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It’s possible that one or two really grand structures might have survived the onslaught, but certainly not many.” Another neighborhood that might be a lot different, Leslie says, is River North.
Many of the buildings that burned down in River North might still be standing, he says.
And Lowe says the churches that once dotted downtown could still be standing, along with some of downtown’s mansions.
“The old houses on Monroe and Wabash were handsome and would have given downtown Chicago a certain elegance and variety,” Lowe says.
But several historians told us that most of the changes that occurred in Chicago after the 1871 fire would have happened — only at a slower pace and with subtle differences.
“Chicago’s perfect central location for commerce would have remained constant — the city would have continued to grow,” says Tim Samuelson, the city of Chicago’s cultural historian.
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After reading books on the city’s history and hearing people talk about the Great Chicago Fire, he started to think about how much it seemed to shape “the way that our city is.” “To a huge degree, the design and layout of the city of Chicago and the character of the buildings are a result of the Chicago Fire,” he says.
“If the fire hadn’t happened, it would look a lot different.” To answer Kevin’s question, let’s first consider the possibility that a fire would have destroyed a large section of the city sooner or later. Richard Bales, author of , pinpoints a date when an alternate-history disaster might have struck: July 14, 1874.
Chicago was filled with wooden buildings, as well as piles of lumber and coal. That’s when a fire began near Taylor and Clark streets in the South Loop, sweeping across 60 acres but stopping short of the central business district. would have burnt even more properties.” But let’s say Chicago managed to avoid a devastating fire. Neither did that fire in 1874 — or anything on a similar scale. “Chicago would probably have been a much smaller metropolis and not the second-largest city in the United States,” says Neal Samors, author of several books on the city’s history.
“The fire stopped burning when it hit the newly built stone buildings in the business area,” Bales says. He argues that the fire’s clearing effect allowed a building boom that wouldn’t have been possible without the fire.