The Great Chicago Fire, as the story unfolded (1871)

Lasting from Sunday, October 8, to the morning of Tuesday, October 10, 1871, The Great Chicago Fire killed an estimated 200 to 300 people, while destroying more than three square miles of the city — including 73 miles of roads, 120 miles of sidewalks and 17,500 buildings — and left 100,000 people (a third of the city’s population) homeless.

Chicago in Ashes


Hundreds of Millions of Dollars’ Worth of Property destroyed The South, the North and a Portion of the West Division of the City in Ruins.

Great fire at Chicago Oct. 9th 1871. View from the west side


Great Chicago Fire headlines - Dixon Telegraph And Herald October 10, 1871All the Hotels, Banks, Public Buildings Newspaper Offices and Great Business Blocks Swept Away.

The Conflagration still in Progress.


[Update] Rumors are to the effect that 35 lives were lost in the Sherman House, 21 in the Briggs House, and 15 clerks lost in the Post Office building, as well as many employees of the Express companies while endeavoring to save goods.

Chicago is burning! Up to this hour of writing (1 o’clock p.m.) the best part of the city is already in ashes! An area of between six and seven miles in length and nearly a mile in width embracing the great business part of the city, has been burned over and now lies in a mass of smoldering ruins!

All the principal hotels, all the public buildings, all the banks, all the newspaper offices, all the places of amusement, nearly all the great business edifices, nearly all the railroad depots, the waterworks, the gas works, several churches and a thousand of private residences and stores have been consumed. The proud, noble, magnificent Chicago of yesterday, is today a mere shadow of what it was, and helpless before the still sweeping flames, the fear is that the entire city will be consumed before we shall see the end.

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The entire South Division, from Harrison street north to the river, almost the entire North division, from the river to Lincoln Park, and several blocks in the West Division are burned.

The Mayor has issued a proclamation that all the fires in stoves in the city shall be extinguished.

It is utterly impossible to estimate the losses. They must, in the aggregate, amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Amid the confusion and general bewilderment, we can only give a few details.

The fire broke out on the corner corner of DeKoven and Twelfth Streets, at about 9 o’clock on Sunday evening, being caused by a cow kicking over a lamp in a stable in which a woman was milking. An alarm was immediately given, but, owing to the high southwest wind, the building was speedily consumed, and thence the fire spread rapidly.

The great Chicago fire, Oct. 9th, 1871. Estimated loss

The fireman could not, with all their efforts, get the mastery of the flames. Building after building was fired by the flying cinders, which landing on the roofs, which were as dry as tinder, owing to the protracted dry weather, instantly took fire. Northwardly and northeastwardly, the flames took their course, lapping up house after house, block after block, street after street, all night long.

The scene of ruin and devastation is beyond the power of words to describe. Never, in the history of the world, has such a scene of extended, terrible and complete destruction, by conflagration, been recorded; and never has a more frightful scene of panic, distress and horror been witnessed among a helpless, sorrowing, suffering population.

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It is utterly impossible, at first thought for the mind to take any conception of the fearful ravages of the fire-fiend, although the astounding facts stated above will appall the most heroic. The awful truth of the situation will be more fully comprehended by a glance at the following very imperfect list of the city’s loss. It is, however, proper to state that at this writing, the confusion in the police and fire department is so complete as to render it impossible to give anything like a detailed account of the terrible conflagration.

The great fire at Chicago, Octr. 8th 1871


The great fire in Chicago: Panic-stricken citizens rushing past the Sherman House, carrying the aged, sick and helpless, and endeavoring to save family treasures

The great fire in Chicago - panic-stricken citizens

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