Forgotten Chicagoans: John Hufmeyer

The John Hufmeyer building at 2770 N. Lincoln Avenue in Lakeview has a date of 1888 in set in stone on it, but he was doing business at that location for more than a decade prior.

Hufmeyer was born in 1845 in the area that became Niles township. His German parents were some of the earliest settlers in Niles and, for a while, their only neighbors were the Native Americans. They moved to Chicago in 1853 and his father Adam was once the commissioner of Cook County. In 1865, he married his Nellie Gilette and started a grocery business where 1230 N. Wells St. is located in Old Town. This property burned in the fire of 1871, leaving him somewhat in debt.

By 1874, he had started running a general store and saloon at the southeast corner of Racine and Lincoln. Four years later, his wife died, leaving him a single father of four children, 3 boys and a girl. A year later, he married Catherine "Kittie" Hoyt, a young woman nearly half his age (he was 34, she was 18). He ended up having 3 daughters with her.

Contemporary accounts label him as having "a keen business foresight, which, combined with industry and strict integrity, enabled him to acquire a competence through the legitimate channels of trade." By 1886, he had become a man of many trades, dealing in flour, feed and coal, although he mainly focused on real estate. By 1890, the Sickels Brothers partnered with him in real estate and general brokerage.

This current building was erected in 1888 and was designed by Charles Hermann. Fionn McManigal is the current manager of the property after his father bought it nearly 50 years ago.

"I know [Hermann] did some work for the city," he said in an e-mail, "He was a municipal [architect] with the city for a while doing police and fire stations and bath houses. The fire station off of North Michigan Ave is his, as is what is the Firehouse Restaurant on South Michigan Ave."

According to contemporary accounts, John Hufmeyer was "not an office-seeker, [though] he has several times accepted positions of trust from his fellow-citizens, and was at one time a member of the town board of Lake View." He died on February 4, 1906 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery. His daughter Nellie (named after his first wife) continued working in real estate at the building for at least another decade. By 1929, the business was gone, as listings show the Northwestern Pine Tar Company in this location.

You can see past and present photos of the building, inside and out, in the gallery below.

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