Special Collections and Preservation Division
Neighborhood Research History Collection
John S. Wright
.25 linear ft., 3 oversize
Call number: Archives_WRI
John Stephen Wright was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts, on July 16, 1815, the eldest son of John and Huldah (Dewey) Wright. His father was a storekeeper, his mother a former schoolteacher. The baby was named for his grandfather, John Wright and Stephen Dewey II. It is ironic about the time of John Stephen’s birth, his father took a year’s trip to the West in hopes of bolstering his failing health with liberal doses of fresh air, during which trip he visited the site of Chicago, then a tiny village of less than forty inhabitants.
In 1832, father and son set off with a stock of goods, intending to settle at Galena, Illinois. However, when they arrived at Chicago on October 29, they decided to remain, building a log merchant house at Lake and Clark. This site was so far from the town’s business center that it became known as "The Prairie Store." Not yet twenty, Wright not only took a census of Chicago in 1833 but published a lithographed map of the town in 1834, the year he began a real estate business. By the time he achieved legal majority on his twenty-first birthday, his property was worth $200,000.
This handsome fortune was wiped in the panic of 1837. Wright began again as secretary and general manager of the Union Agricultural Society for whom he began a newspaper, the Union Agriculturist. A merger with the Western Prairie Farmer followed, and by 1843 Wright became its owner and changed the name to the Prairie Farmer. Although he maintained his connection with the paper until 1857, he hired an editor and began investing his interests elsewhere.
Following his marriage to Catherine B. Turner of Virginia on September 1, 1846, Wright again entered the real estate business and over the next decade acquired an impressive second fortune, which was swept away in the late 1850s as a result of his financial backing of a "self-raking" reaper manufacturing concern. Shortly afterwards, he formed a land company designed to interest Eastern capitalists in the midwest.
Among Wright’s civic interests was public
education; the first public school in Chicago, a log structure, was built
at his own expense in 1835. He was also a promoter of the Chicago
park system connected by wide boulevards—a system designed, but far from
completed, at Wright’s death. Always a Chicago booster, he compiled
Chicago: Past, Present, and Future (1868) which has been described
as "a rambling, bombastic volume." Other similar books were added
to his bibliography; his later works are said to exhibit evidence of a
weakening mind, and indeed, shortly after the Chicago fire of 1871, his
family was forced to commit him to an asylum. The remainder of his
life was spent in and out-but
the age of fifty-nine, and was buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, on October 1.
John and Catherine (Kitty) were the parents of four children: Augustine Washington (b. 1847), Walter (1848-1849), Maria Alexander (b. 1849) and Chester Dewey (b. 1852). All four children were born at their grandfather’s Virginia home, so ardently did their mother dislike Chicago, an animosity which she never fully conquered.
For more information, see Lloyd Lewis, John S. Wright: Prophet of the Prairies (Chicago: The Prairie Farmer Publishing Company, 1941), Special Collections call number F548.4.W89. Special Collections also has three titles of Wright’s authorship: Chicago: Past, Present and Future (first edition, 1868, and second edition, 1870) and Wright’s Proposition to a Chicago Railway Capitalist with Important Addendum (1871). See card catalog for call numbers.
A map of Wright’s land ownership follows in the print version of this finding aid.
This small collection concerns the purchase of Chicago land by John S. Wright in 1848 from the New York speculator Bronson family, and the subsequent history of that land over the next two decades. The original deeds (Oversize 1, 2, and 3) are to lots 3, 4, 5, and 6 in Block 3 of the original town of Chicago, and lot 3 of Block 5. The majority of the collection, however, concerns lots 4, 5, and 6 of Block 3. See map on page 3 for location in present-day Chicago. [Note: There is some irony in the fact that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks was instrumental in identifying the location of this land, only to discover that the building which the Commission occupies sits partially on lot 4 of Block 3.]
The collection is arranged in five series: Correspondence (folders 1-13), Land records (Oversize 1-3, folders 14-20), Legal papers (folders 21-30), Tax receipts (folders 31-32) and Miscellaneous (folder 33). Each series is arranged chronologically.
Most of the persons represented in the collection are, in addition to the original buyer and seller of the land, a cast of lawyers and court officials. The exception is Samuel and Ellen Kerr, whose personal letter (1:2) bears no relation to the legal aspect of the collection. In fact, it is unclear what relation the Kerrs have to John S. Wright at all. Timothy Wright (various folders) and Walter Wright (1:7) are probably the younger brothers of John S., born in 1817 and 1819, respectively.
The materials in this collection were the gift of Joseph B. Francus, 1978 and 1983.
Processed May 1990.
The John S. Wright Papers are 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. H. W. Collender, ALS to "Sir", New York;
1853 Nov 9
2. Samuel & Ellen Kerr, ALS to "Son & Daughter", Drummaker (?),1858 June 27
3. I. H. Burch, ALS to Frederic Bronson, Chicago; 1858 July 13
4. I. H. Burch, ALS to Oliver Bronson, Chicago; 1858 July 13
5. Amos Truck, ALS to Frederick Bronson, Exeter, NH; 1859 Jan 26
6. B. Roekler, ALS to Frederic Bronson, New York; 1861 Mar 5
7. Walter Wright, ALS to Frederic Bronson, Chicago; 1862 Jan 6
8. Amos Tuck, ALS to Frederick Bronson, Boston; 1862 Jan 10
9. Amos Tuck, ALS to Elias L. Smith, Boston; 1862 Jan 13
10. F. Randall, ALS to Elias L. Smith, New York; 1862 Jan 14
11. Amos Tuck, ALS to Elias L. Smith, Boston; 1862 Jan 17
12. Timothy Wright, ALS to Oliver Bronson, Chicago; 1863 July 13
13. John Mattocks, Jr., ALS to Elias L. Smith, Chicago; 1863 July 24
Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lot 3, Block 3, Original city of Chicago; 1848 Apr 29 (2 copies) (Oversize 1)
Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lots 4, 5, & 6, Block t, Original city of Chicago; 1848 Apr 29 (2 copies) (Oversize 2)
Frederic Bronson to John S. Wright, sale of Lot 3, Block 5, Original city of Chicago; 1848 Apr 29 (Oversize 3)
14. John S. Wright to Francis A. Hoffman,
Chicago; 1857 Apr 13
15. Rees, Chase & Co.—Examination of conveyance, Timothy Wright & John S. Wright (1848-57); 1858 July 12
16. William H. Bradley—Examination of judgments & liens against Timothy Wright; 1858 July 13
17. William L. Church—Examination of judgments against Timothy Wright; 1858 July 13
18. Rees, Chase & Co.—Examination of conveyance, J. Wright to various people, Chicago; 1861 Feb 21
19. Frederic Bronson, quit-claim to Francis A. Hoffman, Chicago 1861 Mar 5
20. Frederic Bronson (executor of Arthur Bronson), copy of quit-claim to Timothy Wright, New York; 1866 May 12
21. Receipts—Thomas Dyer & others to
John S. Wright, installments on purchase of land
in Block 1, Original city of Chicago;
1847 May 1
1848 Jul 27
1849 Aug 1
1850 Oct 2
22. Contract—John S. Wright, Frederic Bronson & Oliver Bronson, postponement of payment; 1850 Oct 2
23. Power of Attorney—Frederic Bronson to George W. Snow; 1858 Jun 2
24. List of Timothy Wright’s leases sent to I. H. Burch; [after 1858 Jul 1]
25. Certification of Cook County records to Timothy Wright, by Walter Kimball, clerk; 1858 Jul 13
26. Receipt of contract—Oliver Bronson to Timothy Wright; 1858 Jul 20
27. Receipt—G. W. Snow to I. H. Burch, Chicago; 1859 Apr 29
28. Receipt—Elias L. Smith, for Frederick Bronson, to Amos Tuck--payment on Lot 3, Block 3, Original city; 1862 Jan 18
29. Legal agreement-Oliver Bronson & Timothy Wright—payment on Lots 4, 5, & 6, Block 3, Original city; 1863 Jul 22 (Signed agreement and two drafts)
30. Bill to Amos Tuck, with notation of his refusal to pay; n.d.
31. John S. Wright—Lots 1-8, Block 1, Original
town of Chicago;
1847 Feb 12 City taxes, 1846
1848 Feb 16 City taxes, 1847
1848 Nov 25 City taxes, 1848
1850 Feb 18 City taxes, 1849
32. Timothy Wright—Lots 4, 5, & 6,
Block 3, Original town;
1859 Mar 11 City taxes, 1858
1859 Jul 22 County taxes, 1858
1860 Mar 14 City taxes, 1859
1860 Aug 1 County taxes, 1859
1861 Mar City taxes, 1860
1861 Jun 24 County taxes, 1860
1862 Apr 7 City taxes, 1861
1863 Feb 16 [Wrapper only]
1863 Apr 17 City taxes, 1862
1863 Aug 22 County taxes, 1862
1864 Mar 29 City taxes, 1863
1864 Aug 20 County taxes, 1863
33. Wrappers (3 pieces); n.d.