Skip to main content

Streeterville Collection

Identifier: spe-nhrc-str

Scope and Contents

The materials in this collection appear to be part, but not all, of those put together by Chicago Title and Trust in its three decades of lawsuits involving Streeterville acreage. The legal action items include bits and pieces of various lawsuits, specifically legal documents compiled by Chicago Title and Trust for its 1917 suit against Streeter. Also included are correspondence, personal documents for some citizens, land records, historical sketches and two photographs.


  • 1845 - 1940
  • Majority of material found within 1890 - 1931

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

Streeterville consists of 186 acres of made land, bounded by St. Clair Street and Michigan Avenue on the west, Lake Michigan on the north and east, and the Chicago River on the south. The origins of Streeterville are as shrouded in controversy as were the first four decades of its existence. The neighborhood dates from July 10, 1886, although the events of that night are not entirely agreed upon. There was a storm over Lake Michigan that night, and by morning the 35 ton steamship Reutan had lodged on a sandbar off the Chicago shore near Oak Street. At the helm was "Captain" George Wellington Streeter (1839?-1921); his crew was his wife, Maria (died 1910).

Since the downtown clean-up after the Great Fire in 1871, Lake Michigan had been used as a dump by building contractors. Streeter invited such contractors to dump their waste on the sandbar where the Reutan sat, and he and his wife commenced housekeeping. The Streeters saw themselves as homesteaders; Chicago city officials considered them squatters. Thus began forty years of legal harangues.

The issue at the center of the controversy was ownership of made land. The owners of shore property hastily banded together and struck a deal with the state and the Lincoln Park board of directors. By this agreement, the shore owners built a boulevard a half mile out in the Lake (now Lake Shore Drive), filled in the pool behind it, and continued the city streets across the new marshy land. The boulevard was presented to the state, and the state gave the shore owners titles to the reclaimed land. In the middle of this acreage sat Streeter’s shack, successor to the Reutan as the couple’s home.

Streeter’s legal argument was that the state of Illinois had no jurisdiction in giving shore owners title to the land. This was based on the 1821 survey of the Chicago area authorized by Congress as part of a treaty with Native Americans. Rather than giving "the shore of Lake Michigan" as a general eastern boundary, surveyor John Wall minutely described the shore line. Thus, when Robert Kinzie acquired a 103.27-acre tract north of the Chicago River, it had definite eastern boundary. Over the years, the courts had consistently ruled that the heirs of the Kinzie grant could never claim more than a total of 103.27 acres, and here lay the strength of Streeter’s case. Claiming the new land as his own, Streeter sold and gave away enough building lots to surround himself with a coterie of interested parties able to benefit materially from his ascendancy. Having established to his satisfaction that the land was not part of Illinois, he therefore set up the independent "District of Lake Michigan" with William H. Niles as Military Governor. Allegiance in the District was owed only to the Federal government. On both sides, land deeds were issued: the legal description of the land, according to the shore owners, was Cook County, Illinois; to George Streeter, it was the District of Lake Michigan.

Streeter was forcibly removed from his home by Chicago police on May 5, 1889, but soon returned. In 1900, open combat between the police and the defenders of the District erupted. Trespassing suits and countersuits went through the courts with tedious regularity. During World War I, the District of Lake Michigan declared neutrality and fought off attempts to plant war gardens in its sandy soil.

The opening of the Michigan Avenue bridge in 1920 catapulted Streeterville into the most prime real estate in Chicago. Having been kept relatively vacant for decades because of the constant litigation, the land was still under dispute when the construction boom began. Captain Streeter’s death on a riverboat in Calumet Harbor on January 22, 1921, occurred at the beginning of a decade of intensive development of Streeterville, described by the Chicago Daily News (April 14, 1928) as "a program of building activities unsurpassed by any district of similar size in the world."

The Streeter heirs continued to push their claims to the land. The Captain’s widow was eventually ruled ineligible to inherit anyway due to the fact that she had not ever legally married George Streeter. The court ruled against a collection of nieces and nephews and in favor of Chicago Title and Trust in April 1928.


0.5 Linear Feet (in 1 box, plus 2 photographs, 4 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



The collection consists of land and legal records concerning Streeterville acreage.


The collection is arranged alphabetically by format and chronologically within.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The materials in this collection were purchased in 1984 from Hamill & Barker Antiquarian Booksellers.

Guide to the Streeterville Collection
Original author unknown. Processed, April 1990. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Johanna Russ, 2021.
1990 April
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875