Did Chicago peak in 1893? Local author to make his case

Written By By FRANK VAISVILAS For Sun-Times Media Posted: 03/28/2014, 04:20pm
Array Mark Harmon, director of the Gaylord Building, stands inside the building's museum exhibit about the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. | PHOTO BY FRANK VAISVILAS

LOCKPORT — Things other than the World’s Fair were making Chicago great in 1893, author Joseph Gustaitis contends.

He’ll make his case April 10 at the historic Gaylord Building in downtown Lockport.

Gustaitis wrote the book “Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893,” in which he explores influential people and significant events besides the Columbian Exposition.

For example, he said the baseball team now known as the Chicago Cubs opened a new ballpark in 1893.

And Sears Roebuck & Co. was founded in 1893 in Chicago and later built a huge complex on the West Side in 1905.

“If you stand in the right place, you can see both Sears Towers (the 1905 building and the skyscraper built in 1973 now known at the Willis Tower),” Gustaitis said.

Part of his presentation in Lockport will include photographs comparing Chicago today with the city in 1893.

For example, he’ll show how a now quiet portion of Chicago’s Printer’s Row neighborhood was once known as the “street of sin.”

Gustaitis also explores the people who helped shape the city in 1893, such as William Wrigley and Augustus Tolton, the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States.

Gustaitis, a Chicago resident, said he appreciates Lockport’s historical significance in the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

“It was the infrastructure that enabled Northern Illinois to be developed in the 1840s,” said Mark Harmon, director of the Gaylord Building. “It was the I&M Canal that enabled Chicago to be a major port. Chicago really owes its greatness to the canal itself.”

The Gaylord Building was built from the materials such as timber and limsetone, dredged during construction of the canal, and had originally storedthe project’sconstruction materials. Today, the building includes an exhibition about the canal and the Public Landing Restaurant where the fundraising event will be held.

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