Rare pre-fire map of Chicago published less than 20 years after incorporation as a city.
By: Henry Acheson
Date: 1854 (dated) Chicago, IL
Dimensions: 19.7 x 16.4 inches (50 x 41.65 cm)
This magnificent engraved map of the city of Chicago was published locally in 1854 by Henry Acheson. Along with Edward Mendel and Rufus Blanchard, Acheson was one of the first lithographers in operation in the city, having arrived the year prior. As a result, Acheson’s maps are some of the finest and earliest visual catalogs of Chicago’s spectacular growth during the mid-19th century.
Examining the Map
Nearly every aspect of the map’s contents reflects this period of tremendous expansion. A population table in the lower right is perhaps the most obvious indication, showing that Chicago’s residents grew from ~4,500 in 1840 to over 60,000 in 1853. An annexation added by the state legislature that same year is reflected in the city boundaries – Ridgley Place (south), Lake Michigan (east), Fullarton Avenue (north), and Western Avenue (west). City blocks are individually numbered and reflect development concentrated most densely along the river and lakefront while wash color, applied by hand, delineates the various sections. Accompanying lists of buildings identify numerous churches, public buildings, hotels, and passenger depots throughout the rapidly developing city.
A wealth of contemporary information is transmitted through the various details within the borders. Several railroads are shown in operation – the Galena & Chicago (the city’s first), Illinois Central (IC), and Illinois and Wisconsin, among them. Large parcels of land owned by William Greene are labeled near the mouth of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. An early street pattern (complete with many now obsolete names) would be fundamentally altered after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Union Park, established in 1853, is the only such public space shown in the city.
Further details, added in manuscript ink, indicate that the map’s useful lifespan extended for over a decade after being initially issued. Interestingly, lots along the lakefront have numbers added despite prior publications assuring that the area would be “Forever Open, Clear & Free of Any Building, or Other Obstruction Whatever.” New streets are noted further south, near the scribbled railway connection between the IC and Chicago, St. Charles, & Mississippi Air Line Railroad (completed c. 1856). The Michigan Southern Railroad Depot, constructed in 1866, is also drawn along with an extension of the railway.
Institutional Examples of the Map
Only four copies of the map are noted in OCLC, plus a variant in the collections at Harvard. The manuscript updates on this example, plus its excellent condition, make for a unique piece of early Chicago history.
Condition: Former pocket map with original hand color, professionally restored and flattened. Narrowed margin in the lower right and a few separations along old fold lines have been repaired on the verso. Old manuscript annotations, both pencil and ink, in several areas throughout, most evidently along the lake just above North Street. One small spot of separation beneath 'Illinois' in the title block. Some light discoloration, offsetting, and a few faint spots visible on the right side of the sheet and in the top center, but overall the scarce map remains in good to very good condition.
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