November 6, 2017

Monuments to Chicago’s Historic Beginnings Reinstalled at Wacker and Lake

Ald. Ed Burke, from left, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum CEO Carla Knorowski, Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter President Mary Brennan, and Commissioner David Reifman at the redication of historic plaques at Wacker Drive and State Street.

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A pair of historic plaques that commemorate the location where Chicago was incorporated as a town and Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president of the United States were rededicated today by Ald. Edward Burke and Department of Planning & Development Commissioner David Reifman.

Gifted to the City in the early 20th century by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the 30- by 50-inch brass plaques honor the location of the Sauganash Hotel and, later, the Wigwam convention hall, on the southeast corner of Wacker Drive and Lake Street. The plaques had been in storage at City Hall for nearly two decades.

The wood-framed Sauganash Hotel was built in 1831 by pioneer Mark Beaubien as an addition to his log cabin. The white, two-story hotel served as the social center of the growing town and hosted monthly village board meetings from 1833 to 1835. Named for the Potawatomi-British fur trader Sauganash, also known as Billy Caldwell, the hotel remained in almost continuous operation, including an 1837 stint as the city’s first theater, until it burned down in 1851.

Nine years later, the Wigwam was erected on the same location for the 1860 Republican National Convention. Designed by Chicago Water Tower architect W. W. Boyington and financed by civic leaders, the two-story, gas-lit building was the first structure in the country to be specifically built for a presidential convention. It was also the country’s first presidential convention hall to have on-site telegraph equipment and to accommodate the public in large numbers, seating more than 10,000 people. Lincoln was nominated on the Republican ticket in the Wigwam on May 18, 1860, before being elected president 157 years ago today. Named for an Algonquin word for a dwelling made of tree poles and bark, the Wigwam was later converted to retail uses before likely being destroyed by fire in 1867.

“As a student of Chicago history, I am pleased to see these beautifully refurbished plaques rededicated at this historic site,” said Ald. Burke, the co-author of Inside the Wigwam, Chicago Presidential Conventions 1860-1996. “I was proud to champion the decision to once again place them on public display after a hiatus of many years. They now join other markers, statuary and memorials situated throughout our neighborhoods that reach out to all of us to tell the very important story of our City’s history.”

The site of Sauganash Hotel and Wigwam was dedicated an official Chicago landmark on this day in 2002.

The plaques honoring the buildings are today affixed on the opposite sides of a five-foot-tall, cast stone marker on the pedestrian median on Wacker near Lake. The marker was designed by Landmarks Commission staff and installed by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“Thanks to the collaboration of city staff and our esteemed alderman, we’re pleased to help the public appreciate the location of these two significant buildings and their important roles at the city’s original crossroads,” Reifman said.

The plaques were previously displayed at the intersection before being removed in the late 1990s for a construction project.

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