City Within A City

By Steven Dahlman

Currier and Ives lithograph (1892).

A brief history of
300 North State Street

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

The land on which Marina City was built was granted to Illinois by the United States government in the 1820s as part of “canal lots” along a ten-mile-wide strip of 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.

Alexander Wolcott To raise money to help build the canal, the lots were auctioned and many of the buyers were early settlers. The first owner of the future Marina City was Dr. Alexander Wolcott, Jr. He paid $685 in cash on September 27, 1830, and died 28 days later.

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.

(Right) 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.

1830 receipt for Block 1

(Left) 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. (Click on image to view larger version.)

His predecessor, Judge Jowett, had started work on an agency house, a simple log cabin on the north side of the Chicago 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.

On August 21, 1821, 3,000 Native Americans gathered around the cabin for the signing of a treaty giving the U. S. ownership of five million acres in southwestern Michigan – and the right to build a road between Chicago and Detroit. In return, the Native Americans were paid $6,000 per year, which they collected at the agency house.

In 1823, he married 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. John Kinzie had the only other cabin north of the Chicago River, just east of what is now Michigan Avenue.

It was the second marriage performed in Chicago. They lived at nearby Fort Dearborn, what today would be a few blocks away, from 1823 to 1828 but then returned to the cabin.

Wolcott was the first physician to live in Chicago. When he died on October 25, 1830, his will was the first will probated in Cook County. Eleanor Wolcott moved to Fort Howard in Wisconsin in 1831 and remarried in 1836.

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.

Thomas Dyer

John Wright Dyer sold the land to John S. Wright (1815-1874), a Chicago merchant and real estate investor whose fortune was wiped out twice before he formed a land company designed to interest eastern capitalists in the Midwest.

He was also editor and publisher of Prairie Farmer, the nation’s oldest farm publication. 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 Block 1 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. The population of Chicago tripled over six years around this time and the city became the largest railroad center in the world.

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 Union Pacific acquired it.

(Above) A view looking north on Dearborn Street, just north of the bridge over the Chicago River, photographed sometime between 1909 and 1915. 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...


This 1913 photo by W. J. Honston shows the Chicago Green Fruit Auction Company at far right where Marina City is now located. It was in a two-story brick building at the far south side of the rail yard. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

The Chicago Green Fruit Auction Company was located in a building owned by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. Being close to the railroad allowed the company to receive fresher fruit.

A 1910 California newspaper article about that year’s fruit crop speculated that the company, “which last year handled all the deciduous [seasonal] accounts in that market,” may consolidate with a new auction, the Merchants Fruit Exchange. According to The Lodi Sentinel on March 29, 1910, “The Chicago Green Fruit Auction Company will still handle, it is understood, the business of the Stewart Fruit Company and the California Fruit Exchange for the coming season.”

However, as late as April 1, 1916, according to California Fruit News, no merger involving the Chicago company had taken place.

View of Chicago River from LaSalle-Wacker Building. Photo by Charles W. Cushman (December 21, 1944). 1951 map of 300 block of North State Street.
(Above) Charles W. Cushman captured this view of the Chicago River from LaSalle-Wacker Building on December 21, 1944. The bridge at the bottom of the photo is the Dearborn Street Bridge, with the State Street Bridge to the east. Marina City was constructed over the rail yard seen at left. Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower are in the distance at upper left. Image provided by Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection. 1951 map showing Dearborn Street (left) and State Street (right) 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.

Last updated 8-Jun-14