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Jun 11, 2020
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My father and I recently attended the opening of the Chicago History Museum’s newest temporary exhibit, titled Back Home: Polish Chicago. It was outstanding, and will be up until June of 2024. I recommend anyone stop by if they have an interest.

While driving down, I recalled that Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. owned land outside Chicago prior to the Civil War. I got curious about exactly where this was, and what is there now. Fortunately, Arndt M. Stickles lays out the boundaries in his biography of Buckner, titled Borderland Knight.

Buckner’s holdings centered on a 35-acre plot known as the Kingsbury Tract, which he managed on behalf of his in-laws. It was east of the Chicago River’s north branch, and was bounded by Kingsbury Street and the river to the west, Ontario Street to the north, Wells Street to the east, and Kinzie Street to the south. (Today it is bisected by the Ohio Street freeway access to the Kennedy Expressway.) As one can imagine, this was (and is) lucrative land for development. Buckner also owned a few lots at the corner of Randolph and Clark in the Loop, which today is is the site of the James R. Thompson Center and is across the street from the Daley Center.

While in Chicago, Buckner also was involved in many civic organizations, and superintended construction of the customshouse. He even served as Adjutant General of Illinois for a few months in 1857.

The Kingsbury Tract had quite a history. When the war started, Buckner put the land in his wife’s name to avoid confiscation. After 1865, he had to go to court and successfully assert his continued interest in the land and what had been developed there. The legal victory may have been a bit Pyrrhic, as the 1871 Chicago Fire damaged Buckner’s holdings, and he later sold them off.

Still, the legacy remains, and it is an interesting footnote in the history of the City of Chicago. We sometimes forget that Civil War leaders had lives before and (for those who survived) after, and those can be quite illuminating.

One final note: Buckner’s in-laws included Colonel Henry Kingsbury, who was killed at Antietam leading the 11th Connecticut.

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