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Amazing Before-and-After Photos from the Great Fire of 1871

The Story of Chicago captures the ruins—and the Relic House, a bar built from the city’s ashes.

In the years leading to the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago reexamined itself. It found what it liked, of course, and generated plenty of triumphalist press for itself, but in doing so it also created an impressive record of the city’s early history.

Part of that record is The Story of Chicago by Joseph Kirkland, literary editor of the Tribune, mentor to the novelist Hamlin Garland, and editor of the literary magazine Prairie Chicken.

Kirkland’s history, published in 1892, gathers some remarkable before-and-after photos of the fire’s devastation, from the South Loop up to the Near North Side. The city would rebuild from that devastation with some of the most legendary architecture in the country’s history, but Kirkland’s book preserves a lesser-known building literally built from its ashes—the Relic House, a saloon built from scavenged materials and located near the site of a contemporary Chicago institution, R.J. Grunts.

I stumbled across the photos on a recent expedition in the British Library’s Flickr stream, which hosts more than a million images from the library’s collection, including images from The Story of Chicago, which it republished in 2011. Check out some of the great shots below.

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