Chicago Guidebooks: An Overlooked Resource

by Katie McMahon, Reference Librarian

Looking for information about an old Chicago hospital? Or maybe some insight into how a neighborhood looked 100 years ago?  Are you researching a Chicago hotel, church, company, or school from the 1800s?

For each of these research problems, a Chicago guidebook from way-back-when may be able to provide some answers.  The Newberry has several Chicago guidebooks from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Some of them were published around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair and the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition.  Like today’s guidebooks, these publications highlight the major city  institutions, buildings, stores, companies, historical sites, streets, and neighborhoods . 

For example, Chicago: The Marvelous City of the West (1892) offers a detailed 31-day walking tour of the city.  It also includes descriptions of cemeteries, libraries, city government, railroads, clubs and societies, theaters, occasional illustrations of buildings and offices, streets and parks.  A general index at the front will help you make your way through this dense book.  

Published a few years earlier, Marquis’ Guide to Chicago (1885) includes sections on “charitable, benevolent and human institutions” such as hospitals and orphanages, and business houses.  It also features an index to the guide’s text and illustrations.

All About Chicago (1933) has chapters for each area of the city (Loop, North Side, South Side, West Side), as well as chapters on parks and “where to dine and dance.”  It also features beautiful woodcuts of Chicago spots.  

If you are like me, you may find yourself completely distracted from the task at hand as you browse through these guidebooks.  They offer a fascinating picture of yesterday’s Chicago, and may come in handy in your research.

You can find additional Chicago guidebooks in the Chicago Browsing Section in the General Reading Room and by searching the Newberry’s online catalog under these subject headings:

Chicago (Ill.) – Description and Travel
Chicago (Ill.) – Description.

Happy hunting! 

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