If you spot one of these miniature houses on the Near North Side, you might think someone installed a mother-in-law suite in a one-car garage – a very long time ago. It’s actually much more interesting than that.
After the Great Fire of 1871, the city was in ruins. Nearly 100,000 people lost their homes. Tens of thousands of people left the city; others were taken in by friends. The fire had struck in early October, and winter was coming.
The Chicago Relief and Aid Society stepped in to provide kits – plans and materials – so people could build their own shelter cottages, as they were called. They came in two sizes; both were tiny.
More than 5,200 of the cottages were built in the month following October 18, 1871. They didn’t last long, as people moved on to more permanent housing. Today, only a few remain; no one knows how many, as they have been built around and covered with other materials.