Northwestern has a long history in the City of Chicago. Incorporated as a city in 1837, Chicago was still a crude outpost with thriving commerce but lacking educational or cultural institutions (not to mention sidewalks) by 1850. In May of that year, nine Chicagoans met in a downtown law office above a hardware store, and founded a new university to serve the America’s vast new “North-West” territory. The University’s founders were devout Methodists, but also shrewd businessmen. Among their first investments was the purchase of sixteen lots at the Northeast corner of LaSalle and Jackson Streets. This property, intended to serve as the first campus of the new “North-Western University”, instead was leased to others when in 1853, 360 acres became available on a planned stop on the new Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad in Ridgeville, now Evanston. Lease of the LaSalle and Jackson property was an important source of income for Northwestern’s Evanston and Chicago campuses until the University sold the property in the 1990s.
The roots of Northwestern’s Chicago Campus are in its consolidation of affiliated professional schools: Chicago Medical College in 1870, Union College of Law in 1873, The Illinois College of Pharmacy in 1886, and the University College of Dental and Oral Surgery in 1886. In 1902, Northwestern purchased the Tremont Hotel at Lake and Dearborn Streets and consolidated the law, dental and pharmacy schools under one roof at the Tremont, while the Chicago Medical College remained near its clinical partners at 26th Street and Prairie Avenue.
In 1921 under the leadership of President Walter Dill Scott, land was purchased in Streeterville, and architect James Gamble Rogers (designer of the Harkness Quadrangle at Yale, and the Presbyterian Medical Center at Columbia University in New York) was selected to plan a new campus in the Collegiate Gothic style in order “to make a positive contribution to the architecture of Chicago”, according to Scott. Construction of the Chicago campus was enabled by the $25 million Campaign for a Greater Northwestern, which raised major gifts for construction of new buildings for the Law, Medical, and Dental schools as well as the School of Commerce. A century later, the Chicago Campus houses a thriving academic and interdisciplinary research enterprise that spans virtually all of Northwestern’s academic disciplines, engages the City’s civic, social and cultural institutions and partners with medical affiliates like Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, and Lurie Children’s Hospital.