Just before midnight on October 8, 1871, the inferno that had ravaged Chicago’s West Side leapt the Chicago River. A wall of flames surged toward downtown, threatening to devour Chicago’s most magnificent hotels, offices, and government buildings. Mayor Roswell B. Mason raced to the Chicago courthouse, but he would soon find he was helpless to save his city.
Panic-stricken South Side residents streamed out of their homes and fled to the North Side, the stately residential area they were certain was safe. Dodging flaming debris and crashing buildings, they flooded the streets. But the fire’s path of destruction was relentless. The flames were following the refugees to the North Side, hurtling straight toward the Chicago Waterworks.
It was the final link in the city’s defense. Chicagoans knew that if the Waterworks burned, their city was doomed.
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