Chicago University in 1866


Louis Kurz. “Chicago University.” From Chicago Illustrated. Part 6. Chicago: Jevne & Almini, 1866. With literary description by James W. Sheahan. Tinted lithograph by the Chicago Lithographing Company. Ca. 8 1/4 x 12. A few repaired tears and chips in right margin.  Else, very good condition. Text with original text sheet.

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An early view from an important and rare series showing Chicago before the great fire of 1871, a period when the  city was a booming mid-west metropolis.   From the first, Chicago’s existence depended on its position as a transit point between the Great Lakes and the interior of America. Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago grew significantly during the following decades, with the opening of the Illinois and Michigan canal in 1848 and then the arrival of the railroads. Chicago became the center for ten major railroads, with one hundred trains coming and going each day. During the Civil War, Chicago was the nation’s major entrepot for cattle, with the Union Stockyards completed in 1865, though many other goods passed through Chicago on trains and ships.

On the evening of October 8, 1871, this booming, prairie metropolis began to burn and when the fire flamed out the following evening, about 300 Chicagoans were dead, nearly 100,000 were homeless, and Chicago had suffered property loss of around $200 million. Its geographic position and the survival of the transportation network meant that Chicago was soon rebuilt, but much of the pre-fire city was lost forever.

Luckily, just five years before, an enterprising group of men had produced an unparalleled portrait of pre-fire Chicago. Otto Jevne and Peter M. Almini were partners in a Chicago decorating firm specializing in ornamental painting. An 1866 advertisement for the firm listed them as “Fresco & House Painters, And Dealers in Artists’ and Painters’ Materials, Oil Paintings, Steel Engravings, Chromo Lithographs, Etc. Etc.” After the war there was a spirit of civic boosterism in Chicago, and this inspired Jevne and Almini to embark on the publication of an elaborate work to illustrate the scenes and buildings of the city. In 1865, Jevne and Almini joined with three lithographers, Louis Kurz, Otto Knirsch, and Edward Carqueville to form the Chicago Lithographing Co.. Kurz, later to form the famous Kurz & Allison firm, drew and lithographed the prints for the ambitious Jevne and Almini portfolio, entitled Chicago Illustrated. As described in the prospectus, Jevne and Almini proposed “to publish, in Monthly Parts, an illustrated History of Chicago.” The portfolio was to consist of twenty-five parts, each of which was to contain at least four tinted lithographs, accompanied by text description, and when completed it was to be accompanied by a “General View of the City.”

The parts were issued, at $1.50 per fascicle, between January, 1866, and January, 1867, when the project abruptly stopped. The views showed street scenes, transportation sites, and major buildings throughout the city. Only fifty-two images were completed, but they provide a fascinating documentation of pre-fire Chicago. These rare views are among the most desirable nineteenth century images of any American city.

In 1856, Stephen A. Douglas offered ten acres of land on the south side of Chicago to a denomination which would build university for the city. The Presbyterians considered the offer, but declined, but the first Baptist Church of Chicago accepted. The students began to enroll in 1858, though the first building wasn’t completed until February 1859. The main building was constructed in 1863 and for a while the University was successful. The great fire of 1871 and panic of 1873, left the University in debt and it closed at the end of the academic year of 1885-86. Some of the trustees, trying to keep the University alive, approached John D. Rockefeller for support. Rockefeller decided to finance the resurrection, and his funds along with local contributions allowed the new University of Chicago to open in 1892. This image shows the original building, with students on the grounds in front, including a pair on their way to rowing practice.