<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Fertile Soil</b><br> The city that shaped the great publishing family is more recent<br> even than the dynasty itself. Founder Joseph Medill was a<br> ten-year-old Ohio boy in 1833, when a pastoral fur trading<br> post guarded by the soldiers of Fort Dearborn was incorporated as the <br> town of Chicago. This tiny community at the far edge of civilization<br> consisted of no more than three hundred and fifty hardy souls who <br> resided in the barracks, wigwams and wood cabins near the muddy<br> banks of the Chicago River; among them were soldiers garrisoned at <br> the fort and their families, a few natives of the Potawatomi tribe and <br> assorted traders of John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company.<br> Deer sipped serenely from the river in the early morning, wolves <br> howled in the prairie at night and Indians lurked behind trees of the<br> forest on the river’s north bank, occasionally venturing across to the <br> fort, where they peered in and startled soldiers’ wives. The only <br> diversion for this heterogeneous population was to travel to Wolf Point <br> at a fork in the river, where Mark Beaubien, a gregarious fiddle<br> playing Creole, owned the Sauganash Hotel, a tavern that throbbed<br> night and day with vitality. As Beaubien himself said, “I plays de <br> fiddle like de debble an I keeps hotel like hell.” The Sauganash was a <br> place where all races, ranks and classes gathered for drinking, singing,<br> dancing, card playing and roulette, mixing as equals. And they <br> were there every night.<br> <br> The soldiers, the Potawatomi, Astor’s traders and the dancing parties<br> at Wolf Point were destined to become the stuff of legend when, <br> as the 1830s progressed, eastern money began betting that Chicago—<br> not St. Louis, Milwaukee or even Kenosha or Racine—would become <br> the commercial capital of the northwestern frontier. But only if a navigable<br> link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River could be <br> created. While the site was tantalizingly close to the point at which the <br> continent’s two crucial water systems might connect, the village was <br> virtually isolated. The Chicago River provided a channel to the Great <br> Lakes, but there was no clear water passage connecting it to the Illinois<br> River and thus with the great Mississippi. Furthermore, a sandbar <br> blocked the mouth of the river, making it impossible for large ships to <br> enter. Removing the sandbar was relatively simple; building a canal <br> was not. To finance construction of the new passage, large chunks of <br> public land designated as “canal lots” were sold in an escalating real <br> estate market as a canal mania that had begun with the astonishing <br> success of the Erie Canal spread westward. Eastern financiers fueled the <br> boom by speculating on the swampy land parcels, which they drained <br> and developed. This fed the upward spiral further, and as property was <br> sold and resold, the land’s skyrocketing value attracted even greater <br> investment until the economic reversal created by the panic of 1837.<br> The long awaited channel, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, was <br> completed in 1848, placing the port of Chicago at a strategic position <br> in an uninterrupted water passage between the harbor of New York <br> and the Gulf of Mexico. Goods and raw materials flowed smoothly <br> from the East through the Erie Canal and Great Lakes, and from the <br> South via the Mississippi River and the new canal. In the decade that <br> followed, the city became the nation’s great rail center and a system of <br> turnpikes was laid. The once isolated village became linked, through <br> water, rail and roadway, to the magnificent riches of lumber, grain and <br> livestock surrounding it. The year 1848 also saw the opening of the <br> Chicago Board of Trade, which created a center for buying and selling<br> those commodities, and in the same year the city’s first telegraph <br> <p> <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Magnificent Medills</b> by <b>Megan McKinney</b> Copyright © 2011 by Megan McKinney. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.