In this hall on Monday evening, January 23, 1837, the meeting of a few of the leading citizens of the town was held, for the purpose of preliminary action in procuring a city charter. It was also devoted to public entertainments of various kinds, political and religious meetings, concerts, traveling shows,etc. The name of this hall would, to the casual reader, appear to connect it with a house of no very good repute; but such an impression would be erroneous. The word "saloon" as applied to this edifice had a very different meaning from what it now has. Its use was synonymous with the French salon, which means literally a grand and spacious hall.
The newly created city, however, had more to worry about than the reputation of The Saloon. In the good old days, the citizens were apprehensive about borrowing money for civic improvements. But, when the founders had determined that they wished to be designated a full-fledged city, that attitude began to change. You see, the city coffers were not exactly over-flowing:
Before Chicago had become a city, when any proposition was made to borrow money, the utmost consternation seems to have been created. Several town officials had even resigned rather than sanction such recklessness. John S. C. Hogan voluntarily ceased to act as Treasurer, in June, 1835, because the corporation was determined, as a sanitary measure, to borrow $2,000 in order to have the streets cleared up and the town otherwise made presentable and inhabitable. After the town people had fairly entered into the spirit of becoming a city, however, their old apprehensions gradually wore off because of the constant repetition of those financial propositions from the authorities. After a time such measures were urged with general enthusiasm. The Chicago of that day commenced to draw confidently upon the Chicago of the future—and that confidence was her largest bank account in 1837. In January of that year W. Stuart, the Town Clerk, was ordered to draft a memorial to the General Assembly for the passage of an act authorizing the Trustees to borrow the sum of $50,000, to be used in permanent improvements. This, however, came to naught, and in March Chicago was incorporated as a city. As a city, just previous to the depressing times of 1837, Chicago commenced active operations with $1,993 in the treasury.
Even in those long ago days, this was not a large amount of money for the booming city. Streets had to be built, there was the mud problem and issues of drainage, and what about the ever present threat of fire. They needed two new fire engines and quick! Mayor Ogden and the newly formed Common Council decided to appoint a finance committee and they in turn determined that the new city needed to again apply for a loan. They were a city now! Trusting that the Branch Bank of the State of Illinois would see the incredible potential in the new city and promising to pay back the loan in five years, an application for funds was eagerly and confidently submitted. And, the outcome?
"State Bank Of Illinois, Springfield, May 31, 1837. Peter Bolles, Esq.,
Dear Sir: Your letter of the 18th, addressed to the president of this bank and proposing on behalf of the city of Chicago a loan from this bank of the sum of $25,000, has been laid before the directors of the bank, and, I regret to have to state, declined.
I am very respectfully, your ob't serv't,
A. H. Ridgely, Cashier.
Happy Birthday, Chicago! You've come a long way, baby!
For more information about Chicago in 1837, "A Lot Has Changed Since Chicago's Founding"
Source and Photo credit: History of Chicago: Ending with the year 1857 By Alfred Theodore Andreas