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Great Chicago Fire

Chciago--fireIf you had ancestors living in the city of Chicago, Illinois in 1871, they were surely affected by the events of Sunday, October 8 through the 10th in that year. That rather hot day for October, was when a fire started on the O’Leary property on DeKoven Street about 9 p.m. There have been many theories as to what started the fire including the O’Leary cow in their barn knock over an oil lamp, but to this day people are unsure.

What is known is the total destruction this massive fire caused. It raged out of control, even with the Chicago fire department making a brave effort to stop the fire. Some 17,500 structures which included homes, shops, businesses, roads, sidewalks and lamp posts were destroyed by the time fire began to burn itself out late on the 9th and then a light rain finished the remaining flames on the 10th. Over 300 deaths were contributed to this Chicago fire of 1871. Also approximately 100,000 residents were now homeless out of a population of 300,000.


Far worst was in neighboring Wisconsin, in the town of Peshtigo a fire started there also on October 8th which resulted in the deaths of 1,500 people. The entire town of Burch Creek and its residents were wiped out. However, the fire in Chicago made more headlines in newspapers across the country because it had happened in a major city and so many buildings destroyed.

If you had ancestors in Chicago at that time, you will want to review the numerous newspapers for accounts of events. The Chicago Tribune had a very detail account in their October 11th issue. In the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 14, 1871 on page 4 they had a list of the missing persons. Then on October 17th was a published list on the front page of those who had been lost and were now located. See the link ‘Illinois Death Index pre-1916‘ to see if you can locate any ancestors.

Most structures were made of wood in the 19th century and it having been a long dry spell in the mid-west in 1871, it is understandable that the fire would become out of control quickly. Chicago had about 2/3 of its structures constructed of wood prior to the fire. When the reconstruction of the city began, far less wooden buildings were done and Chicago expanded even greater.  Chcaigo ruins

Related genealogy blogs:

Chicago – What a Town!

Hometown Newspapers


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