THE BIOGRAPHY OF CHICAGO’S MARINA CITY
Written by Steven Dahlman

Currier and Ives

A brief history of...

300 North State Street

Bordered by North State Street, West Kinzie Street, North Dearborn Street, and the Chicago River, Marina City is located on the site of the original Block 1 of the Chicago township, designated before Chicago became a city in 1837.

(Left) Approximate location of Marina City today (center frame) in 1892 Currier and Ives lithograph of Chicago. The bridge in the lower left corner is a swing bridge at Rush Street. It was replaced in 1920 by the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Above that, at where the river starts to turn is the present location of the State Street Bridge.

Map by Henry C. Brown

(Above) 1892 map drawn by Henry C. Brown showing “The Canal Lots” near the Chicago River. Marina City will be located in the extreme upper-right corner. (Below) Map superimposed with satellite image (circa 2006) from Google Earth.

Illustration by Steven Dahlman

The United States government granted the land to Illinois in the 1820s as part of “canal lots” on a ten mile wide strip of land along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The canal ran 96 miles from the Chicago River to LaSalle, Illinois, on the Illinois River. Completed in 1848, it established Chicago as a transportation hub by allowing boats passage from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. With the popularity of railroads, canal traffic slowed in the 1890s and eventually shifted to recreational use.

To raise money to help build the canal, lots were auctioned and many of the buyers were early settlers. Shortly before he died, Dr. Alexander Wolcott, Jr. (1790-1830) purchased Block 1 from the Board Canal on September 27, 1830. He paid $685 in cash.

1830 receipt for Block 1

(Left) Dr. Wolcott’s receipt for his purchase of Chicago’s Block 1 in 1830. It is signed by Board Canal Commissioners Edmund Roberts, Dr. Gershom Jayne, and Charles Dunn.

It is hereby certified that in pursuance of Law, Alexander Wolcott, has this day purchased at public Sale, Lots number One, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight, in block number One on the plan of the Town of Chicago, for Six Hundred and eighty-five Dollars, for which he has made payment in full.

Wolcott was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and graduated from Yale in 1809. He moved to Chicago in 1820 as the U.S. Government’s Indian Agent.

His predecessor, Judge Jowett, had started work on an agency house, a simple log cabin on the north side of the river near what is now North State Street. Wolcott finished the cabin and it became the first building erected on the property. It would soon earn the nickname “Cobweb Castle” due to Wolcott’s poor housekeeping.

In the early 1820s, Wolcott presided at a gathering around the cabin of 3,000 Indians.

Wolcott was the first physician to reside in Chicago. North State Street was previously known as Wolcott Street.

When he died in October 1830, his will was the first will probated in Cook County. The property went to his wife, Eleanor Marion Kinzie (1804-1860), who was the daughter of pioneer merchant John Kinzie. Eleanor was the first person born in Chicago who was not a native American. Kinzie had the only other cabin north of the Chicago River, just east of what is now Michigan Avenue.

The Wolcotts married in 1823 – it was the second marriage performed in Chicago – and lived at nearby Fort Dearborn from 1823 to 1828 but then returned to the cabin. Better known as Ellen or Nell, Eleanor Wolcott moved to Fort Howard in Wisconsin in 1831. She remarried in 1836.

Thomas Dyer

The next owner was Thomas Dyer (1805-1862), who was mayor of Chicago, 1856-1857, and the first president of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Dyer sold the land to John S. Wright (1815-1874), a Chicago merchant. publisher, and real estate investor whose fortune was wiped out twice before he formed a land company designed to interest eastern capitalists in the midwest. In 1835 at his expense, he built the first public school in Chicago. Shortly after the Chicago fire of 1871, Wright was committed to an asylum.

Wright paid for the property in four installments over three years.

The next owner was Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, which in 1848 connected Chicago with lead mines at Galena. In 1850, the railroad was completed as far as Elgin. During this time, the population of Chicago tripled over six years and Chicago became the largest railroad center in the world.

Dearborn Street circa 1909-1915

(Left) A view looking north on Dearborn Street, just north of the bridge over the Chicago River. (Click on image to view larger version.)

This photograph was taken sometime between 1909 and 1915, based on the sign in the distance at right for Italian-Swiss Colony, a winery that was located at 25-27 West Kinzie Street during those years.

The area in the foreground is over railroad tracks. It is just north of the Steele Wedeles Company building or what is now the location of the Westin Chicago River North hotel.

Toward the top of the dark building at left is the word “PAPER.” A man at left appears to be sweeping the brick surface near the trolley tracks. In the distance past the right side of the street is the Chicago Varnish Company Building. The sign on top of the building reads “Hunter Walton & Co.,” a manufacturer of dairy products that is still in business – although today, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse occupies the building.

In the rail yard at right that is now Marina City is a small structure and on top of it is a sign that reads...

STATE & FREIGHT STATION
GALENA
IOWA DIVISION & ELKHORN LINE
CHICAGO & NORTHWESTERN RY [Railway]
CHICAGO UNION PACIFIC
NORTHWESTERN LINE

Galena & Chicago Union Railroad merged with several other rail lines to form Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. C&NW was a major midwestern railway system until 1995, when it was acquired by Union Pacific.

1950s aerial photo of rail yard

(Above) An aerial photo from 1950 for the Metropolitan Planning Council showing the rail yard over which Marina City will be built. (Below) Detail from the photo.

Detail from aerial photo of rail yard

1951 map of 300 block of North State Street

(Left) 1951 map showing Dearborn Street (left) and State Street (right) just north of the river as concrete and steel viaducts 16 feet over the Chicago & Northwestern Railway State Street Yard. The yard is on Carroll Avenue, although North Water Street is also referenced. Equipment for a CTA subway is located below State Street just north of the bridge.

The building along Kinzie Street in the upper left corner is divided into six units, including a parking garage with a 30,000 gallon water tank on the roof (see detail below). The building at Kinzie and State in the upper right corner contains eight units.

1951 map of buildings along West Kinzie Street

When it was sold to Marina City developers in December 1959, the property was a vacant lot except for a 34-foot wide strip of railroad tracks that ran through the north half of the site and extended west to Merchandise Mart.

Below the site was part of Chicago’s extensive tunnel system. When caissons were being drilled for Marina City, they went through some of the long-abandoned tunnels.

Wacker Drive circa 1959

(Above) Chicago River near North Wabash Avenue, circa 1959. Wacker Drive at left. Chicago Sun-Times Building at right. Marina City will be built in the mostly empty space seen to the left of the Chicago Sun-Times Building.

(Below) Today, the abandoned railroad tracks (barely visible in the ground at lower right) extend east and west directly below the private driveway. The grating at right is the driveway entrance from State Street.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Last updated 10-Jun-13