ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
AN ABSTRACT OF TITLE, LOT 2, BLOCK 44, ORIGINAL TOWN OF CHICAGO
September 27, 1830-January 2, 1839
The property in question was located just west of the South Branch of the Chicago River on the southeast corner where Randolph Street intersects. When the lot first was sold by the canal commissioners on September 27, 1830 it went for $41 (see document 5 explanation). This price was in line with the average lot selling for $34 in that sale. When the same lot was resold for $5 on July 11, 1834 the canal's future was far from certain. No construction had taken place yet and the canal commissioners, who had been established by the General Assembly to oversee the canal's financing and construction in 1829, were disbanded by that same authority in 1833.
When this lot was sold again on June 29, 1837 it brought the huge sum of $22,000. Although buildings probably had been erected on the site since its last sale, this tremendous increase also reflected regional and national speculative fever. New arrangements for the canal's financing had been made and actual ground had been broken on July 4, 1836. In Chicago expectations for phenomenal growth were at an all time high. Then came the Panic of 1837. Banks and many factories in the East virtually had shut down in May of 1837 but national despair took another month or so in reaching exuberant Chicago.
Ashbel Steele was forced to forfeit his property due to unpaid taxes on July 15, 1837. At a tax sale held on January 2, 1839 William H. Stow, Byran King, William Jones, and H. B. Clark, all partners in an iron foundry business, were able to pick up the lot at the bargain price of $986.
To locate Chicago lots and blocks, see Exhibit B.
Points to Consider
What is an abstract of title?
Which circumstances made the lot's value fall from $41 on September 27, 1830 to $5 on July 11, 1834?
Which circumstances made the lot's value rise from $5 on July 11, 1834 to $22,000 on June 29, 1837?
How might real estate speculation both have benefited and damaged the local economy for the period covered in this document?