Chicago, IL

What We Know About The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871

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Overview: The Great Chicago Fire was a blaze that occurred on October 8–10, 1871, in the American city of Chicago. Approximately 300 individuals were killed in the fire, which destroyed 3.3 square miles (9 km2) of the city, destroying over 17,000 structures and displacing over 100,000 people.

Origin: The fire is said to have originated around 8:30 p.m. on October 8 in or around a small barn owned by the O'Leary family and located behind 137 DeKoven Street.

Disputes: Over the years, there has been much debate about a single cause of the fire. Mrs. O'Leary's cow, according to legend, knocked over a lantern, while some claim a group of men were gambling inside the barn and knocked over a lantern.

Aftermath: The smouldering ashes were still too hot for a survey of the damage to be conducted for several days after the fire was put out. The city eventually concluded that the fire devastated an area of more than 2,000 acres, measuring around 4 miles long and averaging 34 miles wide. More than 73 miles of roadways, 120 miles of walkway, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and $222 million in property were destroyed, accounting for roughly a third of the city's value in 1871.

Response: On October 11, 1871, General Philip H. Sheridan was swiftly dispatched to the city's rescue and given command. To safeguard the city from looting and bloodshed, the city was placed under martial rule for two weeks, with a combination of regular troops, militia forces, police, and a specially constituted "First Regiment of Chicago Volunteers" under Gen. Sheridan's command structure.

Loss: In 1871, 90,000 Chicago citizens (1 in every 3 people) were evicted from their homes, out of a population of around 324,000. Although 120 bodies were found, the death toll could have been as high as 300.

Surviving structures:

  • St. Michael's Church, Old Town
  • Chicago Water Tower
  • Chicago Avenue Pumping Station
  • St. Ignatius College Prep.
  • Police Constable Bellinger's cottage at 21 Lincoln Place (2121 North Hudson, today).
  • 2323 and 2339 North Cleveland Avenue also survived the blaze.

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