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Curriculum Materials

Peggy Scott


Main Ideas

Pre and Post Chicago Fire Buildings

Geography set Chicago at the crossroads of the nation and its resources. The five themes of geography—location, place, movement, human-environment interaction, and regions (see Illinois History Teacher, volume 1) — illustrate why Chicago not only recovered, but expanded as a result of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Especially relevant are Chicago's location, its role as a hub for movement across the nation, and the human-environment interaction that not only started the fire but was seed to the new style of architecture that germinated in the fire's ashes.

Connection with the Curriculum
Illinois history, U. S. history, and geography

Teaching Level
Grades 9-12

Materials for Each Student

• Regional map of Chicago showing physical features as well as economic activities

• Map of Chicago showing fire zone

Objectives for Each Student

• Identify the geographic factors that influenced Chicago's early growth and economic roles.

• Analyze Chicago's geographic setting and economic needs after the fire.

• Analyze the benefits of the new architectural techniques developed by the Chicago School.


Opening the Lesson
With Handout 1— regional maps of Chicago—students should identify factors that would make Chicago a good place to settle or begin a business after the Civil War. Discuss the Handout with special emphasis on how various transportation systems would use Chicago as a hub linking the resources of the Midwest and West to the industries and markets of the East Coast. Then use Handout 1, Question 3, to briefly analyze the students' own vicinity in regard to similar factors.

Developing the Lesson
As homework or in classroom groups:

• Have students read the narrative portion of the article.

• On an overhead projector or with individual maps, show students the area affected by the Great Fire.

• Have students analyze the map to see what portions of the city core were destroyed, and complete the questions on Handout 2.

• Discuss Handout 2, emphasizing the students' ideas for how the architecture helped to solve problems or ease the concerns of Chicago citizens.

Concluding the Lesson

• Compare photographs of a pre- and post-fire building in Chicago, and have students point out and explain some architectural differences and why these differences developed.

Extending the Lesson

• Take an architectural walking tour of the Chicago Loop. Contact:

Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60604-2507

• Visit one of the many Frank Lloyd Wright sites in Illinois.

• Have a member of the local city planning board speak to the class about local planning issues.

Assessing the Lesson

• Have students do a needs assessment or planning project for their local community.

• Have students write an essay on Chicago's prime geographic appeal.

• Have students research the effects of other disasters, historical or recent.


Handout 1 - Geography and History

  1. What is Chicago's relative location?

  2. What factors might have influenced Chicago's location and growth?

  3. How does Chicago's location promote trade?

  4. What environmental factors would be detrimental to Chicago's growth?


Handout 1 - continued

Illinois Railroads


Handout 1 - continued

Illinois Railroads


Handout 2
Chicago's Recovery
After the 1871 Fire

Read the narrative portion of the article. Then study the map of the fire zone and answer the following questions:

  1. What materials would be needed for Chicago to recover?

  2. What problems did the city face in recovery?

  3. Thinking of how the city would not just recover, but improve, what new ideas or restrictions might Chicago implement?

  4. What were the key factors in Chicago's quick recovery?

  5. What are the benefits of steel-skeleton construction?

  6. What changes would you make to your town's current planning?


Handout 2 - continued

Map of the Area Burned During the Chicago Fire

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