This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for August 4, 2017: It was a quiet way

August 4, 2017: on this day: plans for the city of Chicago laid out

The plans for the city of Chicago were laid out on this date in 1830.

The area’s original settlers were the Algonquian people. They dubbed it “Shikaakwa,” which means “stinky onion.” The first outsider to build a permanent home in the area was a black man named Jean Baptiste Point de Sable; he built a log cabin at the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1780s. The U.S. military built Fort Dearborn in 1804, at what would eventually be the intersection of North Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. In 1829, the Illinois legislature appointed a commission to make plans for a canal to connect the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers, and lay out some surrounding streets. The commission hired surveyor James Thompson to draw up the first map. It covered three-eighths of a square mile, bounded by Madison, State, Kinsey, and Halsted Streets; at that time, the city had a population of fewer than 100 people. The filing of the plans marked the first official recognition of the municipality of Chicago. It was incorporated as a city on March 4, 1837.

Given Chicago’s location on the Great Lakes, sharp-eyed East Coast entrepreneurs saw the potential to make it a transportation hub. They bought up the best properties. Four years later, the first commercial schooner entered the harbor from New York. The fertile farmland was also highly desirable to Eastern speculators, and the city grew up very quickly. The agriculture boom led to the construction of roads to transport crops, grain elevators to store them, and docks from which to ship them to New York via the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal. In 1848, the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened up a waterway from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The first rail line was completed that same year. When the transportation infrastructure was in place, the city became home to major mail-order retailers like Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck and Company. It also housed huge feedlots and slaughterhouses, which supplied salted meat to diners all over the East. The population of Chicago exploded, and soon it rivaled New York. When the two cities began a race to build the tallest building, a derisive New Yorker article dubbed Chicago “the second city.”