Developers: Brockhausen & Fischer


Brockhausen and Fischer

This is the first of a series of profiles of Edgewater’s subdividing developers who took the surveyed raw land sold by the Federal government in 1835-1845 and turned it into the streets and individual house lots we know today. This land in its raw form had already passed through the hands of a number of previous investors who were speculatively waiting for the time when suburban development would reach northern Lakeview Township.


East of Clark Street, the first steps toward suburbanization were taken by John Lewis Cochran, who in 1885-1888 purchased and subdivided approximately 300 acres of lakefront land east of Broadway between Foster on the south and Devon on the north, giving his new community the name Edgewater. Building on Cochran’s successful marketing efforts, in 1890, just after Lakeview Township was annexed to Chicago, Theodore C. Brockhausen and William D. Fischer subdivided a thirty acre parcel bounded by Broadway and Glenwood on the east and west and between Devon on the north and a line extending east from Thome Avenue on the south. Their subdivision, which they called “Brockhausen and Fischer’s First Addition to Edgewater” was recorded in December 2, 1890. A Tribune article described the new subdivision as being “just west of and adjoining J. L. Cochran’s Edgewater addition.” A subdivision logo used on the recording map even closely resembles Cochran’s distinctively “arts and crafts” stylized lettering for the word Edgewater.
In 1890, Brockhausen and Fischer had much in common. Both were twenty-one years old, both were the sons of German immigrants who had become successful small town merchants, and both decided to seek their fortunes in Chicago rather than becoming part of their father’s businesses. Brockhausen, an only child, came from the small rural town of Lansing in Allamakee County in the northwestern corner of Iowa. Fischer, the fifth of eleven children, followed his druggist older brother Oscar to Chicago from the somewhat larger and less remote town of Mendota in La Salle County, Illinois. Both Lansing and Mendota were economically linked to Chicago by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.
Bockhausen and Fischer first showed up in a Chicago directory in 1887, when they were listed as working as bookkeepers for downtown employers located within a block of each on Dearborn Street. Brockhausen lived on Ontario near State Street while Fischer lived on West Lake Street. By 1889 Fischer had relocated to Ontario Street across the way from Brockhausen. In 1890 the Chicago directory listed a new real estate and mortgage company – Brockhausen, O’Connell, & Fischer, with offices in Rooms 50 and 51 in the Inter Ocean Building at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Madison. The partnership with Thomas F. O’Connell was very brief, because by 1892 O’Connell had a job at City Hall, and thereafter the firm was known as Brockhausen, Fischer, & Company. A 1891 display ad for the company published in Chicago’s Real Estate and Building Journal indicates that firm gave “special attention to the needs of non-residents,” meaning the young partners hoped to capture a share of the massive flow of eastern investment money into the Chicago real estate market.
The documents related to the recording of the new subdivision indicate that Fischer was the owner of the land and Brockhausen was the notary. It is not known where Fischer got the $120,000 in capital reported in a Chicago Tribune article to purchase the thirty acres of the subdivision at such an unusually early age. The purchase is even more Impressive because just prior to the Brockhausen and Fischer’s subdivision recording Fischer also acquired a five acre tract a quarter mile to the south, for an amount as yet undetermined, which he recorded as Fischer’s subdivision (Brockhausen was the notary for that recording). Perhaps his father provided the seed money or perhaps he had convinced one of those non-residents to invest the funds with him. Whatever the source of his capital, it was the firm of Brockhausen, Fisher & Company that reportedly received the 150% profit when the subdivided land was sold a year later. This major accomplishment yielded significant profits for the new company and kept them afloat as real estate and mortgage brokers for the next decade. They ended their partnership sometime between 1900 and 1905, with each continuing on their own in the real estate business for more several years. No other real estate deal in their careers would be as large.
Theodore Brockhausen married in Mathilda Irene West in 1892. They had two sons and two daughters. They made their home in the 4300 block of West Washington Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Brockhausen acquired a large tract of land in the vicinity of his Washington Boulevard home and, based on published real estate sales reports, seems to have sold and resold the same lots repeatedly. He also redeveloped a building where he had lived on Ontario Street into a small hotel and was active with political and real estate industry groups. Brockhausen’s independent real estate office was not listed in the Chicago directory after 1905. He apparently died in about 1906 because a 1907 Tribune death notice for his wife does not indicate a surviving spouse and in the 1910 census his young children, scattered and living with relatives in Iowa and upstate New York, were listed as orphans. Mysteriously, the deaths of neither Brockhausen nor his wife are recorded in Cook County records, although his wife’s Tribune notice indicated that she was a former resident of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery and perhaps he is as well.
The fate of William G. Fischer is better documented and just as sad. Fischer married Anna Scheehan in 1893 and they had two daughters. The family first lived in the 2800 block of West Warren in East Garfield Park and then moved to a brownstone townhouse on Roslyn Place just off Lincoln Park. In 1909 Fischer’s financial difficulties drove him to commit suicide by shooting himself in the basement of his brother Oscar’s drug store at 16th and South Wabash. At first the family claimed it was ill health that led to his suicide, but the Tribune soon reported that he had been misappropriating the funds of clients of several years. The precipitating incident was his conversion for his own use of $15,000 received from one client to pay off a mortgage held by a second client. The deceived client, a personal friend of Fischer’s, commented that it was “the old story of trying to keep up a champagne career on a beer salary.” Although the income of Fischer’s wife and two daughters was greatly reduced by Fisher’s death and disgrace, they were able to continue to live in their Roslyn Place home, perhaps with the assistance of Fischer’s father, who remembered his granddaughters in his will when he died in 1920, or with help from the childless Oscar Fischer.
There is more published detail about the details of the transactions involved with Brockhausen and Fischer’s subdivision than is often the case. Two Rascher real estate maps from the late 1880s indicate that within the thirty acre they subdivided there were four narrow east-west strips of land: two with ten acres, one of six acres, and one of 16 acres. The six-acre strip, aligned along the south side of Devon and containing the potentially commercially strategic southwest Broadway/Devon corner, was owned in 1888 by young real estate broker William E. Hatterman, in business with his father, who had in 1889 recorded a small subdivision of just this piece. Land records and a Chicago Tribune article dated November 5, 1891, indicate that the owners of the other parcels were the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, Ernst Stock, and Dr. Thomas J. Lilly. Ernst Stock was a well-established German-born real estate broker and Dr. Lilly was a Kentucky-born physician living on Chicago’s west side. The Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, a German-language breakaway from the better-known Daughters of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul, had purchased the land in 1869, two years before they established their St. Joseph’s Hospital on Dickens just east of Halsted. Perhaps the land was a donation to the Sisters, since there is no evidence of dwelling units on these properties. It appears that Fischer did not purchase the Hatterman property outright, since land records show that Hatterman’s warranty deed to Fischer was immediately followed by a mortgage obligation of Fischer to Hatterman.
Fischer purchased the thirty acres sometime in early to mid 1890 at a price of $4,000 an acre. The map accompanying the subdivision recording documents indicates that their plan provided for one east-west street corresponding to modern Rosemont and three north-south streets named Charleton (modern Magnolia), Fischer (modern Lakewood), and Euclid (modern Wayne). The entire thirty acres was divided into 144 lots, a mixture of 50’ and 44” front feet in size. This lot division was not necessarily followed in actual practice, particularly on the commercial streets.
A year later, after having gone through the legalities of the subdivision process, Brockhausen and Fischer were able to sell the north twenty acres, encompassing 96 lots, for $10,000 an acre to a syndicate of buyers based on Kewanee in Henry County, Illinois, east Rockford. The syndicate was headed by James K. Blish, a lawyer, banker, and member of one the most Kewanee’s most prominent pioneer families, and by William E. Haxtun, originally from Dutchess County, New York, who owned the Haxtun Steam Company and was one of Kewanee’s newest wealthy residents. The Tribune description of the Kewanee syndicate’s plans for developing their property – the provision of “sidewalks, macadamized streets, and a sewer and water system similar to that of Edgewater proper” – indicates the influence J. L. Cochran had on other developers as well as the perceived marketing value of the Edgewater concept.
The southern ten-acre strip of Brockhausen’s and Fischer’s subdivision, which encompassed 48 lots, was also sold in 1891 to a second Kewanee syndicate, the names of syndicate heads not indicated. The sales price also was not given by the Tribune.
Throughout the rest of the 1890-1900 decade Brockhausen, Fischer, & Company represented the two Kewanee investor groups in the selling of lots to both home-owning individuals and small-scale housing contractor speculators, as well as being involved in a range of real estate transactions in other parts of the north and west sides. Of the Kewanee investors, James K. Bliss is known to have had close family and other business ties to Chicago. Twenty-five years older that Brockhausen and Fischer, he spent 1862-1866 at the University of Michigan and lived in Chicago for several years until the J. W. Middleton blank book manufacturing company that employed him was wiped out by the Chicago Fire of 1871. He then returned to Kewanee to study the law and became a well-known attorney, state representative, and investor in businesses as well as an active supporter of the local library system and the Illinois State Historical Society. William Haxtun died in Kewanee in 1900 after a period of ill health following the 1895 sale of his company to a larger corporation.
The Real Estate and Building Journal, Volume 33, Issue 1, 17 Jan 1891, page 93