Classified History: Housing Ads in Chicago 1871-1900

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I’m returning to the Chicago newspaper archives this week for another look at classified ads placed by landlords at different points in the city’s history. The first installment of this series ran in December covering the earliest decades, starting with some of the very first issues of the newspaper in April of 1849 through April of 1871, just six months before the great Fire. This week we’ll be moving forward in time, starting with the fire and up through the end of the 19th century.

As with the first article I have tried to transcribe the ads verbatim, with all their old-fashioned abbreviations and language. It is worth repeating that the Tribune archives held by the Chicago Public Library are scans, with blurry sections, curved pages and portions that are completely obscured by bleed through text or torn pages.

Life in the Gilded Age

The last 30 years of the 19th century was a crucial era in Chicago’s history. It is marked of course by the fire and the full resurrection of the city, but also the 1893 World’s Fair, the rise of the black community, and the widespread use of elevators, steel frame construction, electricity and revolving doors. A mayor was assassinated. Serial killer H.H. Holmes built and operated his notorious “murder castle.” The south side was home of the stockyards, occupied by “foreigners” from Germany, Sweden and Poland. Labor unrest led to mass protests and the riot at Haymarket Square. The city annexed the formerly separate townships of Hyde Park, Austin and Lake View along with a ton of other small towns, growing by the end of this era to something very close to its current borders.

The Black Hand, an early form of the Mafia, established itself in Little Italy along with the city’s first gangs. Future notorious mob bosses including Dion O’Banion and Bugs Moran were born and raised in the city’s roughest neighborhoods. A four block region in the south loop called the Levee District served as the city’s red light zone, funding a group of bookmakers and madams who in turn bankrolled the city’s first political syndicates. Mayors and police chiefs were jailed for corruption.

The first vaccines reached widespread availability making high density living more palatable and lowering the infant mortality rate. Sewers were installed citywide following major outbreaks of cholera, scarlet fever, whooping cough and typhus. However, these sewers had to dump the waste somewhere and the city became notorious for its “stinking river.” Multiple attempts were made to resolve the matter, culminating in the complete reversal of the river’s direction of flow by 1900. The brand new Loop Elevated train system and electric streetcars carried passengers throughout the city. Donations from British humanitarians in the wake of the fire led to the creation of the Chicago Public Library. Newspapers were abundant, with mastheads including the Chronicle, the Daily News, the Telegraph, the Post & Mail, the Herald, the Journal, the Record, the Times-Herald and the Inter Ocean.

Famous figures of this era lent their names to well known Chicago landmarks. Rev. Paul Andersen Norland (Andersonville) consoled the grieving survivors of the fire. Adolph Hegewisch founded a corporate town for his railroad company. Lawyer John Kedzie helped to design parts of Evanston and Ravenswood and was rewarded with a street named in his honor. John A. Logan, an army general, senator and vice presidential candidate is now remembered by those who live, work and shop in Logan Square. The notorious Cap Streeter built a small empire of real estate on silted up land in the middle of the lake, an area which is now known as Streeterville. Patrick Touhy (Touhy Ave) led the group that divided up the newly acquired farming district of Rogers Park. The Wicker brothers, Charles and Joel, donated a bit of their land to the city for a Park. Thomas Hoyne (Hoyne Ave) was elected mayor but never took office as the incumbent refused to leave.

The country was still at war against Native American tribes across the south and west. We were still learning how to live and work following the abolition of slavery. The U.S. annexed the kingdom of Hawaii. The Spanish-American war led to the U.S. annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, as well as temporary occupation Cuba and the Philippines. Imperialism was at its peak as European nations battled to colonize Africa and dominate Asia. The Ottoman Empire crumbled as the countries now known as the Balkans seceded one after the other. Attempts were still underway to reach the north pole, the south pole and to find a path across the Northwest Passage. As a result of open trade with the west, the Meiji restoration in Japan led to the abolition of the feudal system and the samurai class. The Suez Canal was constructed opening a new and shorter trade route. A massive economic depression gripped Europe and the US. The volcano Kratakoa erupted causing worldwide weather disruptions that would last for five years.

This was the era of Edison and Tesla, Curie and Becquerel, Pasteur and Freud. Discoveries and inventions included blue jeans, machine guns, cars, x-rays, camera film, Coca-Cola and Swiss Army knives. Readers were introduced to now legendary characters such as Huckleberry Finn, Dr. Jekyll, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and Dorothy Gale. The opera “Carmen”, the ballet “The Nutcracker Suite” and the painting “Starry Night” were created and enjoyed. The first movies were introduced at vaudeville theaters. Athletes played the first games of soccer, basketball, volleyball and test cricket, and celebrated the return of the Olympics after a 1400 year hiatus. The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and Yellowstone National Park joined the global list of tourist attractions. Criminals could for the first time be caught by fingerprinting technology. The first wave of feminism was in full force with pushes for women’s suffrage and employment.

Through all of this, people needed somewhere to live, and landlords had vacancies to advertise. Let’s look at what was available for renters in Chicago’s Gilded Age.

October 8, 1871: End of the Innocence

On the day the fire began Chicago had a population of about 324,000, which is comparable to modern-day Cincinnati or Orlando. As the fire did not break out until evening, the newspapers of October 8 reflect nothing of the absolute terror that was about to occur.

Ads of Note:

366 Ohio-st. Furnished rooms first-class board. Single rooms, $5 to $7 per week, double rooms, $12 to $15. Fine view of the lake.

696 Wabash-av. Pleasant rooms to rent, furnished or unfurnished, with or without board, or with breakfast and supper. Terms moderate. Also, barn to rent.

To rent: 6 rooms in cottage no 206 Fullerton-st., $25 per month. Apply at No. 204 next door east.

To rent: A new 2-story, brick basement house with all modern improvements. 545 Hurlbut-st., near Lincoln Park. Price $35 per month until 1st of May. Inquire J. Atwater, 116 Madison-st.

October 12-19, 1871: After the Fire

The Tribune did not print on the 9th or 10th of October, 1871 because the city was on fire. While the Tribune offices and their surrounding neighborhood survived the blaze intact, there was no power nor water available for several days. The issue of the 11th had no classified ads, focusing almost entirely on the aftermath of the fire. The first issues after the fire which had room for classified ads came on the 12th.

The ad section was, as expected, much smaller than the one in the issue of October 8th. Much of it was understandably dedicated to lost persons and insurance companies. Because of the uniqueness of the event I will be including the text of some ads other than “for rent” notices. I note that the word “brick” suddenly appeared in many of the housing ads. One must remember that in an era where advertisers paid by the word, one only included the most important selling points of housing for rent. In a city that just burned down, “brick” was the most important thing a renter could want in a home. It was also pretty much the only type of building still remaining in the downtown area.

It is notable that despite the large number of suddenly homeless Chicagoans and substantially lower number of intact buildings, no massive spike in rent rates can be observed in the first days following the fire. This may be because ads running during these days were most likely placed before the fire.

Ads of Note:

To rent: furnished house 1161 Indiana Ave., all modern improvements; good stable; bedding; table linen, etc. for sale. Rent, $1,000 a year; lease runs till May 1. Small bonus. Inquire on premises.

To rent: Barn, in rear 213 Park Av., Accommodate 10 horses. Apply on premises, near Robey. $15.

To rent: a 10 room house with barn on Oakwood-av.; furniture for sale. Rent, $33 per month; furniture, $1,200. Call at 819 Cottage Grove-av.

Removal: WM. H. Sampson, Real Estate and House Renting Agency, Room 4 Bryan Block, 168 Lasalle St., is now at 318 West Washington St. To rent, stores and dwellings in all parts of the city.

Found: A team of horses taken out of the fire truck, marked P. Brady, 1403. The owner can find them at No. 90 Ashley St.

Attention: If Lizzie B. Johnson is among the living she will find her brother Raymond R. Johnson by calling at No. 4 Hubbard Court.

Lost: Parties who borrowed tubs of Hugh Bradshaw, 209 West Lake-st., will please return them to-day and oblige.

Wanted: a copy of last Sunday’s Tribune, for which a liberal price will be paid. Apply at the counting room of the Tribune office.

Lost: taken from the Garden City House, just before it was burnt, a large Saratoga trunk, covered with canvas, upon the ends of which was printed the owner’s name. The trunk was filled with books, mostly medical, many of which had the owner’s name written on them. A liberal reward will be given for information of said trunk or books, &c., left at the Barnes House, J.R. Freeman, Owner.

Michigan-av. Hotel: The only first-class. Having had the good fortune to save this house from the fire, we announce to the public that we are ready to accommodate them. -Jos. Ullmann.

Aetna Insurance Company have opened an office at 31 Canal street, and will, on and after to-morrow, October 13, adjust and pay all their fire losses in this city, and insure vessels, cargoes and hulls and continue business, as heretofore. All right. The Aetna Fire Insurance Company, of Hartford, announce that they will adjust all their Chicago losses immediately! This is the best news yet, and will be hailed with unspeakable joy by thousands of our insured sufferers by the conflagration.

To rent by H.C. Morey, 17 South Canal-st. 4th story, No 50 West Randolph-st., 90×70 ft. Two story and basement brick house. Van Buren-st., near Throop, $55. Furnished house, 8 rooms, Jackson-st. near Wood, $60. Store 129 Blue Island-ave for sale with cottage in rear, possession $1,000. Parties having houses or stores to rent at reasonable rates are requested to leave their lists.

Coal! Coal! We have put our the fire in our hard coal pile, and are busy clearing away the debris. We are also unloading, to-day, a cargo of No. 1 Lackawanna Coal. Our friends and patrons will find us, as before the fire, on our dock at the food of Sebor-st., between Pol and Harrison sts., West Side. No Panic Prices. Duguid & Crighton.

Rand, McNally & Co., Railroad and Commercial Printers and Engravers, All right and in full operation at their three different offices, 105 West Randolph-st., 23 Canal-st., and corner Randolph and Jefferson-sts. Principal office 108 Randolph-st. Are now running nine presses and will use every effort to accommodate their patrons.

To rent and for sale: a brick house, 11 rooms, in one of the best locations in the West Division, can be rented provided the furniture is purchased; price of furniture $2,000 cash; house furnished throughout; rent low. Address Sheffield, care J.B. Burns, China Store, West Madison-st., near Aberdeen-st.

To rent: cottage with basement in a good locality, 9 rooms, gas, hydrant and cistern water, &c., $35 per moth. Furniture and 6 tons of coal for sale reasonable. Apply at 728 Fulton-st.

433 South Halsted-st. I will take one family of two or three to board. Nicely furnished front bed-room with use of parlor. No other boarders. West Side.

1117 Indiana-Av. Two gentlemen and wives can find pleasant rooms with board. Accommodations for horses and carriages if desired.

A genteel couple with or without small family can be accommodated for the winter with good rooms at Thatcher, Northeastern Road, between Harlem and Maywood. A.J. Hoffman, near school house.

To rent: front part of new house at Ravenswood, seven rooms, hot and cold water, bathroom, furnace, gas, first-class building. Owner is living in rear part of house. Will furnish board if desired. Ten trains per day, Time twenty minutes from Kinzie street depot. Rent $50.00 per month. Apply to Edwin J. Cubley, 192 West Van Buren-st., corner of Halsted, from 12 to 1 o’clock.

To rent: Former homestead of Simeon B. Williams, at Lake Forest, embracing house, barn, chicken house, etc. and about nine acres of lawn park and garden. Price $150 per month, same as before the fire. Apply to R.A. Rice, 81 Wellington-st., or by mail to S.B. Williams, Lake Forest.

May 1886: Haymarket

We now skip ahead about 15 years while Chicago rebuilds. Following years of rising unrest among the working classes, the Haymarket Riot of May 4 began as a rally for an 8 hour work day. By the end of the day a stick of dynamite had been thrown at the police who had been called in to quell the angry protesters and at least 13 were dead, including 7 officers.

By this time the city had exploded with new construction and the classified section had grown by several pages. Housing ads had moved from full houses and boarding houses to “flats” in apartment buildings designed specifically for that purpose. The ads were now divided into separate sections for the South, West and North sides, reflecting the increasing size and separation of these areas of of Chicago.

Employment ads were separated into jobs for men and jobs for women.

Ads of Note:

To rent: In Hyde Building, southeast corner Paulina and Jackson-sts., a 6-room flat, modern in every respect: good order, janitor service; best kept apartment building on West Side. To examine same call for janitor at building, or J.C. Magill & Co., 125 La Salle-st. (First mention of an onsite super.)

To rent: 381 to 385 Orchard-St. 6 Flats; from $10 to $28 per month, with bath. 175 and 177 North Clark-st., second and third floors, 7 rooms, $40 and $37.50 per month. 10 flats on North Clark-st. from $30 to $50 per month. E.S. Dreyer & Co,. Northeast corner Washington and Dearborn-sts.

To rent: 212 Oak-st. Two elegant 7-room flats: bath-room, hardwood floors, gas-fixtures, Tennessee mantels, stationary tubs: all rooms open into hall. Inquire any time at premises or at E.F. Desters, 95 South Clark-st.

To rent: House, barn, garden, fruit etc., 20 miles on Wabash Road: for the summer to small American family. Address A 94. Tribune. (Translation: No immigrants wanted.)

To rent: in the fire-proof Pullman Building. Residence suites and single rooms, finished in hardwood, steam heated, direct outside light and air in every room, unrivaled pluming and sewer appointments, elevators day and night, service by Pullman attendants: first class cafe in building connected by speaking-tube with all rooms. Turner & Bond, Agents, 102 Washington-st.

Wanted to rent: by two young ladies employed during the day, a pleasant furnished room on the North Side, east of Clark-st., and south of Chicago-av: state terms, which must be reasonable. Address No. 54 Tribune office.

A French family near Lincoln Park, to reduce expenses, will rent to a gentleman, with board, a handsome front furnished room; no children or other boarders in the house; comfort, luxury; first-class French table given to the person able to pay. Address V. 87 Tribune office.

May 1893 – October 1893: The World’s Columbian Exhibition

In celebration of the city’s rebirth, Chicago hosted the 1893 World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exhibition. Tourists from all of the world flocked to Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance to observe the six month long event. 14 enormous, temporary buildings were created to host the exhibits. It was the Arts & Science equivalent of the Olympics with representatives from 46 countries. Only two of the buildings from the Exposition remain standing in Chicago. One is now the home of the Museum of Science and Industry and the other is the Art Institute. Those who know these two structures can get a sense of how massive the whole thing must have been with 14 similar ones all in one place, plus several hundred smaller temporary buildings. Chicago mayor Carter Harrison Sr. was assassinated just two days before the close of the Exposition. Harrison was a largely popular mayor, advocating for labor unions and immigrants. He served four and a half consecutive two-year terms and laid the groundwork for Chicago machine politics.

While the fire didn’t do much to spike rent rates, the World’s Fair certainly did. While prices of the decade prior were in the range of $25-40 per month, World’s Fair visitors could expect to pay about $300 per month to rent a house near the event. In the areas of the city away from the fairgrounds prices remained consistent with previous years.

This was the first point in Chicago’s history when electricity, fridges and laundry machines were widely available in residences. However, it is important to remember that the antique items we now call “iceboxes” were called refrigerators in the 19th century classifieds. The modern refrigerators we know today would not be commonly available for another 40 years.

Ads of Note:

To rent: World’s Fair district, Woodlawn Park. One 6-room, one 8-room, two 11-room, one 14-room, one 21-room house; all furnished and modern; possession now; all located from 1 to 5 blocks to transportation and Fair; one handsomely furnished 8-room house, $225 mo. Fair period; a number at from $250-$300.

For rent: Kenwood. Elegantly furnished 10-room house, containing Turkish rugs, oil paintings, mantel ornaments; all modern improvements; three minutes’ walk to station; ten minutes’ walk to World’s Fair grounds.

To rent: 534 Garfield Av., fine modern 10-room dwelling, $75; near Lincoln Park; 3 years’ lease; open for inspection daily.

For rent: The new stone front residence 4537 Greenwood-av., 12 rooms; gas and electric lights, 2 bathrooms, sideboard, artistic mantels, hardwood throughout. Apply on premises.

To rent: Apartments in the Foreston. A new and elegant building corner of Forest-av. and 33rd-st., 7 rooms each; complete in all appointments. Steam heat, hot water, laundries, Gas ranges, Janitor service, Shades, Hardwood finish, Mantels, Sideboards, Refrigerators, Screens, Marble-bathrooms. Will make 1, 2 and 3 years’ leases. (First ad with bullet points, first mention of window treatments. Just having a bathroom was no longer enough, it had to be marble. This is now the corner of 33rd and King Dr.)

To rent: Flats $50 and upward; great bargain; South side; elite neighborhood; near Drexel-blvd., ICRR and cable trains; 6 and 8 rooms; sunlight in each; steam heat; janitor service; gas range; log, gas and electric fixtures; hardwood trim, elegant decorations, marble entrances, shades, screens; everything modern; to investigate will satisfy you; no children.

To rent: Nicely arranged 4 and 5 room flats in McLennan new building, 6315 to 6343 Cottage Grove-av., near cable electric and elevated railways; within 15 minutes walk of Fair grounds; each has bathroom, gas fixtures, door and window screens, window shades, curtain bars and rings, fuel houses and janitor service; $25 to $40. Apply at building.

To rent: in the new and elegant Sheridan apartment building: fine apartments of six rooms and bath; steam heat, hot water and janitor service; passenger and freight elevators, marble and iron stairways, gas ranges, refrigerators, shades, screens, curtain and door poles, fine mantels and gas logs, electric bells and speaking tubes, laundries and dining rooms, store rooms, and separate servant’s bathrooms, etc. etc. One of the finest apartment buildings in the city, 576 to 582 La Salle-av., near Lincoln Park.

To rent: 12 10-room flats, 6442 to 6448 Stony Island-av., half block from entrance World’s Fair ground; new; all modern improvements, from $100 to $150 per month.

To rent: In Austin, Chicago’s most pleasant suburb; new, convenient and modern; 5 and 7 rooms, $20 to $30; direct trains to World’s Fair; 25 minutes from the city. (Austin was not yet part of Chicago.)

To rent: Nice alcove and front parlor with piano in it and use of bathroom, for two gentlemen, in fine private family on North Side, near Lincoln Park and limits; $12 a week; only permanent party taken. (Permanent Party = No tourists.)

For rent: large, well-furnished country home, 17 rooms; every modern convenience; commodious stable, chicken yard, house, etc.; 2 acres of ground, large forest trees; on corner, nearly 500 ft of street frontage; macadamized streets, natural stone sidewalks, and perfect sewerage; five minutes from station, half hour from city; high, rolling and heavily wooded country; very moderate terms to right parties for one or two years. (“Macadamized” described a type of gravel roads designed for high durability in pre-automobile eras. When cars made loose gravel unusable for paving, the macadam was bound up with tar to create tar-macadam, or “tarmac”.)

Spring 1900

It was the start of a new decade. The city had rebuilt, hosted millions, and grown to roughly 1.7 million people, about 62% of its current population. Queen Victoria of England, the monarch who had reigned that country through the entirety of Chicago’s history, was 81 years old and on the verge of death. The U.S. had emerged from the worst depression it had seen since its inception. The children born in this year would be the soldiers who fought in World War I. The Black Hand gang arrived in Chicago from Italy, paving the way for the rise of the Mafia. This is the year when Chicago would reverse the flow of the river, the era of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”. Fear of fire had been overtaken by fear of socialism and drunkenness, as U.S. Protestants pushed back against immigrant Catholics.

Telephones were the new must-have feature in housing, although they were not yet prevalent enough for landlords to include phone numbers in their classified ads. A handful of early adopters even had those new-fangled “automobiles.” Electricity was widely available by now. In a house in Oak Park, a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright was on the verge of creating the now famous “Prairie style”. The selection of jobs for women had expanded with the rise of nursing, which meant that unmarried women could now renting housing on their own. The L was now a city mainstay. Directions were now in use for street addresses, with “73rd-st.” now appearing as “E. 73rd-st.” or “W. 73rd-st.”

On May 1 the Tribune ran an editorial about “moving day”, which was still a major event in the city.

This is moving day, and it promises to break the record as well as household property. Every van in the city is reported engaged, but the shifting of quarters is confined principally to the residence district. A sure sign of good times has been noted in the modern office buildings, where the great majority of tenants have renewed their leases at the former or slightly increased rents. In many instances additional room has been engaged to accommodate expanding business. In the down-town district there has been an active demand for stores, and rents are slightly higher than a year ago. On the North and West Sides many small manufacturing concerns have occupied vacant buildings. – Chicago Daily Tribune, May 1, 1900, p.8

Many of the buildings listed in these ads are still in use as housing today, so where possible I have tried to find them.

Ads of Note

To rent: Modern house. 144 42D place (just east of Drexel-blvd.). This is an unusual offering, as house is exquisitely decorated, parlor and library in real tapestry, dining-room in combination burlap and red paper; 3 bedrooms and fine bathroom on 2d floor; servant’s room, laundry, and furnace in basement; all elegantly decorated; hardwood floors in halls and every room. For a newly-married couple or small family it is a gem worth immediate inspection. Can be seen at any time by calling at house. (Now a vacant lot.)

To rent: Furnished. New, modern, 12-room residence, semi-detached; 5131 Madison-av., near IC fast trains, about $150; shown any week day.

To rent: in Ville-Marine, 4506 and 4508 Indiana-av., 6-room choice new apartments; Flemish, mahogany, and oak finish; elaborate sideboards, consoles, mantels, gas logs, halltrees, tiled bath, and electric fixtures; elegantly decorated; all outside rooms. See janitor on premises. (Now a vacant lot.)

To rent: 748, 748, and 780 Washington-blvd., between Hoyne and Leavitt; elegant modern stone front flats, 6 and 7 rooms; steam heat, hot water, hardwood finish, large back porch, janitor service; up to date in every respect; few vacancies at reduced rates to first-class tenants; prices $30, $35 and $37.50. For further particulars see janitor on premises.

To rent: For summer months, 7 rooms apartment, exclusive building, 200 feet of Lincoln Park, on boulevard; cold storage, ice, electric light free; every modern convenience; references insisted upon. (First mention of included utilities.)

Room for rent: Young lady can find private home with young couple, congenial; Englewood; 10 minutes from city.

Room for rent: 3903 Michigan-av., 2 Newly furnished rooms; steam, hot water, and bath, breakfast optional; 1 block from L station.

Wanted to rent: Lady (employed) wishes 1 or 2 unfurnished rooms, with or without board, convenient to IC or elevated; Woodlawn preferred, terms; references exchanged.

To rent: Modern 10-room detached house, 254 E 61st-st., choice location, near Jackson Park. Polished quartered oak finish, oak floors throughout first story, bathrooms and halls; carved and paneled staircases; sideboard; four mantels, with gas grates, gas range, gas fixtures, shades, screens, decorated walls, with frescoed ceilings. Latest improved sanitary plumbing. This house will be rented at a reduced price to a responsible tenant. (Building no longer exists.)

To rent: 5757 Washington-av., South Park, near university parks, midway and the lake, 2 minutes from Ill Cent. Station; beautiful new residence, 10 rooms, hardwood floors and finish throughout, 2 bathrooms, 8 mantels, elegant sideboard and staircase, Wilks’ hot water heater, hot air and hot water heat; furnace equipped for gas or coal; combination gas and electric fixtures; house is vermin-proof; an elegant home, with perfect equipments for easy, economic and sanitary housekeeping. Key at 5749 Washington-av. (This building is still standing but the street name is now Blackstone Ave. It last sold in 2015 for $1.25m)

To rent: Desirable brown stone front residence, 1621 Roscoe-blvd., 10 rooms and basement, with all modern improvements in first-class condition; large shade tree and yard in rear; fine lawn in front; convenient to 3 car lines, Halsted and Evanston-av electric, and 1 1/2 blocks from elevated; possession May 1; rent $45 per month. (Evanston Ave is now Broadway. Following the renumbering of addresses in 1909, this would now be 729 W Roscoe, which is now a condominium building with 3 units and a coach house.)

To rent: 2707 N. Robey-st., 7 room modern house, large porch, 40 ft lot; 3 blocks from Ravenswood C& NW Station; $27.50 per mo. (Following the 1909 renumbering and renaming of the street, this is now 4618 N Damen. This is also still standing and last sold for $660k in 2018.)

To rent: 9-room flat, 1037 Warren-av., private entrance; modern plumbing, gas stove, hot water heat; to family without children only. (I found no ads stating that various races were unwelcome, but found plenty that banned families with children.)

To rent: “The Plaza” Apartment, from two rooms upwards, North-av. and Clark-st., fifteen minutes to business; tenants keep house or enjoy privilege of dining room; cuisine unexcelled; servants unnecessary; housekeepers’ services reasonable by hour, day, or month; janitor, bellboy, telephone and elevator service; all laundry rough-dried free. (This is now the site of the Latin School. “Rough dry” means drying without ironing afterwards.)

To rent: The Kinzie. Cor. Chicago-av. and Pine-st., superb 8-room apartment, with every modern convenience; steam heat, hot and cold water, gas ranges, refrigerators, porcelain bath tubs, fine plumbing, hardwood finish, passenger and freight elevators; separate entrance and elevator for servants; see janitor at building or W.A. Merigold & Go, 92 State-st., Tel. 965 Central. (Now the corner of Clark & Michigan. This is the first instance of a phone number, and the first clear instance of “separate but equal” trends in the era following Plessy v. Ferguson. A photo of the Kinzie can be seen at Calumet 412.)

To rent: Manitou, S.E. cor 60th and Prairie-av., 4 to 7 rooms; occupancy April 1st; elegantly finished throughout with hardwood floors, sideboards, mantels, ice boxes, and white tile bathroom. See them today; $25 to $35. (Now an empty lot.)


That brings us to the end of the 19th century in Chicago’s classified housing ads. I’m not sure when we’ll revisit this sporadic series as these articles do take a lot of research. But it’s my opinion that every one of these ads is a novel in the making.

Prices on the whole didn’t change much over the course of the years we’ve covered so far. The first listed prices we could find in 1861 ranged from $450 to $800 per year, and that’s quite comparable to the $30-75 per month seen in the ads from 1900. While tourists were naturally gouged during the World’s Fair, everything else remained remarkably similar despite Chicago’s astounding growth and the introduction of new amenities such as fridges, elevators and sewers. Undeveloped land was still abundant in the city and boarding houses were still commonplace, so there was always more housing supply than there was demand. The wealthy still employed and housed staffs of servants, ensuring that a large portion of the working class did not have to find their own housing.

The rebuilding of Chicago changed the distribution of land use. In the first article we saw housing offered in the back of shops and office buildings. By the late 19th century the city had separate districts for residences and businesses, with the brand new El and railroad lines (eventually the Metra) connecting them.

Some of the items listed as desirable features in these ads remain desirable today. Hardwood floors still show up in apartment ads, along with window treatments. Other fancy elements in the 19th century ads such as tapestries, sideboards and mantels are no longer of great importance and instead seen as frivolous decor. Furnished apartments have almost completely vanished from the market along with backyard barns and chicken yards.

Of greatest interest to me is how every ad listed the total number of rooms. These days this is often omitted, defaulting instead to the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, omitting the total number of additional common rooms. No mention is made of kitchens, although gas ranges and fridges are listed. I don’t think this is because the number of bedrooms was unimportant. Bedrooms were certainly already common. Rather, I think this is related to the average family size. This was still an agricultural society. There were no nursing homes for the elderly. There was no birth control. Families regularly had between 6 and 9 kids. With that many kids, every room becomes a bedroom. With that many kids, the “no children” comments in the ads make more sense.

The next installment will probably cover the early 20th century through WWI and the Great Depression. If you want to see it soon, please do share it with your friends and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.