Early Chicago: The Great Fire

The Great Chicago Fire started on October 8, 1871. It burned for 36 hours, engulfed 3 1/2 square miles in the center of the city, killed at least 300, left 100,000 homeless and destroyed more that 18,000 buildings.

Three years later, another large fire sent a new group of burned out residents searching for a place to live. Chicago's forgotten fire of 1874 displaced the majority of black families living in the downtown area. Most of these families then moved to less populated communities on the South Side. Their choice of location would have a major impact on the future housing patterns of African Americans in the city. These new communities would eventually stretch into a long and narrow chain of segregated neighborhoods known as Chicago's "Black Belt."