Monday, August 1, 2016


Ruins of the fire looking north from Congress and Wabash
(click to enlarge)

News of the fire spread rapidly.  Stories were being distributed to all parts of the country from the earliest alarms.  After midnight on Monday morning, Chicago Mayor, Roswell Mason, telegraphed officials in other cities requesting help.1   Railroads, responsible for the phenomenal growth of the city, were also critical to its relief.  By mid-morning, fire fighters and equipment were received from Milwaukee.  A crew from Janesville, Wisconsin arrived by mid-afternoon.  More equipment and manpower followed quickly from Cincinnati, Detroit, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Bloomington and Springfield, Illinois, and other cities.  Springfield sent three carloads of provisions by Monday evening.  Another fifty carloads of food and clothing was received from various cities by late Tuesday afternoon.2

Monday afternoon, many hours before the fire was out, plans were being made for the relief of the victims.  The First Congregational Church, at Washington and Ann Streets, away from the fire in the West District, was appropriated as a temporary
West Side Rink in use as a Depot for supplies
(click to enlarge)
city hall and relief headquarters.   Volunteers toured the city seeking refugees to let them know that food and shelter was available.  Others helped organize storage and distribution of food and clothing shipped in from across the United States, and indeed, around the world.   (See picture of the West Side Rink used for storage and distribution of food and clothing in the aftermath of the Chicago fire.3)  Before the fire was out, plans were also being made by many business owners to set up temporary facilities in unburned sections of the city, and to replace buildings lost in the fire.4  

Large scale losses required a more permanent solution.   By October 15th, the Chicago Relief and Aid Society assumed responsibility for a long term response to the needs created by the fire, and continued assisting victims through 1873.  Over 100,000 people were left homeless.  Food and shelter were an immediate concern, but jobs and the health of the homeless were also issues.   Several committees were identified to address each cause.  Initially, churches and school buildings were used for shelter and distribution points for food and clothing before depots could be established.  Free rail transportation out of the city was arranged for roughly 20,000 of the homeless.  Others sought shelter with friends, and sometimes strangers, more fortunate to still have a home.  Tents were erected and barracks were built to house others.  Building materials were made available to qualified
Shanties built in Chicago after the fire
(click to enlarge)
families to fabricate small shanties where they could shelter from the approaching winter season.5  (See example on the right.)  Many jobs were lost because of the extent of the damage to businesses and factories.  The Aid Society matched men with jobs as rebuilding progressed.  Sewing machines were sold or given to women so they could support themselves and their families.  Fresh drinking water was not available for some time following the fire, and, to avoid a major outbreak of smallpox, thousands were vaccinated.6 

So, just how did Hannah Brown and the Brown family fare in the months and years after the fire?  Initially, the family likely escaped by going east to the shore of Lake Michigan to wait out the fire as did many other residents of the South Division.7   Some of the family may have left Chicago in the days following the fire.  The David Brown letter states that, “After the fire . . . she [Hannah] lived with her son, Patrick and his wife and family on a farm at Saybrook, Illinois, until her death.”8   However, while on a research trip to Dublin a few years ago, I talked to one of the professional genealogists at the National Library.  She stated that the Irish custom was for a widowed woman to live with a daughter as long as one was alive.  So, did Hannah stay in Chicago or go to Saybrook?

The family could have stayed with friends in the South Division.  Beyond the business district and the surrounding residential area, the South Division was largely untouched by the fire.  Likewise, most of the West District was unaffected.  Many Irish lived in these areas including people with surnames like Brown, Kelly, Hogan, Moloney, Walsh, and Toomey (spelled Twomey in the directory) that are also found in the area of Fanningstown in County Limerick.  There are other clues in City Directories after 1871 and the list of “Burial Permits”9 for Chicago.

As before the fire, again, it is helpful to look for the family as a whole rather than as individuals.  The 1872 Chicago City Directory
Enlarged section of map of Chicago where the Browns lived
(click to enlarge)
shows Thomas Roach, son-in-law of Hannah, in the West District on Ewing between Jefferson and Desplaines.  The directory also shows Michael Brown in the same location, perhaps at the same address at 124 Ewing.10   W. H. Gray, the husband of Mary Brown, eldest daughter of Hannah, is on 22nd Street.  All of these addresses are outside of the burn area.   The two youngest boys, James and Thomas, are shown at 116 Sherman, which, although was burned, could have had some “temporary” structure at the address.  Hannah could have been living with any of these family members and it appears that the family kept close ties throughout the adversity.  (See the above enlarged map of the area.11) 

Johanna Brown Roach, youngest daughter of Hannah and wife of Thomas, is shown in the “burial permits” index for 1872.  Her address is given as 361 S. Jefferson which is on the west side of the street at the intersection of Ewing.  This building was not burned.  (See location “A” on the map.)  Ellen Brown died in 1874 and is shown at 79 Ewing, within the burn zone.12  (See location “B” on the map.)  Ellen is living at the same address as Michael at the time of her death, but was living at the corner of Jackson and Franklin in 1871 along with the rest of the Brown family at the time of the fire.  Location “C” is the Sherman Street address where James and Thomas were living until 1874.

Because it would agree with Irish customs, I believe that Hannah was living with Johanna Brown Roach in the years immediately after the fire.  She probably remained there, caring for her
1880 Census-Saybrook, IL
(click to enlarge)
grandsons, until 1875 when the two small Roach boys were orphaned.  This is likely when she moved to Saybrook, Illinois to live with her oldest son, Patrick.  Hannah is definitely shown in the 1880 US Census with Patrick, his family, the two Roach children, and William Brown,13  another nephew of Patrick.  (See image of the 1880 census at the right.14)

Patrick’s wife, Anne, died in 1878.  (More about Patrick in future posts.)  Although there is no evidence, I agree with the David Brown letter in that, “. . . It seems that after the death of his wife, Patrick Brown, carried on with the help of his Mother [Hannah] until she too, was taken about the year 1884 or 1885.  After her death the home was broken up . . .”15   Patrick did break up his home about that time; however, there is one additional listing of Hannah in the Chicago City Directory.  In 1885 Hannah is living at 175 S. Jefferson, (the corner of Jefferson and Jackson), with her oldest daughter, Mary Gray and Mary’s son Lyman.16   Mary Gray and her son are also listed in the 1886 city directory.  Mary Gray died in Chicago in 1886; Lyman died in 1889.  Both are buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. 

Hannah is not listed in the 1886 Chicago City Directory.  I have not located a death or burial record for her.  I also checked several cemeteries in the Chicago area and have not found her in any of them.  So, like David Brown, I do not know Hannah’s date of death,
Top of page 3 of the David Brown letter (click to enlarge)
nor, do I know her place of death.  The David Brown letter states that she, “. . . is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois.”  (See image of page 3 of the David Brown letter above left.)  Several years ago, I checked with the county offices in McLean County, Illinois and there was no record of Hannah’s death.  I have also checked with St. Mary’s cemetery and have not found her there.17   It could be that Hannah died in Chicago and was taken to Bloomington for burial.  Hannah could also have moved from Chicago to Bloomington after the death of her daughter, Mary.  Several children of Patrick, grandchildren of Hannah, were still living in the area at the time and she may have lived with them.   Since David Brown obtained his information from grandchildren who would have known Hannah, and definitely, in some instances, lived with her, it seems likely they would have remembered some of the details of her life and death.  Because of this, I also believe Hannah’s final resting place is St. Mary’s Cemetery in Bloomington, with her son, Patrick, and Patrick’s wife, Anne.

I will continue to search for more specific information, and, will post it if anything is found.  However, I think it is now time to move on to other members of this immigrant family.  We will next look at Patrick, the oldest son of Hannah Kelly and Timothy Brown, who also arrived in Boston in January 1849.

Image - Sweeney, Thomas S., Ruins of the South Division, Harper’s Weekly, Harper & Bros., New York, N.Y., November 4, 1871, p. 1033.  Originals accessed July 23, 2016, Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.  The image shows the South Division looking north from Wabash and Congress, the very south east edge of the burned area.  The Brown residence, at Jackson and Franklin, would be in the fuzzy area directly behind the First Presbyterian Church in the foreground.

1.       Holden, Charles C. P., Rescue and Relief, The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, website of the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University.  Available online at: 

2.       Cromie, Robert, The Great Chicago Fire, McGraw-Hill, New York, New York, 1958, pp. 177-195

3.        Davis, R.R., The West Side Rink, Harper’s Weekly, Harper & Bros.. New York, N.Y., November 11, 1871, p. 1052, original accessed July 23, 2016, Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.

4.       Cromie, op. cit., “The last building burned early Tuesday morning.  The first load of lumber was delivered to the South side Tuesday afternoon.”  P. 197

5.       Cromie, op. cit., “By year’s end 6,000 small shanties . . .” [were built]. P. 206

Image – David, Theodore R., Improvised Shanties on the North Side, Harper’s Weekly, Harper & Bros., New York, N.Y., November 4, 1871, original accessed July 23, 2016, Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.

6.       Chicago Relief and Aid Society, Report of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society of Disbursement of Contributions for the Sufferers by the Chicago Fire, Riverside Press, Riverside, Cambridge, 1874.  The publication contains detail information about the relief efforts, including many tables and charts showing statistics of the relief provided.  It is available online at Hathi Trust Digital Library at:;view=1up;seq=7  

7.       Helmer, Bessie Bradwell, The Great Conglagration, The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory, website of the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University.  Available online at: 

8.       Brown, David Earl, Kewanee, IL, 11 May 1943, Letter to Esther ______, Columbus, OH, p.3.  The letter written in 1943 contains detailed information about the Brown family as known by the author at that time.  Saybrook, Illinois is located just a few miles east of Bloomington.  Bloomington supplied Chicago with firefighting equipment and provisions even before the fire was extinguished.   Rail transportation between the two cities was well established.

9.       Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871-1933: showing name, address and date of death.  Commonly called “Burial Permits” since the indexes also identify people from outside the Chicago area.  The indexes are available on microfilm at Family Search.  I used film numbers 1295944 (Deaths, Bou-Cul 1871-1933), 1295946 (Deaths, Gol-Haw3 1871-1933), and 1295973 (Deaths, Rep-Sik 1871-1933) to research family deaths in Chicago.

10.   Recall that Michael Brown was living at 219 Jackson Street in 1871.  This is the same address for Hannah Brown and her family.  Also, recall that Ellen Brown, widow of John Brown, was also living at this address suggesting that Ellen was married to the brother of our Timothy Brown.  The 1870 census shows Ellen as a “Kelly” further suggesting she may, in fact, be a sister of our Hannah.   

11.   Map is a section of the J.H. Colton & Co. 1855 map of Chicago.  The burned area is shown in pink.

12.   Michael Brown moved from the time the 1872 city directory was published and 1874.  The 1874 city directory shows Michael Brown at 79 Ewing, the same address shown on Ellen’s “burial permit.”  Since 79 Ewing was in the burned area, perhaps they were living in one of the "shanties" provided by the Aid Society.  From a combination of census records and city directories, it appears that Ellen and Michael are related, likely mother and son.

13.   William Brown is the son of John Brown.  John Brown is a brother of Patrick being the third child of Hannah Kelly and Timothy Brown.

14.   Year: 1880; Census Place: Bell Flower, McLean, Illinois; Roll: 231; Family History Film: 1254231; Page: 626B; Enumeration District: 184; Image: 0136

15.   Brown, David, op. cit., p. 4.

16.   We will look at Mary Brown Gray in future posts.  Common names are difficult to affirm; however, this is the correct Mary Gray.  I have been able to follow her through from the 1850 US census to her death in 1886.  She is listed in the 1885 Chicago City Directory as the widow of William, and in the 1886 census as the widow of Henry.  Her husband is alternately listed as William, Henry, William Henry, or W.H. is various records.  He was always shown as a baker or confectioner.  Mary’s son, Lyman, is listed as a confectioner in the 1885 directory and candy maker in the 1886 directory.

17.   Because of a fire in the 1930s at Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, Illinois, no early information survives for St. Mary’s Cemetery.   The records they have are from a 1985 survey done by members of the community that recorded the tombstones in the cemetery at that time.  There is a record, and an inscribed tombstone for Anne Brown, the wife of Patrick Brown; but, no other inscription is available.


  1. Thank you Mary Ann as usual. I was interested that there was a burial permit for Johanna. How did you access it? Any other info besides her address?

    1. I found the information about Johanna on the "Indexes to deaths in the city of Chicago during the years 1871-1933: showing name, address and date of death." The indexes are on microfilm and available from the Family History Library. The Rep-Sik section of the alphabet is on film #1295973.