Cook County Courthouse and Jail

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Landmark Images:
Cook County Courthouse and Jail under Construction; Photograph, ca. 1874 (ichi-02021)

Cook County Courthouse and Jail under Construction; Photograph, ca. 1874 (ichi-02021)

Even before the fire, some of the local government activities that had been concentrated in the Court House moved to other buildings.  The fire accelerated such changes.  This included the construction of the County Jail and Criminal Court, designed by Armstrong & Egan, which were located next to each other along the west side of Dearborn Street between Hubbard and Illinois streets in the North Division.  The jail was for serious criminals; those convicted of minor crimes were sent to the new Bridewell, or House of Correction, which had opened in the summer of 1871 at 26th Street and California Avenue.

The most famous trial held in the Criminal Court Building took place took place in the summer of 1886.  The defendants were the eight men accused of conspiring to throw the deadly Haymarket bomb into the ranks of police breaking up a labor rally held on the evening of May 4 on Desplaines Street, just north of Randolph, in the West Division.  Although the trial was full of irregularities and the state never identified the bomber at the center of the supposed conspiracy, all eight were convicted and four were hanged in the jail on November 11, 1887.

The area where the meeting was held and the bomb was thrown was called the Haymarket because it was formerly the site of a large market building.  The new Criminal Court and County Jail were built on the site of the North Division market.  The South Division market had been on State Street below Randolph. 

The Criminal Court Building was torn down in 1892, and a new one, designed by Otto Max, was erected using some of the same stones.  It was the site of the 1921 trial of the Chicago White Sox players charged with fixing the 1919 World Series and of the 1924 trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb for the murder of Bobby Franks.  This buildiing was subsequently used by the Board of Health.  In the 1980s it was sold to a private developer who converted it into a private office building.  The jail had been torn down in 1936, and a fire house now occupies its site. 

This neighborhood, particularly Clark Street north and south of Hubbard, contains the best concentration of post-fire stone buildings still standing in the city.  Many other downtown structures built in the 1870s were replaced in the following decades by taller ones, including the earliest skyscrapers, which could make more cost-effective use of valuable real estate.