month of September, runs an imminent hazard of shipwreck. Vessels bound to Chicago come to anchor upon a gravelly bottom in the lake, and, discharging with all possible speed, hasten on their return. The sand which is driven up into the mouth of Chicago Creek will admit boats only to pass over the bar, though the water is deep enough to allow vessels to lie above. Among the expedients which have been proposed for keeping the mouth of the river clear of sand, one of the most ingenious, and perhaps practicable, is that of turning the Konomic (Calumet), by a canal of sixteen miles, into the Chicago, above the fort, and by the increased body and pressure of water, drive out the accumulated sands. It is yet somewhat problematical whether a safe and permanent harbor can be constructed by any effort of human ingenuity, upon the bleak and naked shores of these "lakes, exposed, as they are. to the most furious tempests. And we are inclined to think it would be feasible to construct an artificial island off the mouth of the Chicago Creek, which might be connected by a bridge with the main land, with more permanent benefit to the country at large, if not with less expense, than to keep the Chicago clear of sand. Stone for such a work is abundant near the entrance into Green Bay, and, if built on a scale sufficiently liberal, it would afford convenient sites for all storehouses required."

The Government breakwater, with the sandbars which it has been the means of forming, may be likened to Schoolcraft's bridge connecting the artificial island with the main land, and his storehouses to the huge elevators which now cover those convenient sites. But when Schoolcraft wrote, there was little to be seen but an old stockade fort and John Kinzie's block-house; and although his general idea of protecting the river's mouth seems to have been the correct one, he did not see the necessity of forming an artificial channel, so that the river's course could be made more direct to the lake, and its current thereby strengthened. This idea, however, was left to be clearly brought out by the engineers who made the surveys for the canal route in 1830. In February of that year William Howard, U. S. C. E., proposed a plan for "improving the mouth of Chicago River." His idea was to close the original outlet, and cut a channel through the conformation of sand and gravel which prevented the river from flowing eastwardly, in nearly a direct course, north and south piers were to extend out into the lake, in a direction south of east; the artificial channel being somewhat over one thousand feet north of the natural outlet of the river. The map, and a well-conceived correspondence between residents of the settlement and influential members of Congress, caused general attention to be called to the improvement of the harbor, in connection with the building of the canal. When in August of this year (1830) the town of Chicago was surveyed, provision was made for a public levee on the general plan adopted by Western river villages, and extending along South Water Street. But the system applicable to the light-draught river boats was not applicable to the large lake craft. So the levee plan was abandoned, and the location became a part of the wharfing property, which, in later years, gave the corporation so much trouble. The continued efforts made to improve Chicago's harbor bore fruit in 1833. For the purpose of obtaining an appropriation, a map was sent to Congress, designed to show what a growing town Chicago was. It indicated the course of the river, the platted sections of the town, and the contemplated subdivisions. This map, undoubtedly, assisted in securing the appropriation of $25,000, which was obtained from Congress, March 2, 1833. The works were immediately put in charge of Major George Bender, his assistant superintendent being Henry S. Handy. Samuel Jackson was foreman of construction, and held the position for some time. A. V. Knickerbocker was appointed clerk, and continued so to act for a number of years.(4) Mr. Jackson arrived from Buffalo June 27, 1833, in company with Joseph Chandler and Morgan L. Shapley, and work was at once commenced on the south side of the river, in front of the fort. The first stone was procured about three miles up the South Branch. The ties and timber were cut upon the Calumet, and were rafted down the river into the lake and thence along its shore to the harbor, under the direction of Jones & McGregory, the contractors for the wood work. Major Bender resigned October 31, 1833; but under his direction between four hundred and five hundred feet of the south pier were finished,(5) Lieutenant James Allen took charge of the works in January, 1834, serving until September, 1838. During this season the appropriation of $32,801 was applied chiefly upon the work of extending the north pier; and, as a rule, for several years that structure was kept from two hundred to three hundred feet ahead of the south pier. The most of the stone was taken from the quarry opened up on the South Branch. Subsequently ties and timber were procured in Wisconsin and Michigan, with the exception of a small lot taken from the North Branch in 1834-35. The appropriation of 1835 amounted to $32,800, and under Lieutenant Allen's energetic management the work progressed most favorably.(6) By the close of the season the north, or weather, pier had been extended one thousand two hundred and sixty feet into the lake, where a depth of twelve feet of water was found, and most of the structure had been completed to its full height of seven feet. The pierhead was not constructed, for the reason that a new bar commenced to form in the spring, at a point on the lake shore about half a mile from the pier, and was now running obliquely, in a direction which threatened to form an obstruction across the harbor entrance, a short distance from the end of the work. Already the depth of the water on the line of the pier had been reduced from ten and twelve feet to eight. It was therefore resolved to wait until winter was over, when it could be determined whether it would be necessary to extend the pier across the new sandbar and shut out the threatened formation from the harbor entrance. It is to be remarked, however, that at the end of the north pier constructed in 1834, and for sixty feet beyond, nine feet of sand had been washed away, leaving a clear clay bottom, at a depth of eighteen feet from the surface. Many vessels had already found shelter there while discharging their cargoes. The south pier, in 1835, was extended five hundred feet, making its total length into the lake seven hundred feet. It will be remembered that during the season of 1833 a portion of it had been constructed across the river and bar. The two piers now enclosed a channel of two hundred feet in breadth, containing from three to seven feet of water, and all was ready for the dredging machines. Up to that time the current of the river had made, no great impression upon the sand in the channel. Lieutenant Allen noticed that when the season's work was completed $6,900 of the $32,000 would remain to be applied in 1836, and that $6,000 had been reserved for dredging purposes. Since the opening of navigation until September, two hundred and twelve vessels had arrived and discharged their cargoes at the harbor. Concerning the effects of the "land craze" upon his workmen he said:

"The great and continued emigration to the town and country has kept all kinds of grain and provisions scarce and dear, and often difficult to procure at any price. The very great demand for laborers and mechanics on the buildings and improvements of the town has maintained a very high rate of wages for workmen. The influx of this class of emigrants has been great, too; but the apparent facilities offered them of securing valuable portions of public land by settling on it -- and which were confirmed to settlers and claimants at the recent land sales here -- have encouraged mechanics and laborers on arriving, or soon after, to abandon their appropriate trades or occupations for a bright hope of soon making their fortunes under the pre-emption laws. Some of my best workmen, and who had been on the works since their commencement, have, since the sales at this place, refused to continue at a rate of wages from $1.50 to $2 per day. They have gone to Milwaukee and elsewhere to make locations on public lands. The constant changes of workmen thus made has been embarrassing and expensive to the work."

Captain Allen's map, drawn in October, 1837, indicates that, at this time, the south pier had been finished from a point opposite Fort Dearborn, across the old channel of the river, and so on out into the lake, a total distance of one thousand eight hundred and fifty feet. Some five hundred feet of the lake end with the bulkhead was unfinished or only projected. The shore end of the north pier for seven hundred feet had not been finished, but it had been pushed out into the lake for twelve hundred feet, with four hundred feet of pier and bulkhead projected, in order to shut out the outer sandbar, which now extended beyond the end of this, the weather pier. Of the old sandbar, between the river and the lake, only a small tongue remained, about one hundred and seventy-five by one hundred and twelve feet. Although the eastern bank of the original channel was mostly washed away, its western boundary (the swamp east of the fort) was visible then. In 1838 $30,000 was appropriated, but it became now evident that the improvement was progressing under a wrong plan. The prevailing currents of the lake had been rapidly depositing sediment in the shape of sandbars, which were backing up against the north pier, their general trend being a little more to the north than the old sandbar. Within the outer sandbar, which in 1837 extended beyond the finished portion of the north pier, had been formed two bars. By the continued process of deposit these were lifted further and further into view, and the intervening space filled with sand, until the second bar of 1837 virtually became the shore line of 1838. Since the commencement of improvements in 1833, the shore line had extended seven hundred feet out into the lake along the north pier, and was rapidly pushing farther in that direction. It was only a question of short time before the third sandbar, which had already been formed beyond the pier, would become a new shore line; and it would seem, unless the direction of the work was changed, that the task of protecting the harbor entrance would be an indefinite contest between the governmental purse and the natural forces of wind, wave and current. As the sandbars and the shore line extended out into the lake, the pier, in order to be of any benefit, would have to keep pace with its progress. It was therefore decided to change the direction of the pier 25 more to the north(7) but the appropriation of 1838 having been expended in extending the under-work four hundred and five feet in the new direction and dredging the bar already formed, it was found that this plan was no better than the old. The bar continued to form not only because of the currents of the lake, but the wind blowing from the north across the pier carried the sand from the beach into the harbor itself. Vessels now made the entrance with great difficulty in fair weather, and were entirely excluded from shelter during storms. At the commencement of operations in 1839 it was found that the bar had extended across the entrance to the channel, and four hundred and fifty yards beyond. In the latter part of March, 1839, Lieutenant (now General) A. A. Humphreys, who had succeeded Captain Allen, was relieved, at his own request, by Captain T. J. Cram. Under him Captain J. H. Leavenworth acted as agent in charge of the harbor works, the only thing attempted up to 1842 being to preserve the protections already built. Under him the superstructure of the pier was extended in the new direction, and then further appropriations were cut off. In April the board of engineers decided that all expenditures upon the harbor would be for only such work as might be necessary to protect what had been completed up to that date. A few days later, lake captains were notified of the formation of the bar across the harbor's entrance. Under date of September 1, 1839, when work was entirely suspended, Captain Cram reported as still unfinished several hundred feet on the west end and four hundred and five feet on the east end of the north pier; also two hundred and fifty feet on the west, and three hundred and eighty feet on the east end of the south pier. Repeated but unsuccessful efforts were made by Chicago citizens to obtain appropriations in 1839 and 1840; the apathy of Congress and the evident attempt of that body to ignore the claims of Chicago creating much dissatisfaction, and suggesting the memorial of 1841. This document was signed by Mayor Sherman, the Board of Aldermen and City Clerk Hoyne. It exhibited the commercial importance of Chicago, showing that her average import trade for the past six years had reached $1,500,000, her export trade $348,362. The progress of work upon the harbor was reviewed and the deplorable condition of affairs at that time noticed. Piles and timbers from the upper end of the north pier were being carried away, and the dredging machines and sand scows were going to pieces. Not less than $4,000 would repair the damage already done. The appropriation had run out and a permanent sandbar was rapidly forming. If assistance should not be granted soon, "commerce would be without shelter and human life and property endangered to a lamentable extent." The memorialists not only prayed for "immediate temporary," but for "immediate permanent" relief. Chicago's claims continued to be pressed upon Congress, and the result was that in 1843 an "item" of $25,000 was obtained, to be expended upon the harbor. With this sum a series of repairs and some new work was effected, under the superintendence of Captain George B. McClellan. Another appropriation ($30,000) was obtained in 1844, and during that year and the next the height of the north pier was increased from one to two feet. The appropriation was soon exhausted and Congress was again begged for assistance. Citizens of Chicago poured in upon that body facts and figures, showing her importance as a lake port and the supremacy of the commerce of the Great Lakes in which this city led the way.

Including the appropriation of 1844 over $247,000 had been expended upon the harbor, with what results the reader is informed. Two years followed, during which the engineers made estimates, and the citizens presented memorials. Even Congressman Wentworth's speech in favor of the river and harbor bill, in February, 1846, did not break the monotony of the "No-appropriation" period. President Jackson, the friend of internal improvement, was dead, and President Polk was his antipode. The estimate of 1846 to provide for the completion of the north pier and for necessary repairs was $24,297. It is well known that in August of that year the river and harbor bill received the presidential veto, which included $12,000 to be expended on Chicago harbor and $15,000 for a steam dredge boat to be used on Lake Michigan. The bill had, through the endeavors of Mr. Wentworth, received the powerful support of Daniel Webster, who addressed an able letter to the convention which met in 1847. This statesman had visited Chicago in 1837, had a fair knowledge of the lake region, and was thoroughly able to lay before the Senate his reasons for supporting the appropriation. He pictured a terrific storm on Lake Michigan, the despair of the crew, the wreck of the vessel and remarked: "What but a merciful Providence saved me from such a catastrophe when I passed over Lake Michigan in 1837?" Notwithstanding the able support which the bill received, and the decisive majority which it obtained, President Polk vetoed it and the whole Northwest arose against him. The summary action of the Chief Executive attracted the attention of the people, and, within a year, the great River and Harbor Convention was an accomplished fact.(8) William M. Hall, agent of the Lake Steamboat Association, with headquarters in St. Louis, is the acknowledged father of this gathering, wherein was assembled much of the political and commercial ability of the country, protesting against the narrow views and action of the President of the United States.

At the close of the season of 1846 Mr. Hall gave an editorial dinner in the city of St. Louis, at which the proceedings of the River and Harbor Convention, lately held in Memphis, came up for informal discussion. The conference concluded by Colonel A. B. Chambers, of the Missouri Republican,turning to Mr. Hall, and suggesting that the latter was the man of all others best fitted to move in the matter of calling a river and harbor convention, irrespective of party, to urge upon Congress the necessity of improving the water-ways of the West. Mr. Hall thereupon visited Chicago, where he met R. L. Wilson, Dr. W. B. Egan, S. Lisle Smith, and others, who approved of the plan, and pledged themselves to support the enterprise. Captain E. B. Ward and Oliver Newberry, of Detroit, Millard Fillmore and E.G. Spaulding of Buffalo--in fact most of the influential commercial and broad-minded men of the lake cities, of Springfield, of Boston and of New York, were as a unit in recognizing the grandeur and the beneficial effects of the movement. Finally, at New York, Mr. Hall met William Duane Wilson, Robert Fergus and a few other Western gentlemen, and made arrangements to hold a meeting, in furtherance of his project, at Rathbun's Hotel. The meeting was quite largely attended, and the committee recommended that a convention be held in Chicago, June 17. The time was subsequently changed to July 5. The committees on arrangements appointed were as follows : Chicago, William B. Ogden, S. Lisle Smith, George W. Dole; Milwaukee, Byron Kilbourne, W. D. Wilson; Detroit, Augustus J. Porter; Cleveland, J. W. Allen; Buffalo, James L. Barton; St. Louis, David Chambers. The Chicago committee called a meeting in this city on November 13. It was largely attended, and resulted in the preparation of an address, which so fairly presents the prevailing sentiment and the aims of the July convention that it is given entire :

"The high prices of freight, taken in connection with the loss of life and property upon the Western waters last season, caused several public meetings to be held in various sections of the country, for the purpose of devising the best means of remedying those and other evils of which the great mass of the people interested in commerce were complaining. At all these meetings the propriety of holding a convention at some convenient point was discussed and universally concurred in. In consequence of Chicago having been generally named as the proper point, its citizens called a meeting, named the 5th of July as the appropriate time, and chose the undersigned a committee to draft an address, setting forth the objects of the convention. The movers in this matter have been, from the first, like the undersigned, of entirely different politics, and, so far from there being, even in the remotest degree, any political design in the contemplated convention, one of the chief objects of it is to call together for a common object the men of all parties, and to convince the people everywhere that the improvements desired are not now, never have been, and never should be, connected with 'party politics,' in the ordinary use of that term. Such a connection would, in the minds of all interested, have a very deleterious tendency. It can not be denied that there is a predisposition among all politicians to support the measure of a chief magistrate of their own party, and hence we have seen Western representatives, originally supporting harbor and river improvements, and elected upon express pledges to do so, finally vote to support a veto of bills providing for that purpose, and assigning as a reason therefor that it was their duty to sustain an executive of their own selection, even though it be in express opposition to the wishes and interests of their constituents. Repeated instances of this kind must eventually give this question somewhat of a political cast, which the under signed and all who cooperate with them would seriously regret.

The construction of harbors upon our northern lakes, as well as upon the Atlantic, with the improvement of our great rivers, where commerce is of a national character, necessarily involves no questions of party difference. They are matters that must interest all parties, as they do all classes, alike, and harbor and river bills have been supported by the ablest men of both the great political parties which divide this country. This subject has never entered into any presidential canvass, since each party has always taken it for granted that the candidate of the other was above suspicion upon a matter of such preeminent importance. The first congress that ever assembled under the present constitution, many of whose members helped to frame it, passed a law defraying all expenses which should accrue after the 15th of August, 1789, in the necessary support, maintenance, and repairs of all light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers, erected, placed, or sunk, before the passage of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or ports of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe. General Washington signed this bill, and bills for the continuance of such work were also successively signed by presidents the elder Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. The first lake harbor bill was signed by Mr. Monroe. He never raised the constitutional question, nor do the congressional debates of those days show that any members of either branch of Congress made any distinction between salt and fresh water improvements, or between foreign and domestic commerce. All at that time were acknowledged alike deserving the fostering care of the General Government, as they also were during the administrations of the younger Adams, General Jackson and Mr. Van Buren. Though remarkably scrupulous as to the extent of which the power to construct works of internal improvements should be exercised, General Jackson and Mr. Van Buren signed bills for the improvement of rivers and construction of harbors to the amount of $7,800,000, and the two bills signed by General Jackson in 1836 contained no less than eighty-nine items, and the bill of 1837 no less than fifty-nine. After the General Government has expended upward of seventeen millions of dollars for works of internal improvement, and mostly in the old States, by the consent and support of the very framers of the constitution and their cotemporaries, and by men, too, of all political parties, there can now be but little consideration due the cry that 'it is unconstitutional,' or the plan of a single political party to extend the advantages of such works to the new States, and to such portions of the old States as have thus far been neglected.

"Thus disposing of the constitutional and political question, the friends of harbor and river improvements arrive at the only one which can rightfully be raised, and that is merely the question of necessity. IS IT NECESSARY to protect our domestic as well as our foreign commerce? Shall we protect the lesser and neglect the greater ? For the past thee years, petitions have been presented to Congress in vain: Senators and Representatives in Congress have spoken in vain. The present Secretary of War, in his official reports, has recommended in vain; and the whole topographical corps has estimated in vain; our bills have invariably been vetoed, and we have been unable to secure two-thirds of the popular branch. Confident that there is wanting a knowledge of the necessity of these improvements among the people or their representatives, since all efforts at success have failed, it has been thought that a general convention, and consultation, with personal observation, might do much for us. There is not a State in the confederacy but that touches the lakes, the ocean, or the great rivers of the West. The lakes line almost our entire northern frontier, and separate us from a foreign country; and the rivers, like arteries run through the whole country, constituting an extent of navigation sufficient to reach round the globe.
"These great waters, for whose safe navigation this Convention is called, are soon to be united by the completion of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The commerce of Boston, of Philadelphia, of Baltimore, of New York, of New Orleans, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and, indeed, of the whole country, thence becomes in a great measure connected. It has a common interest, and no injury could, and the greatest advantages might rise from a common consultation. It is a notorious fact that statements, during the pendency of harbor and river bills before Congress, are made on the highest personal authority, which never would be made if the authors had any personal observation of the great inland waters of this country, or could realize the necessity of the millions whose lives and property are jeopardized by them. Delegates in attendance will not only have the advantages of their own observation to take back with them, but they can profit others meeting them here by a consultation as to the best means of redressing existing wrongs. Having done this, they can impart the proper feelings to their neighbors, and thus aid in arousing the people to take this matter into their own hands, and see that their chief interests are no longer neglected. It is confidently hoped that a more intimate acquaintance with the claims of these great waters, formed by men congregated for this special purpose from all parts of the Union, will result in sufficiently convicting and awakening the public mind to secure the constitutional majority, should a harbor bill ever again be vetoed. This Convention is designed to be one of free discussion, and it is hoped that the opponents as well as the friends of lake and river improvements will attend, and more especially since it is generally believed that they have only to see for themselves in order to be convinced that these demands, coming from all our great waters, are founded in justice

"Although the construction of harbors and the improvement of rivers will be the prominent subject before the Convention, yet, whatever matters appertain to the prosperity of the West, and to the development of its resources, will come properly before it, and all plans and suggestions will be freely entertained. The committee invite a general attendance from all sections of the Union, and tender, in behalf of their fellow-citizens, the hospitalities of the city of Chicago to such, as impelled by a common interest, see fit to honor them by their presence on this occasion.


As the date for holding the convention approached, it was obvious that the aim of its originators to avoid making it of any political significance had been realized. Previous to its opening, letters were received from Daniel Webster and Thomas H. Benton, one the leading statesmen of the East, and the other a leading statesman of the West, warmly endorsing the objects of the convention and recognizing its national character.

The first day of the convention was marked by the reception of delegates by Mayor Curtiss. The procession took up the line of march, through the principal streets of the city, to the court-house square. Its order was as follows: Marshal Maxwell; band; Cleveland Light Artillery; Montgomery Guards, under Captain W. B. Snowhook; cavalry under R. K. Swift; Ship-Convention; Engineers' Department, under Stephen F. Gale; Fire Department; band; Committee of Reception; Illinois delegation, six hundred strong; other delegations; societies and orders of Chicago, etc. In the words of the editor of the Evening Journal, July 6, 1847:

"Never was the birthday of our National Independence more befittingly celebrated than on this day--to give freedom and tone to the pulse of commerce--to cheer the mariner on his airy shrouds--to brighten the homes and the hopes of thousands. Is there, can there, be a nobler cause under which freemen can rally in behalf of the State? That vessel with sails all set, and signals flying to the breeze, drawn by eight horses and manned throughout by sailors, bore a banner eloquent of the object of this Convention. It was a sea roughened by storms that lifted the waves to the very heaven in a distance, but hard by was a Harbor where 'the winds and the waves lay together asleep,' and a light-house lifting its star of joy and hope upon the rocky cliffs. Over all was inscribed the significant words, 'What we want.' Ah! that ship 'Convention ' had a speech and an argument that appealed to the eye and reached even to the heart; and we are sure that it will not be the fault of the body of delegates now assembled, if many a gallant craft does not plough these inland seas and nobly breast the storm, in the good hope of a light to guide it, and a safe harbor at last."

The Flood of 1849
When the delegates had taken their places in the pavilion, William B. Ogden, of the Committee of Nine, appointed at New York, September 28, moved that James L. Barton, of Buffalo, be temporary chairman; Colonel A. B. Chambers, of St. Louis, and Hans Crocker, of Milwaukee, secretaries. This motion was carried, rules were adopted for governing the proceedings of the convention, and the committee on permanent officers presented a ticket to the convention, headed by Edward Bates, of Missouri. A motion made to substitute Thomas Corwin, of Ohio, in place of Mr. Bates, was thwarted by Mr. Corwin himself, who peremptorily declined serving, under the circumstances. Mr. Bates, although he had withdrawn from public life many years previously, had been a resident of the West since early manhood and having resided in St. Louis, was especially interested in all matters connected with the improvement and protection of navigation. While acting as the sole congressional representative of Missouri, in the days of the elder Adams, Mr. Bates had felt it his duty to cast the vote of his State for that gentleman. To use a phrase much in vogue among the politicians, Mr. Bates was therefore "retired" from public life, and had since resided in St. Louis, a respected and distinguished member of the Bar. When called to the chair few members of the convention were aware of his eminent fitness to guide the deliberations of so distinguished an assemblage. It is not within the province of this article to go into details with regard to the proceedings of this convention. Suffice it to say, that never before had there been a grander gathering of men, so free from political aims; nor has there been one since where the statesman so predominated over the party politician. The convention was held in an immense tent pitched in the public square. It is estimated that the attendance was fully twenty thousand, of whom one-half were members of the convention. Represented in that assemblage were leading men from Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Rhode Island, Iowa, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Maine, Illinois, New Jersey and New Hampshire. It was a direct and national protest against the attitude of President Polk toward the improvements of the rivers and harbors of the West, and indicated how weakly he was supported. The sensations of the convention, however, were the wonderfully eloquent speech delivered by Hon. Edward Bates, chairman of the meeting, and the short, not to say curt, letter of regret, received from Hon. Lewis Cass, of Michigan. Governor Cass evidently forgot the resources of the times, failing to remember that an internal improvement convention of 1847 was not to be conducted upon the basis of 1837, when the wild fever swept over the State of Michigan as well as Illinois. The session lasted three days, and an ex-cutive [sic] committee, consisting of two members of the convention from each of the eighteen States represented, was appointed to make known to Congress the principles and views of this national gathering. As far as the Chicago harbor is concerned, the convention apparently did not effect it until 1852. In October, 1849, Colonel J. J. Abert made an estimate for necessary improvements up to June 30, 1851; but the matter rested with the estimate and no further appropriation was obtained until 1852. This amounted to $20,000 and was expended in improving the inner harbor. Another estimate was made for the year ending June, 1853, but the subject passed unheeded by Congress and was not reconsidered for the fourteen years intervening between 1852 and 1866. During this period slight improvements continued to be made on the inner harbor, under the act of July 21, 1852. The works of the harbor from 1848 to 1854 were under the superintendence of Lieutenant J. D. Webster, of the Topographical Engineer Corps. Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. Graham was in active charge of the harbor improvements from April, 1854, to 1855, and from December 11, 1856, to April 20, 1864. During his term of service the deepening of the river at the cost of the city was effected. He came two years after the appropriation of 1852 was made, and ceased connection with the work two years before the appropriation of 1866 was granted.(9) The improvements effected during the season of 1854 consisted of the dredging of a ship canal through the bar which obstructed the direct entrance of vessels to the inner harbor of over seven feet draught, repairing harbor machinery, and preparing for the defense of the piers beyond the line of accretion on the North Side. Work was commenced in May, and the channel was completed in July. Before the canal was cut vessels from the north, drawing over nine feet of water, were compelled to run down one-fifth of a mile south of the north pier-head, and then double on a northwardly course to enable them to enter the harbor. Vessels drawing twelve feet of water were compelled to make the double of the bar a half mile south of the north pier head. This oftentimes occasioned serious delays, as the north wind which brought them south opposed an attempt to sail northwest to the entrance of the harbor and. in fact, compelled them to anchor off the bar until the wind changed or a steamboat was hired to tow them into the inner harbor. In October, 1854, the Common Council ordered the excavation of the bank to be begun, under the grant made by Congress for the purpose of widening the river. The city superintendent began the work immediately, but the officer in charge of Fort Dearborn--Colonel Graham being then absent--informed him that further action by Congress, or the War Department, was necessary before any work could be done, and forbade him to proceed. A few weeks' work was accomplished on the excavation, later, but it was not regularly begun until the following year. The line for the excavation at Fort Dearborn, for widening the river, was not located until August 29, 1855. The line, as laid, gave the river an additional width of one hundred and fifty feet, below the Lake House ferry. It gave also a new shore on the south to a portion of the river, and rendered the turns easy for shipping. The whole of River Street was thus secured. In 1856 the improvement of the harbor at Fort Dearborn was accomplished at a cost of $40,000, while the improvements in the vicinity of Blocks No. 6, 7 and 14, original town, cost $43,000. The estimate furnished to Congress of funds required for repairing piers and otherwise improving the harbor, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1857, was $138,516.68.

At the time of the survey of April, 1857, the north pier had been extended about two thousand eight hundred feet into the lake. In the map drawn during that year is shown the tide gauge at the shore end of the pier. Some five hundred feet of the shore end of the south pier remained uncompleted, while over one thousand five hundred feet had been constructed, provision having been made for two openings. The map of April, 1857, also shows the pier of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, commencing four hundred feet from the shore end of the south pier, extending one thousand three hundred feet south, seven hundred feet west, about one hundred and fifty feet southwest and then some one thousand two hundred feet south again. The water basin beyond the pier was in progress of being filled with earth.

By the foregoing it will be seen that the work of improving Chicago harbor was one continued series of experiments. From various surveys made from 1821 to 1857, it is shown that the difficulties were of no slight nature. The following figures indicate the progress of accretion, or the rate of motion of the shore line eastward :(10)

1821-33 380 feet.
1833-37 320 "
1837-39 400 "
1839-45 350 "
1845-57 340 "

Dearborn Street Drawbridge, built in 1834
WHARFING PRIVILEGES.--Closely connected with the subject of the river and harbor improvement of Chicago is the building of docks and the litigation in regard to wharfage property. For many years the land fronting on the river was such an object of controversy between the city and the alleged owners that no uniform dockage improvements were made. In 1833 the town first defined the wharfing privileges so that owners of lots fronting on the river, when the street run down to it, might use all but eighty feet of the thoroughfare for wharfing purposes, on payment of $15 per year. Stipulations were also made for the purchase, by the corporation, of any improvements on lots leased from the town. In 1835 the canal trustees, under an act of the Legislature, caused a strip of land, lying south of the river (one hundred feet to two hundred feet wide) to be laid out into lots and leased for nine hundred and ninety-nine years. The lessees were to pay quite a consideration and an annual rental of one barley corn; and were also bound to build in two years a dock five feet wide, fronting on the river, which was to be kept open as a tow path. The trustees were required to dredge the river, ten feet in front of the docks, within four years from the sale, the lessees to erect good docks, five feet wide and three feet above the water, within two years from the time of the lease. The sale took place November 26, 1835, at the store of Messrs. Jones, King & Co. Soon afterward the trustees resolved that they would not dredge the river in making leases on North Water Street, and therefore they lowered the price of the lots. To aid in paying for leases, secured notes were taken for from three to six months, for the first quarter of the payment, and three years were allowed in which to pay off the balance. The sale was three times postponed, and when it did take place only six lots remained in market. In November, 1836, the time for payment was extended four months, and when the four months had expired the time was extended indefinitely. Under these and other arrangements a large amount of wharfing property changed hands, and, within a decade, most of it was in dispute either between private parties and the city of Chicago, or between the city and the trustees of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The authorities rightly decided that something must be done, and done quickly, to settle the validity of titles, as on account of the bitter disputes, some of the property had been abandoned completely, and the benefits were being derived to a great extent by non-owners. The act approved February 27, 1847, was designed to adjust these titles and settle these disputes. It narrates how those portions of land on South, North, East and West Water streets, in the original town of Chicago, bordering on the river, called wharfing privileges, were a fruitful source of discord, dissatisfaction and illegal violence, and that the owners were not getting the benefits of the property. Power was therefore given the Common Council to vacate these streets, provided that nothing should be done to deprive any one or any corporation (particularly the trustees of the Illinois & Michigan Canal) of any property, without his or their consent. Persons or corporations having claims against the wharf-ing property were to file them in court, and to abide by its decision, unless an appeal should be taken within ninety days from the entering of the final decree. The principal reason why it was necessary that the title should be settled to this property, as soon as possible, was that the city desired to widen the river in several places, and, it is obvious, that, in order to condemn land for that purpose, it was necessary to fix the ownership of the water lots. Power having been granted to the Common Council to vacate the water streets in October, 1847, that body proceeded, by ordinance, to describe the land, in detail, which it was proposed to condemn for the purpose of widening the river and of forming several artificial basins. The lots on South Water Street were to be fifty-five feet; East Water and Market streets were to be united and called Market Street, whose width was to be one hundred and forty feet; and lots between Randolph and Madison streets were to be sold to owners who were required to excavate to within five feet of the channel of the river. To facilitate the construction of a commodious basin, by the canal trustees, on the North Side, and to deepen and widen the channel of the main river, the city assented to the following street alterations : all of North Water Street west of Wolcott; all of Carroll Street east of the North Branch and east of Water Street from North Water to Kinzie to be vacated, the contemplated basin to be commenced at the channel of the North Branch of the Chicago River, opposite the center of Carroll Street, east to the east point of Block 15, south along the channel of the main river, thence west and north along that channel and North Branch to the place of beginning. The line of the lots in Blocks 1 to 7, of the old town, and Lot 2, Block i, of Kinzie's addition, be shifted forty feet south of the present line, and the owners of the lots east of the east line of the contemplated canal basin to excavate the ground in front of the new line to the channel of the river, within five years from January 1, 1848. A new street, to be called North Water, was to be laid out and opened from Wolcott Street west to within one hundred feet of the North Branch. In October, 1848, workmen commenced widening the river to the center of North Water Street.

As to the wharfing privileges of the West Side, in January, 1849, the Common Council ordered the dredging of the west bank of the South Branch, from Madison Street to Randolph, thence to Lake and Fulton. The city was to lay out a new street extending from Madison Street to Fulton, and discontinue that part of West Water Street lying between the east line of the new street and the river. As these improvements were made and the dockage of the city somewhat extended, ordinances were passed imposing fines upon any one who should occupy or obstruct this property without authority from the Common Council. Although these energetic measures had the effect of inducing the improvement of water property, up to 1857 there was only about six miles of dockage built along the Chicago River and its branches, including the improvements in the artificial basins.


1. Pierre Margry, in Magazine of American History.

2. Ibid.

3. The map of 1813 was presented in the case of George C. Bates vs. Illinois Central Railroad Company, before the United States Circuit Court, Northern District of Illinois, in October, 1859.

4. Morgan L. Shapley's letter to John Wentworth, May 19, 1879.

5. Subsequently he was commissioned Captain of the First Dragoons, and died at Fort Leavenworth August 23, 1846.

6. See report of Lieutenant Allen to Brigadier-General C. Gratiot, chief engineer, dated September 30, 1835.

7. Memorial to Congress of 1841.

8. For full, reliable and interesting account of River and Harbor Convention of 1847, see Fergus's Historical Series.

9. Colonel J. D. Graham's Report to the chief engineer, December 31, 1855.

10. See topographical description of the locality, and the shore-line map in preceding portion of this work.



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A selection of marine information and illustrations from this magnificent three volume history of Chicago.