From 1857 until the Fire of 1871
Table of Contents

Title Page
Harbor and Marine [v. I, to 1857]
From 1857 until the Fire of 1871
River, Harbor And Marine
The Custom House
Harbor Improvements
Life-saving Service
United States Marine Hospital
Harbor And Marine [v. III, 1871 to 1885]
Table of Illustrations

Harbor Improvements

Light House
As early as the year 1832, the port of Chicago had become of such importance as to demand Government aid for harbor improvements. The sum total appropriated up to the year 1871 was, however, insignificant, in comparison with the rapid growth and requirements of the commerce of the port. The first Government appropriation was made in 1833, and was expended in opening an outlet, protected by piers, from the Chicago River into the Lake; also the erection of a light-house on shore, and the building of an "angle" connected with the piers. A small light was placed at the extreme end of the North Pier, as then completed. Mr. Schlatter, the engineer in charge of the improvements, spent the winter of 1844-45 in repairing an old dredge-boat, to have it in readiness to dredge out the bar at the mouth of the river in the spring. His calculations were upset by the destruction of four dredge-boats, on which he depended for prosecuting the work; they were cast adrift and wrecked while on their way from Milwaukee, in tow of the steamboat "Champion." The boats were so rotten that their bolts drew out, their timbers parted, and they were speedily wrecked by going ashore near Grosse Point. The following April the engineer had orders to build two more dredge-boats. At this time he reported that the shore line north of the North Pier had made out one hundred feet since the year before, and that where there had been twenty-three feet of water at the head of the pier, silt had collected until there were but seventeen feet. Mr. Schlatter recommended the extension of the North Pier ninety feet, to overcome this difficulty. The "angle" mentioned was not completed until 1839. In January, 1845, the light at the end of the North Pier was the only protection to vessels navigating the Lake at the southern end. It was kept in good order. The light on the mainland had been discontinued for several weeks. All of the timbers for the pier work at this date were cut in the woods on the North Branch of the river, and floated down to the mouth in the spring freshets.

In the month of July 1849, Engineer J. D. Webster, who succeeded Mr. Schlatter, reported to the lieutenant-colonel of engineers plans for a larger and permanent light-house at the end of the North Pier. These plans embraced a foundation forty-four feet square, a base twenty-five feet in height; an iron framework, sixty-five feet in height; for foundations, sunken stone cribs, containing large rubble with small stone and gravel, to make the whole a compact mass; piles to be driven inside and outside of the piers; cut stone or heavy masonry for the base, beginning two or three feet below low water, and carried ten feet above; eight cast-iron columns for the light house frame; superstructure of cast-iron columns twenty feet in length; height sixty-five feet to deck of lantern; weight of iron work 75,000 pounds. This work was undertaken with an original appropriation of $15,000. January 11, 1849, the Illinois Assembly passed an act to deed the lighthouse site to the Government, and the deed was signed November 27, 1849. In April, 1850, Engineer Webster proposed to overcome the difficulty of the constantly accumulating side bars of silt at the ends of the piers, by straightening the mouth of the river, getting a strong and regular current that would carry the deposits out into the Lake, making a single bar some distance out instead of allowing one to form on each side, and leaving the entrance free and clear to the north and south. We quote his own words in this connection:

"I want a natural force to bring about a natural result, and I propose to assist nature rather than attempt to retard the tendency of the currents to form these obstacles to a clear entrance."

To do this, required some dredging, some cutting away of the inner banks of the river, and the curves of the piers were changed slightly; but the improvements were eventually accomplished with beneficial and lasting results to the commerce of the greatest of lake ports.

In July, 1850, claimants to the accretions north of the North Pier put in an appearance, and they even laid claim to the pier itself, and the light-house as well; but Mr. Webster maintained the right of the Government to the land, and protected the interests in his charge. In the spring of 1850, the city made an appropriation for dredging a channel through the north bar, and when this work was carried out, the first pier for the lighthouse foundations, which had been in course of construction, was safely floated to its anchorage at the head of the North Pier, and the light eventually finished but the original plans were amended.

The following table shows the date of the various appropriations for river and harbor improvements, and the net expenditures for the years 1833 to 1871 inclusive:

March 2, 1833 $ 25,000 00 $ 17,360 00
June 28, 1834 32,801 00 31,770 00
March 3, 1835 32,800 00 37,770 91
July 2, 1836 32,000 00 34,500 00
March 3, 1837 40,000 00 41,200 00
July 7, 1838 30,000 00 15,000 00
" 1839 (no appropriation) 15,000 00
" 1842 3,000 00
March 3, 1843 25,000 00
July 11, 1844 30,000 00 21,305 59
" 1845 21,216 00
" 1846 9,478 61
August 30, 1852 20,000 00 2,607 46
" 1855 17,392 44
June 23, 1866 88,704 00 (1867) 40,000 00
" 1868 15,000 85
" 1869 32,000 00
" 1870 1,531 06
July 11, 1870 150,000 00
March 3, 1871 100,000 00 130,172 20
Total $606,305 00 $486,305 12
Surplus balance $119,999 88

THE ENGINEER OFFICERS assigned to duty at Chicago between the years 1857 and 1871 have been:

Colonel J. D. Graham, in charge of improvements of works on Lake Michigan, April 7, 1854, to April 14, 1864; station, Chicago, Ill., to August, 1854; Detroit, Mich., to April 14, 1864. Major W. F. Raynolds, in charge April 14, 1864 to October, 1864; station, Detroit, Mich. Lieutenant-Colonel T. J. Cram, in charge October, 1864, to August 3, 1865; station, Detroit, Mich. Lieutenant-Colonel L. Sitgreaves, in charge August 3, 1865, to June 11, 1866; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Major J. B. Wheeler, in charge June 11, 1866, to February 11, 1870; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Captain A. Mackenzie, assistant to Major Wheeler, June 11, 1866, to November 10, 1868; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Lieutenant J. B. Quinn, assistant to Major Wheeler, September, 1866, to September 20, 1867; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Captain D. P. Heap, assistant to Major Wheeler, April 12, 1867, to February 18, 1870; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Captain J. W. Cuyler, assistant to Major Wheeler, November 10, 1868, to February 18, 1870; assistant to Colonel Houston, May 18, 1870, to February 5, 1874; station, Milwaukee, Wis. Major W. E. Merrill) chief engineer on the staff of the Lieutenant-General commanding the Military Division of the Missouri, March 27, 1869, to May 3, 1870; in charge of improvements of harbor at Chicago, February 18, 1870, to May 25, 1870; station, Chicago, Ill. Major D. C. Houston, May 25, 1870, to July 14, 1874; station, Milwaukee, Wis., to April 1, 1871; Chicago, April 1, 1871, to April, 1875. Captain A. M. Miller, assistant to officers in charge of harbor improvement on Lake Michigan, April 1, 1871, to August 12, 1872; station, Milwaukee. Major J. W. Barlow, chief engineer on the staff of the Lieutenant-General of the Military Division of the Missouri, May 3, 1870, to July 14, 1874; station, Chicago, Ill.

LIGHT-HOUSE KEEPERS.--The keeper of the first Chicago Light-House was Samuel C. Lasby, who was followed by William M. Stevens and John C. Gibson, respectively. William M. Stevens then again held the post a second term. Silas Meacham was appointed ' Light-house keeper by President Harrison in 1844, James Long by President Polk, 1845 to 1849. The official list of Light-house keepers appointed subsequently, with their respective term of service, is as follows: Charles Douglas, appointed by President Taylor, in 1850, was retained July 25, 1853. Henry Fuller, appointed October 30, 1853; full term. Mark Beaubien, July 29, 1855; removed in 1859. M. Walsh, October 8, 1859. John Lobstein, May 21, 1860; full term. Leonard Miller, December 6, 1866; removed in 1869. Charles H. Boynton, September 28, 1869; transferred, in 1874, to Grosse Point light. Charles H. Rann, April 9, 1874; resigned in 1875. Antony Hagen, June 23, 1875; full term. During the terms of the above keepers, the first assistant keepers were Joel Westhrach, Mrs. Emily Boynton, Amasa J. Boynton, Oscar B. Gaedme, Amasa J. Boynton, Adilon Benoit, Charles F. Rann, promoted, and Antony Hagen, promoted.

JACOB HARRIS, one of the pioneer contractors and builders of Chicago, was born in the town of Seymour, Ontario, in 1814. His youthful days were spent in working on the farm in the summer and attending school in the winter. At the age of seventeen, he commenced an apprenticeship at the carpenter trade, serving three years' time, during which period he perfected himself in all the details of the business. In the spring of 1837, he made his way to Detroit, Mich., from which place he took a boat for Chicago, the passage occupying three weeks. His first employment in the city was upon the government pier. The following year he engaged in contracting and building for himself, which business he followed successfully for about thirty years. He erected a great many of our prominent buildings, prior to and after the fire--in fact, was closely identified with the growth of Chicago from the date of her incorporation as a village, in 1837, until the time of his death, in 1877. He held the office of alderman from the Fourth Ward under John Wentworth's administration. He was a member of Waubansia Lodge, No. 160 A. F. & A. M. His life was a busy and successful one, he having been one of the pioneer settlers who laid the foundation of this city of over half a million people.


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