Forgotten Merchants: The Dawson Brothers

In the center of the building at 517-19 N. Halsted Street in River West reads 18 DAWSON BROS. 88.

Henry G. Dawson was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England on May 1, 1854. His brother, William, was born December 3, 1856. They arrived in the US on December 20, 1858.

By 1880, they were living in Chicago and by 1885, William and Henry had started their own business manufacturing grates and trimmings for fireplaces at a building that used to be located here. In 1888, this Halsted location was built to house their burgeoning business, one of the few of its kind in town.

In early October 1899, William was involved in an accident downtown. He went to Arkansas to recover, but died a few weeks later. He was only 43. The company remained Dawson Bros. after his death, even though Henry was the sole owner. A few other Dawson brothers housed their professions in this building, including Charles, a salesman/clerk, and Joshua, originally a tile setter before becoming the building's super.

Henry died March 2, 1919 in Chicago following an operation for gallstones and was buried at Rosehill Cemetery. The business carried on for a few years under the same name but by 1929, a woodworking company had moved into the space in the building. The building is seen in the background of this 1954 photo, painted white and quite different looking than it appears now.

Today, it houses a cafe on the street level, with apartments above.

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