Historic anchor adrift in Streeterville

(Published in April 29, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Streeterville was undergoing a real estate boom in 2007 and developers were looking toward a bright future when a piece of the past surfaced for the first time in more than a century at the corner of Illinois Street and Grand Avenue.

It was an anchor and it was 35 feet underground.

Realtor and neighborhood booster Gail Spreen believes it could be a relic from George “Cap” Streeter’s boat—a direct link to the eponymous founder of Streeterville.

“It’s the same style anchor that’s on Cap Streeter’s boats,” Spreen said.

Streeter famously helped settle the area when his boat ran aground on a sandbar. From there, the silt and sand from the river and lake built up, along with dumped debris, to create real estate.

Chicago History Museum vice president of education John Russick said there may be no way to say for sure whether the anchor came from Streeter’s boat, but it is an important artifact. It represents a time before developers built “modern” Chicago and offers a potential link to the beginning of that development, he said.

Russick said there’s no doubt the Streeter story is true. Streeter was sued in court and eventually evicted from Streeterville, so court records document his history. But in other areas, the historical record is sparse. While there are photos of Streeter, Russick said there are no known, verifiable pieces of his boat.

“I’ve never heard of anything that was found of the boat. We have some photographs … so we know what it looks like,” Russick said. “But no, we have no physical evidence of his boat. With the possible exception of the anchor.”

Now, above ground at last, the old anchor needs a home.

Spreen acquired the anchor in 2011 from the man who owned the property where it was uncovered. She’s hopeful someone will help find a permanent home for the artifact.

“Someday this anchor is going to go someplace where people appreciate it,” she said. “But until we have a location for it, it’s staying with me.”

Covered in rust and barnacles, the anchor is in two pieces and attached to a 35-foot chain. Spreen said she’d like to see it near the eight-foot statue of Streeter, at the corner of McClurg and Grand near Yolk, where it was found.

“The best case would be where we wanted it, next to Cap Streeter,” she said.

This historic anchor might once have belonged to Cap Streeter. Photo courtesy Gail Spreen

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