The Great Chicago Fire

October 8 is the 142nd anniversary of the beginning of the great Chicago fire, which finally burned itself out on October 10, 1871, having killed 200-300 people and reduced 3.3 square miles of the city to rubble. The fire burned a 4-mile long strip approximately 3/4 of a mile wide, beginning near Roosevelt and Canal Streets and, fanned by strong south-southwest winds, all the way north to Fullerton Avenue. Contemporary maps of the burned district can be seen in the Images section of the Chicago History Museum’s Great Chicago Fire website: These buildings were among the few within the fire zone that survived:

  • St. Michael’s Church, Old Town
  • Chicago Water Tower and Chicago Avenue Pumping Station
  • St. Ignatius College (now St. Ignatius College Prep, on Roosevelt)
  • Holy Family Church

St. Michael’s Church and the Pumping Station were both gutted in the fire, but their exteriors survived, and the buildings were rebuilt using the surviving walls.  

The fire was an enormous calamity at the time, but the rebuilding laid the groundwork for modern Chicago. The return of the city to the world stage was celebrated in the Columbian Exposition in Hyde Park, 21 years later in October of 1893.

Several contemporaneous accounts of the fire exist. Search the Library Catalog using this subject heading: Chicago (Ill.) — Fire, 1871.