William D. Kerfoot House

[William D. Kerfoot House (1895) John N. Tilton, architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the time William Kerfoot built this house in 1895 he had achieved a sort of fame,
and not just because he was one of the most successful and wealthy real estate men in Chicago, but because of his response to the Great Fire of 1871.

[William D. Kerfoot House, 1425 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The day after the fire had finally burned itself out, Kerfoot found that his office building was now just a smoldering pile of rubble. With the help of a cousin, he gathered together a stack of lumber and built a shack out in the middle of the street, in front of the still-to-hot-to-touch pile of stone, and opened for business. He was the first person to do so in the burn district, and when a photograph was published around the world of Kerfoot standing proudly in front of the shack with a hand painted signboard attached to it that read: Wm. D. KERFOOT is at 59 Union Park Place All gone but WIFE,CHILDREN /AND/ ENERGY, the real estate entrepreneur became an instant celebrity. Kerfoot and his sign summed up the drive, energy and determination of many of his fellow citizens as Chicago grew out of the ashes of destruction to become the second largest city in the U.S., and one of the country's economic powerhouses.

[William D. Kerfoot House /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Twenty-five years after that picture was taken, Kerfoot moved his wife and children into
the Bedford limestone-fronted house on Astor Street. He died there in 1918, followed nine months later by his wife Susan. The house was eventually broken-up into apartments, but once again provides elegant housing for a single family. And as for that photo, it is one of the most reproduced images from the fire, and has kept William Kerfoot's indomitable spirit alive and well.

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