Tuesday, March 22, 2011


In 1854 eight year old Daniel Burnham was enrolled in the Garden City Institute, a Swedenborgian Academy founded by Jonathan Scammon and administered by H. Orville Snow. Two years later the building burned and Daniel was enrolled in public school.

Burnham's Swedenborgian influence did not end with the Institute. Father, Mother, Uncle, Grandfather, Brother and Sister were signators to the Swedenborgian Church in Chicago. Daniel was further educated in Waltham, Massachusetts by Joseph Worcester, son of Thomas, founder of the Swedenborgs in Boston. And finally he was tutored by Harvard Graduate and Swedenborgian Thomas Brown Tilley.

Central to Swedenborgian belief is Divine Providence and the concept of Usefulness. Plus 17 volumes of far ranging philosophy and science recorded by Emanuel Swedenborg 1668-1772. And while all of this is very interesting stuff -- and especially in tune with nineteenth century transcendentalism -- the connections that Daniel Burnham formed through his Church look to be every bit as important to his Architecture as the religion itself.

Jonathan Scammon, founder the of the Swedenborgian Community in Chicago, became one of the wealthiest men in America and was instrumental in the founding of the Chicago Historical Society. And with William Ogden in building the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad.

Joseph Worcester, in addition to running the Swedenborgian School in Waltham was an amateur architect. Soon after Daniel left Waltham, Joseph moved to San Fransisco founding the Swedeborgian movement on the Bay -- which included Architect Bernard Maybeck, and naturalist John Muir. Worcester was particularly interested in the Arts and Crafts Style and was familiar with the works and writings of John Ruskin, Viollet le duc, and William Morris. Daniel and Joseph remained lifelong friends.

Thomas Brown Tilley introduced Daniel to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's nephew, architect WPP Longfellow -- with Swedenborgian interests and a considerable knowledge of Architecture. And, with a short leap of faith --I will assume that Daniel also met Henry  -- whose use of Swedenborgian philosophy in poetry is well documented.

When Daniel Burnham returned to Chicago in 1871 he had seen what he wanted to be, knew what it looked like, and had picked up enough "Architecture" to know that when he met future partner, John Root, working in Peter Wight's office, that John was "the real deal."   I'd call THAT an education

Swedenborg followed Daniel throughout his life. Steinway Hall. Phoebe Hearst. The Women's Building. The Masonic Temple. The Chicago Plan. Commissions and people entertwined with Daniel Burnham and his uncanny nack for lifelong friendships.  More on this to follow.

The Saloon Building

The early Chicago Swedenborgians shared the Saloon building with the Chicago City Council, the Unitarians, the Chicago Lyceum, the US District Court and the Chicago Daily Journal.  The building was owned by Jonathan Scammaon.


A Special Thanks is due the Swedeborgian Library here in Chicago at 77 West Washington Street.  

Link HERE.http://www.swedenborglib.org/  ..... where I have much more to learn.



Photographs by Gregory H. Jenkins AIA

Friday, March 18, 2011


Elizabeth, Daniel Burnham's mother, kept the family in Henderson, New York as long as it took to care for her ailing father, Holland Weeks. But after Reverend Weeks' death, the family was ready to leave the quiet shores of Lake Erie. Edwin, Daniel's father, saw safe opportunity along the Erie Canal in Rome, NY. But Elizabeth insisted on Chicago. Daniel's rich Uncle Dyer had preceded them by two years and had developed a successful law practice. (Note to self. Where was Dyer when Edwin was fleeced in a late 1853 deal to buy a Joliet stone quarry?)

The Burnhams arrived in Chicago in 1854. Just in time for a cholera epidemic. Most of the town still occupied undrainable swamp. But the seemingly impossible task of raising street levels by ten feet (and jacking up the buildings that faced them) had begun. Chicago's population had doubled since 1850. Filth and growth were palpable. The Rock Island Line had just connected Chicago to the Mississippi via railroad. -- making even faster growth possible. And what seemed an impossible turn of events, the Chicago River was closed at Clark Street. A ship had rammed the bridge.

And there were Germans. Speaking German. Everywhere.

It's dangerous territory for a Blogger to guess what might have impressed or affected 8 year old Daniel Burnham most during these years. Although it is safe to assume that the move was not easy. I would look for familiar things. Amid the strangeness and chaos and filth.

The symbol of stability and comfort would be the fine, white clapboard houses. With columns. Greek Revival. Like rich Uncle Dyer's house, left behind in Sackets Harbor. Or the Widow Clarke's house in Chicago and the dozens like it.

The Widow Clarke House

It should be no mystery why, later in life, Daniel would so easily accept the classic columns, (albeit improved, and presented in stone) or why he would so thoroughly understand the need for a City Beautiful.


Both Daniel Burnham and the Widow Clarke House took their place on South Prairie Avenue.  Though, some 100 years apart.


Researching this post, I discovered that it was NOT Horace Greeley who said "Go West, young man....."  It was Hoosier newspaperman John Soule in 1851.  The same John Soule who ended up Pastor of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church.  He died in 1891.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago surrounds us. Defines us. Many of us walk by or into Burnham buildings every day. His presence in Chicago is palpable. He seems quite close. Part of our immediate history. We are fooled. He is not.

Daniel Burnham was born on September 4, 1846.

His grandparents were active in the American Revolution. Saw the Louisiana Purchase. His father and mother were contemporaries of the War of 1812. Daniel's own birth date roughly coincides with the Annexation of Texas and the Mexican War.   In 1846 the United States of America consisted of 29 states. Iowa had just joined the Union.

1846. That was during the Tyler Administration, that took its place after the untimely death of William Henry Harrison (old Tippecanoe -- who saved Indiana from the Indians in 1811.) Before telephones, radio and railroads. Electricity. Rigid frame construction. Elevators. Skyscrapers.

Below is a time line of Daniel Burnham's youth.

1846 Daniel Burnham born in Henderson, New York. the sixth of seven children.

1854 Burnham Family moves to Chicago.

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Snow's Swedenborg Academy

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Central High School

1861 Daniel Volunteers to fight in the Civil War. Enlists in the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry.

1861 Edwin Burnham "de-enlists" Daniel.

1863 Daniel sent to the New Church School in Waltham, Massachusetts kept by Reverend  Joseph Worcester

1865 Daniel sent to Bridgewater, Massachusetts to be tutored by Harvard graduate, Tilley Brown Hayward.

1866 Daniel is introduced to architect William P. P. Longfellow.

1867 Daniel "chokes" at the Harvard and Yale entrance exams.

1868 Daniel returns to Chicago and works for William LeBaron Jenney

1868 Daniel prospects for silver in White Pine County, Nevada

1870 Daniel works briefly for John Van Osdel, H. B. Wheelock and Gustave Laurau.

1872 Daniel works for Carter, Wight and Drake

1873 Daniel forms partnership with John Root.

1876 Daniel marries Margaret Sherman

There is an interesting story associated with each of these dates. (And the times in between) (More on this to follow). An even more interesting story is how this 19th Century man moved so easily into our Twentieth.


In Daniel's early years, his mother, Elizabeth seems to be the Burnham family's moving force.  And living well into the 1890's she continued to play an important part of Daniel's life.