Washington Square Park Barracks

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Washington Square Park Relief and Aid Society Barracks; Copelin & Hine, Glass Lantern Slide, ca. 1871 (ichi-2860)

Washington Square Park Relief and Aid Society Barracks; Copelin & Hine, Glass Lantern Slide, ca. 1871 (ichi-2860)


In its 1874 report, The Relief and Aid Society recounted that it had built four small communities of barracks in different portions of the city for the homeless poor.  The others besides the ones in Washington Square Park, across Walton Street from the Ogden mansion, were located on Madison Street, Harrison Street, and Clybourn Avenue.  In all, the barracks accommodated a thousand families, with each family allotted two furnished rooms. The Society patronizingly maintained that as housing the barracks were certainly adequate for the poor working people who occupied them, who “were mainly of the class who had not hitherto lived in houses of their own, but in rooms in tenement houses." Such Chicagoans were "undoubtedly very nearly, if not quite, as comfortable as they were before the fire," and, since they were less crowded and under supervision of health officials and police, "their moral and sanitary condition was unquestionably better than that which had heretofore obtained in that class."  The barracks were a step below the tiny but private shelter cottages that the Society helped provide for more skilled workers and their families.

Here several children play in the snow, indicating that the picture was taken either late in 1871 or early in 1872. The two towers in the background are the fire-ravaged Unity Church, on the southeast corner of Walton and Dearborn.

"Washington Park is full of the barracks built by the city for the houseless poor--they are the only neighbors Mr. Ogden has within a mile," wrote Anna Higginson, whose own ample home near the Ogdens had been burned a month earlier. "One of the men whom we employed for a day told Charlie 'that they had not many neighbors, but they were very select!' meaning the Ogdens.  I think Mrs. O. feels worse, living in her elegant, untouched house, than we do who are altogether homeless, & I do not wonder at it, as they live in fear of their lives, with their house watched day & night by policemen."