Birth of a City – Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the birth of a small town, now known as Chicago, when the survey was recorded on August 4, 1830.

From the History of Chicago by Alfred Theodore Andreas, published in 1884:



The few families who reposed within the shadows of Fort Dearborn first realized that civic authority extended to their cabin doors in 1823.

It was then that the officials of Fulton County, to which this unorganized region was attached, levied a tax of five mills to the dollar upon all personal property in the settlement, exempting only household furniture, as provided by law.

Amherst C. Ransom, Justice of the Peace, served as Collector, and enriched the treasury by the sum of $11.42, thereby demonstrating that the total valuation of embryo Chicago was but $2,284.

When Peoria County was created in 1825, Chicago came within its jurisdiction.

Even at this time Chicago had but a mythical existence, the name applying sometimes to the river and again to a cluster of cabins on its marshy shores or sandy banks.

But the Illinois & Michigan Canal having at length obtained its coveted and magnificent land grant, the commissioners were authorized “to lay out towns upon the sections which fell to them. Chicago was accordingly surveyed, and a plat of it published by James Thompson, a canal surveyor, on August 4, 1830.

This date marks the birthday of Chicago as a town, and the ” Fort Dearborn settlement ” disappeared.

The section falling to the canal interest, upon which Chicago was platted, was No. 9, situated immediately north of School Section No. 16.

The line between the two sections was Madison, and their eastern boundary State Street.

East of State Street, extending from Madison Street north one mile, was the tract included in the Fort Dearborn Reservation and the Kinzie pre-emption, which afterward became additions to the town.

The portion north of the river had been pre-empted by Robert Kinzie, for the family, and the portion south comprised the Reservation.

Section 15 was a canal section and was not surveyed for some years afterward.

Section 9, “the original town,” and to which all other surveys are additions, fortunately covered the ground along the main channel of the river and at the junction of its two branches.

The original limits of Chicago were Madison, Desplaines, Kinzie and State streets, embracing an area of about three-eighths of a square mile.

The public thoroughfares running east and west were, as recorded on Thompson’s map, ” Kenzie,” Carroll, Fulton, (on the West Side), South Water, Lake, Randolph and Washington streets, naming them in their order from the north; while those lying north and south were Jefferson, Clinton, Canal, West and East Water, Market, Franklin, Wells, ” La Selles,” Clark and Dearborn streets, naming them in their order from the west.

Included within these brief limits were the hitherto independent settlements of Wolf Point, west of the river’s fork, and the “lower village,” on the South Side.

Thus Chicago was no longer a “settlement ” merely, and during the year succeeding its survey the young town received increased distinction by being designated as the seat of justice of the newly organized county of Cook.

In June, 1831, the State granted to the county twenty-four canal lots, which were not in one body, however, but the proceeds of which were to be used in the erection of public buildings.

Sixteen lots were sold to pay current expenses. The eight remaining constituted the public square.

The result of this generosity on the part of the State was seen in March, 1832, when, through the architectural skill of Samuel Miller, contractor, there arose upon the southwest corner of the square, the so-called “estray-pen.”

Although sometimes designated and dignified as “the first public building ever erected in Chicago,” the “pen” was a small wooden enclosure and quite roofless.

Mr. Miller’s bid for the work was $20, but he accepted $12 from the commissioners; thereby admitting, as charged by the county authorities, that he did not do his work according to contract.

During this year and the next, (1833,) general attention was called to Chicago by the valiant efforts which her citizens were making to obtain a harbor appropriation; and in addition to this mode of advertising the “canal enthusiasm ” was spreading from Chicago all over the country.

Many accessions were, therefore, made to her population, and some of the new arrivals were of that permanent character so valuable to a young community.

The summer of 1833 saw Chicago with a population of about three hundred and fifty, and her citizens prepared to organize, under the general legislative act, for the incorporation of towns, passed February 12, 1831.

By its provisions citizens of any town containing over one hundred and fifty inhabitants were authorized to hold a meeting, and decide whether they wished to become incorporated.

If the aforesaid citizens favored the assumption of corporate dignity, then the clerk of the convention or meeting, was to give at least five days’ notice that an election would be held to choose five Town Trustees, who were to hold office for one year.

The Board of Trustees were endowed with the usual powers — to abate nuisances, gambling, disorderly conduct; to prevent fast driving and enforce police regulations; to license shows, control markets, take charge of the streets and sidewalks, and to provide the means for protecting the town against fire.

The limits of the town were not to exceed one square mile, within which limits the Trustees were to have jurisdiction.

They could call out any citizen to work on the public roads for three days in every year.

The tax-levy was fixed at fifty cents on every hundred dollars of assessed valuation. The Trustees were denied the right to impose a fine of more than $5 for breach of any of their ordinances, and two-thirds of the qualified voters of the town, at any annual election, could dissolve the corporation.

Late in July, 1833, a public meeting was held to decide whether incorporation should or should not be effected.


The Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of Mr. Thompson’s plat of early Chicago.

Illinois Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin