Special Collections and Preservation Division
Neighborhood Research History Collection
1845, 1890-1931, 1940
.5 linear feet, 2 photographs, 4 oversize folders
Call number: Archives_STR
Streeterville consists of 186 acres of made land, bounded by St. Clair Street and Michigan Avenue on the west, Lake Michigan on the north and east, and the Chicago River on the south. The origins of Streeterville are as shrouded in controversy as were the first four decades of its existence. The neighborhood dates from July 10, 1886, although the events of that night are not entirely agreed upon. There was a storm over Lake Michigan that night, and by morning the 35 ton steamship Reutan had lodged on a sandbar off the Chicago shore near Oak Street. At the helm was "Captain" George Wellington Streeter (1839?-1921); his crew was his wife, Maria (d. 1910).
Since the downtown clean-up after the Great Fire in 1871, Lake Michigan had been used as a dump by building contractors. Streeter invited such contractors to dump their waste on the sandbar where the Reutan sat, and he and his wife commenced housekeeping. The Streeters saw themselves as homesteaders; Chicago city officials considered them squatters. Thus began forty years of legal harangues.
The issue at the center of the controversy was ownership of made land. The owners of shore property hastily banded together and struck a deal with the state and the Lincoln Park board of directors. By this agreement, the shore owners built a boulevard a half mile out in the Lake (now Lake Shore Drive), filled in the pool behind it, and continued the city streets across the new marshy land. The boulevard was presented to the state, and the state gave the shore owners titles to the reclaimed land. In the middle of this acreage sat Streeter’s shack, successor to the Reutan as the couple’s home.
Streeter’s legal argument was that the state of Illinois had no jurisdiction in giving shore owners title to the land. This was based on the 1821 survey of the Chicago area authorized by Congress as part of a treaty with Native Americans. Rather than giving "the shore of Lake Michigan" as a general eastern boundary, surveyor John Wall minutely described the shore line. Thus, when Robert Kinzie acquired a 103.27-acre tract north of the Chicago River, it had definite eastern boundary. Over the years, the courts had consistently ruled that the heirs of the Kinzie grant could never claim more than a total of 103.27 acres, and here lay the strength of Streeter’s case.
Claiming the new land as his own, Streeter sold and gave away enough building lots to surround himself with a coterie of interested parties able to benefit materially from his ascendancy. Having established to his satisfaction that the land was not part of Illinois, he therefore set up the independent "District of Lake Michigan" with William H. Niles as Military Governor. Allegiance in the District was owed only to the Federal government. On both sides, land deeds were issued: the legal description of the land, according to the shore owners, was Cook County, Illinois; to George Streeter, it was the District of Lake Michigan.
Streeter was forcibly removed from his home by Chicago police on May 5, 1889, but soon returned. In 1900, open combat between the police and the defenders of the District erupted. Trespassing suits and countersuits went through the courts with tedious regularity. During World War I, the District of Lake Michigan declared neutrality and fought off attempts to plant war gardens in its sandy soil.
The opening of the Michigan Avenue bridge in 1920 catapulted Streeterville into the most prime real estate in Chicago. Having been kept relatively vacant for decades because of the constant litigation, the land was still under dispute when the construction boom began. Captain Streeter’s death on a riverboat in Calumet Harbor on January 22, 1921, occurred at the beginning of a decade of intensive development of Streeterville, described by the Chicago Daily News (April 14, 1928) as "a program of building activities unsurpassed by any district of similar size in the world."
The Streeter heirs continued to push their claims to the land. The Captain’s widow was eventually ruled ineligible to inherit anyway due to the fact that she had not ever legally married George Streeter. The court ruled against a collection of nieces and nephews and in favor of Chicago Title and Trust in April, 1928.
The materials in this collection appear to be part, but not all, of those put together by Chicago Title and Trust in its three decades of lawsuits involving Streeterville acreage. The collection has been arranged into the following divisions: Correspondence (1:1-7), Land Records (1:8-22), Legal actions (1:23-35), and Miscellany (1:36-47). The legal action series contains bits and pieces of various lawsuits, specifically legal documents compiled by Chicago Title and Trust for its 1917 suit against Streeter. Each series is arranged chronologically within itself.
Separation Record: Overized Materials
The following items have been removed to the location given:
Nettie Bliss & Abel Bliss, DS (Sale of land in Cook STR—Oversize 1
County to John McGillan); 1905 May 12
George W. Streeter & Elena A. Streeter, DS (Sale STR—Oversize 2
of land in District of Lake Michigan to Gustave
A. Peterson); 1910 Feb 7
Map—"District of Lake Michigan" (Blueprint copy, STR—Oversize 3
with signature of George W. Streeter); 1900 or
Newspaper clippings: STR—Oversize 4
1. "Streeter’s Struggle for Chicago Real
Estate" by John L. Matthews; 1902
2. "Shipwreck Led to New ‘Empire’" by
Harry M. Beardsley; 1928
The materials in this collection were purchased in 1984.
Processed by Galen R. Wilson, April 1990.
The Streeterville Collection is available to the public for research in the Special Collections and Preservation Division Reading Room on the 9th floor of the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60605. The collection does not circulate, although photocopy and photoreproduction services are available depending upon the condition of the original materials. First time patrons to Special Collections must present photo identification and complete a Reader Registration Form. Telephone inquiries on this collection and other Special Collections holdings can be directed to 312-747-4875.
1. Francis O’Neill, TL to Edward F. Cullerton; 1902 Sep 17
2. William A. Goulding, ALS to Sherman C. Spitzer; 1916 Mar 23
3. Same to Same; 1916 Apr 10
4. Same to Same; 1916 Apr 12
5. Same to Same; 1916 May 2
5a. Parke Longworth, TLS to Chicago Title & Trust; 1924 July 21
6. L. V. Rider, TLS to Sherman C. Spitzer; 1925 Apr 20
7. May D. Streeter, ALS to Chicago Title & Trust; 1931 Apr 6, and reply
8. Robert A. Kinzie, deed for 102 acres of land (Copy, 1895)
9. State of Illinois to Illinois Michigan & Canal Co.—land grant; 1845-1860 (Copy, 1901). Includes: Illinois & Michigan Canal to Jacob Roehm, Mary Reiplinger & Mthias Neufing,
1851; Mary Reiplinger, Mathias & Anna Neufing to Jacob Roehm,
1852; Peter & Katharina Kantenburger to Martin Halbritter, 1852
10. U. S. Dept. Of the Interior—Bounty land for War of 1812 service-- 2 deeds and 1 letter; 1852-1929
11. Lewis H. Vandiver, assignment of land to George W. Streeter; 1857 (Copy, 1916)
12. Peter & Katrina Kantenburger, land deed to Aldert Smedes; 1873 Feb 25 (Copy, 1925)
13. William J. & Sarah Holden, indenture (sale of land to Joseph Gray); 1873 May 14
14. George & Maria Streeter, warranty deed to J. Benjamin Birdsell; 1895 [Complainant’s Exhibit 10, 1917]
15. Grover Cleveland, photographic copy of deed to George W. Streeter & Peter T. Johnston, 80 acres of land; 1895 Mar 12
16. Chicago Title & Trust, deed of partial release to Henry N. Cooper; 1897 Oct 15
17. Sheriff’s deed to Nettie L. Bliss, land in District of Lake Michigan; 1903 June 10
Oversize 1. Nettie & Abel Bliss, sale of land in Cook County to John McGillan;
18. Josephine Swope et al, quit-claim deed to Louise K. Smith; 1909
19. George Bass, 3 deeds to H. V. Loving, 1901, with cover letter Fidelity & Columbia Trust CO. to Chicago Title & Trust CO.; 1915 Dec 27
Oversize 2. George W. and Elena A. Streeter, sale of land in District of Lake Michigan to Gustave A. Peterson; 1910 Feb 7
20. John & Eliza D. McGIllen, 2 quit-claim deeds; 1911, 1915
21. George W. Streeter, 4 docs., purchase of land in District of Lake Michigan; 1916
22. George W. Streeter, TDS to W. B. Martin, forbidding access to land at corner of Walton & Seneca Streets; 1916 Oct 24
23. N. K. Fairbank vs. George W. Streeter—2 documents; 1890-93
24. George W. Streeter vs. Estate of William B. Ogden; 1892 [Complainant’s exhibit 156]
25. Contempt of court against George W. Street (in re Bliss vs. Streeter); 1893 Dec 12
26. Abel Bliss vs. George Streeter—8 documents; 1894
27. George W. Streeter vs. Estate of William B. Ogden; 1896 [Complainant’s exhibit 157]
George W. Streeter vs. Louisa Healy et al; 1901
28. [Complainant’s exhibit 1, 1917]
29. [Complainant’s exhibit 8, 1917]
30. [Complainant’s exhibit 9, 1917]
31. Bill of complaint [Complainant’s exhibit 6, 1917]
32. Louisa Healy vs. William McManners; 1901 [Complainant’s exhibit 2, 1917]
33. Francis S. Rickcords v. Florence C. Hutchinson et al; 1918
34. Rickords vs. Thomas et al.—3 quit-claim deeds by Francis S. and Eleanor H. Rickords; 1919
35. George W. Streeter vs. Chicago Title & Trust (Ejectment No. 33440), in re Elma Lockwood Streeter, widow; 1924, n.d.
36. George W. & Lavina A. Walters Streeter—Certified copy of marriage record; 1876 Mar 24 (Copy, 1916)
37. Bromm, Frans Wilhem—Passport from Germany; 1887 Oct 25 [Relation to collection not proven]
38. Newspaper clippings; 1894-194
Oversize 4. Newspaper clippings—"Streeter’s Struggle for Chicago Real state,"
1902; "Shipwreck Led to New ‘Empire’," 1928
39. Thomas J. Porter, report to William P. Hazeb, Chief, U. S. Secret Service; 1895 Aug 6
40. Statements of Austin J. Doyle and Kellogg Fairbank, re events of 1899 May 5
41. Everett Guy Ballard—flyer re his biography Captain Streeter, Pioneer; c. 1900
Oversize 3. Map—"District of Lake Michigan" (Blueprint copy, with signature of
George W. Streeter); 1900 or after
42. William H. Niles (Military Governor of District of Lake Michigan), DS to Samuel Protine, right to settle in District; 1901 Dec 18
43. "The Military Government of the District of Lake Michigan: Its Legal Standing. . ." Pamphlet; c. 1905
44. William Anderson—Naturalization papers, 1905 Dec 9; contract for passage to America, 1906 Mar 23
45. District of Lake Michigan—Ballot broadside, election of 1916
46. Mrs. Edy, "My Twenty Years’ Experience in Streeterville"—pamphlet; c. 1940
47. "Fitzsimon’s Lake Shore Drive Addition & Almendinger’s Addition";- Blueprint plat map; n.d.
1.1 Streeter, George Wellington (1839?-1921)
1.2 Unidentified house on Lake Michigan (Streeterville?); 1882