Illinois Staats-Zeitung -- January 15, 1872The Fire Boundaries
Saturday evening a meeting took place in Alderman Carney's corner store on Illinois and Market Streets...No paper except the Illinois Staats-Zeitung had announced the meeting. The Irish especially, complained bitterly that the Times sacrifices so completely the interests of its readers and party members and simply ignores a citizen's meeting on the North Side.
Some hot heads even swore they would lynch the first policeman who should dare to arrest a father of a family who builds a wooden hut on his plot.
"In our district no houses burn down," some said, "because each of us lives in his own house and looks out. In other sections fires used to break out when business was bad."
At eight o'Clock Alderman Carney introduced Mr. Hesing, who said:2
"This meeting has been called by Mr. Carney in a desire to receive instructions from his constituents as to how he shall vote next Monday night in the city council on the ordinance which would make the fire boundaries coincide with the city confines.
I, myself have badly suffered through the Chicago fire....In the course of a month I will have ready three houses in Erie Street. Accidentally I still had the necessary means after the great disaster; they are wooden houses on high pales - 'tinder boxes' in the expression of the English papers. Before the fire I was a shareholder of three fire insurance companies that no longer exist - as is hardly surprising. Three weeks ago I insured my three houses and paid a premium of two percent. My newspaper office and printing shop are in brick buildings on West Randolph Street; they cost me four per cent fire insurance. This goes to show that the best insurance companies will hardly leave Chicago if wooden houses are built on the North Side.3
This is no joke to forbid the sixty thousand inhabitants of the North Side to build such houses as those were in which they lived and were satisfied these last twenty-five years. West of North Wells Street real estate is so cheap that it hardly pays to construct valuable brick buildings, and the owners can hardly get more in mortgages than a simple wooden house costs. If they are forbidden to build wooden shacks they will be forced to throw their property away at fifty percent or seventy-five percent less than it was worth before the fire. They will have to move, and the streets, with their sewage system, gas and water pipes, for which they helped to pay, will profit only greedy speculators....
Mayor Medill read his message to me, before it was communicated to the City Council. I said to him, - "Mr. Medill you are much too one-sided in this matter. You must permit the people to build their huts on their plots to their best ability, otherwise the tenement house system will rise, the curse of New York and of the European capitals".... 4I maintain that the wooden houses are not at all responsible for the fire, but the witless system in our fire department.
....All the talk about fire boundaries and tinder boxes is empty noise, in order to divert the attention of the people from the true cause of the burning of the North Side. If the Buildings Council had provided our water-works with a fireproof, the waterworks would not have burnt down and we would have had sufficient water to keep the fire from reaching the North side. Why did Fire Marshall Williams not come to the North Side to tear down a few blocks, as people did on the South side, with the result of completely preventing the spread of the fire even without water?..
...The stone and brick buildings of the South Side had collapsed before the intense heat had crossed the river and started to consume the houses of the North Side. The supposedly fire-proof stores of the South Side fed the fire as with tinder...
The English newspapers assert freely that sufficient living quarters to house 5the people will be built. But we don't want to live on rent, but on our own plots, each according to his own means and taste. Capitalists have not made Chicago what it is. No, innumerable workers of every conceivable type have made certain men rich by their work. A certain restriction regarding the height of the wooden houses may be instituted, but never shall they rob us of our homesteads by the total prohibition of wooden houses...
I regret that the English papers ignore this meeting. You should have invited the English press. I am not afraid of personal attacks. We will fight it out, if it takes all summer... I have a few resolutions that I will read, if nobody else has prepared any:
Whereas it always was the pride and fame of Chicago, that a larger part of its working population was composed of independent home owners than in any other city of equal size:
We deeply regret the blindness of those....Even the shabbiest brick 6houses, if they are to stand as high above the level of the street as the wooden houses built on pales, would cost three times as much..... in thousands of cases the owners would be forced to give up the idea of building. The value of real estate in all sections of our city where our working population lives, would be depressed...The effect of the great fire would then only have been to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
So far as security is to be considered, the ordinance proposed in the City Council is a swindle and a trap. It permits wooden bay window construction up to the third floor, wooden shacks, and, worse than anything, wooden roof cornices, and does not forbid wooden sidewalks....
In view of the fact that the so-called fire-proof buildings on the South Side are a pile of rubbish, while the wooden house of Mahlon D. Ogden stands unharmed close to the blackened ruins of two costly stone buildings, it must appear like a mockery of sound common sense when the poor people are to be forced to build the same kind of fire-proof humbug houses as those which were consumed by the thousands inside of a few hours on that tragic October 9th.7
We therefore beseech the City Council most earnestly to refuse the now presented ordinance and to make on the north side of Wells Street the fire boundary....
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