840 Hutchinson Part 1

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The year is 1893 - Chicago is hosting the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, beating out the likes of New York City and Washington D.C. The Exposition committee decided the fair should be located along the lakefront to take advantage of the city’s natural gem, but where exactly? A pioneer commission merchant named John Scales owned a nice chunk of land. Land that is now half of the historical Hutchinson street district in Buena Park. He teamed up with neighbors and made the pitch the World’s Fair should be hosted on the north shore. Scales and his team raised $300,000 and secured 300 acres of land from property owner. The alliance offered an additional $1,000,000 if their site was selected. There was a good chance the fair would be hosted in Buena Park, but in the end the Board of Governors decided on the south side in Jackson Park.


After getting beaten out by Jackson Park for the World’s Fair, Scales had land that he wanted to sell. In order to entice families the area was a perfect place to live, he built his own house.

I don’t have facts to back this up, but I think Scales turned to Joseph Lyman Silsbee, who owned the biggest architecture firm in the city. But Silsbee was busy creating a “spectacle” to exhibit at the World’s Fair. He had no time for side projects, so maybe he handed the work off to one of his young, up and coming architects. His name - George Maher. He moved to the city when his father was looking for work, which was easy to come by when the whole city needed to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871.

At 13 years old, Maher became an apprentice for the architect firm of Bauer & Hill. A handful of years later, he joined Silsbee’s firm and worked with other promising architects like Frank Wright (before he added Lloyd). Since Silsbee was occupied with his work and Wright was busy becoming Frank Lloyd Wright, Scales’ commission was Maher’s chance. He would go on and design 4 more homes on the Hutchinson Street block. Each home he built shows his evolution as an architect. These homes show how the changing of styles over the first decades of the 20th century, and the contribution Maher made to the formation of America’s own indigenous architecture.

Back to John Scales - to make money off his land, he subdivided into lots. He built his home on one of those lots. He then ran a street right down the middle. This is how Hutchinson Street was formed. Back then, Scales named it Kenesaw Terrace, after the battle he fought in during the civil war.

Scales graduated from Dartmouth University in 1863. Him and about 40 of his Dartmouth colleagues enrolled in the Civil War feeling they needed to do their part to stave off the Confederacy. Kenesaw Terrace after the Civil War Battle of Kenesaw Mountain in which he served in.

President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 40,000 men to join the Union in 1863. In Hanover, New Hampshire, Scales’ classmate Sanford Smith Burr rounded up a gangly crew of college cohorts who called themselves the ‘Dartmouth Cavalry Boys’. The crew was made up of 85 men, but only 35 of them were Dartmouth students with the other 50 coming from at least six other colleges. It was very common for a collective of university students joining the war, as they felt it was their patriotic duty to protect their homeland. However, the governor of New Hampshire declined their services. Undeterred, Burr sent a letter to each governor in New England, and Rhode Island came calling. After a short visit in Providence, they were off to Washington D.C. for training. According to Scales’ memoir, it was quite the scene to see men who’ve never ridden in their lives to be trained with horses that were yet to be broken in. After just 2.5 weeks of training, the men were sent out for reconnaissance work in the Shenandoah Valley. Their service coincided with some of the heaviest fighting. The Dartmouth Cavalry remained in service nearby, but never saw any action. By the time Dartmouth Cavalry returned to Providence, only one man was lost due to typhoid fever. Several men were captured by the rebels and were confined in Richmond, Virginia, but all of them were released and arrived home with the rest. The campaign was remarkably successful, and the general under whom they served spoke nothing but high praise and commended every troop in the Dartmouth Cavalry.

John Scales loved the community he was shaping. In order to make the area livable, he fought some pretty crappy stuff. One of them being the "the Gulf Stream issue" at the water crib, which is still there today directly east of Montrose Harbor.

Under the day labor system in 1900, the city began the building of a sewer system on Lawrence avenue, but the conduit was not functioning properly. Every minute, the Lawrence Avenue station was pumping 13,000 gallons of sewage into Lake Michigan. John Scales was most prominent in making the public aware of this issue:

Municipal ownership, why, this job of building a sewer system up here, begun by the city under the day labor system, is a display of the grossest carelessness, the most short sighted judgment that one could imagine the most heartless corporation to be guilty of.


The original plan was to be carried out in three parts:

  • Build a conduit on Lawrence avenue leading sewage from Lake Michigan to the north branch of the river.

  • Build a sewer running along the lakeshore with the southern half running from Diversey north to the Lawrence conduit and the northern half running from Calvary Cemetery south to the conduit.

  • A pumping plant on the west end would receive the sewage from these intercepting sewer and then send it up to the river’s north branch.

Machinery used to fix the “Gulf Stream” issue of was mysteriously blown up by dynamite. For five years work was left unfinished, with 9,000 feet of conduit left to be done.

The shores of the lake are polluted. I have been out on a tug (boat) and seen this black stream circling like a huge snake around the Lake View intake, being sucked in and distributed to every family in the district.

The city’s excuse was that the situation with the day labor system was tied up in the courts, and all other bids to complete it were too excessive.

Scales also tackled some issues leaving you scratching your head. He was opposed to building the outer harbors we’ve all come to love today. Examples Belmont Harbor and 31st Street Harbor. He thought they’d be too far from his mercantile districts downtown. It’d take too long to get his goods from Point A to Point B.

Outer harbor cartage would add immensely to the already overburdened street congestion from which we are vainly struggling for relief, and this is only 1911. What will congestion be in 1950?".

What he says makes sense, at that point in time. Little did he know a couple years later the invention of the automobile would change transportation forever.


John Scales tackled filthy issues that led to many public achievements. But there was a lot of personal tragedy he and his family went through while living in this home. In 1895, their oldest son John H. passed away. In 1906, their son Albert died. There was a brief bright spot in 1907 when their other son Ralph tied the knot. But in a tragic set of events all too common to the Scales family, Ralph died two years later. Every one of their son’s wakes was held in their home at 840 Hutchinson. In 1921, John passed away at the age of eighty. He was survived by one son, two daughters, and four grandchildren. His wife Margaret held the service in the home, then moved to Arizona shortly thereafter.

At points in time in John Scales’ life, he’s been to opposite ends of the spectrum. Points of success and happiness, other points of sadness and heartbreak. In the words of the late, great Jim Valvano:

If you laugh, you think, and you cry that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.

John Scales lived a heck of a life, all while living in his home at 840 W. Hutchinson.