Ghost Signs: The Adams and Westlake Company

All around The Adlake Building at 319 W. Ontario Street in River North, you can see ghost signs for The Adams and Westlake Company, a railroad supplies manufacturer once known all across the country.

John McGregor Adams was a highly acclaimed businessman in Chicago. Born in New Hampshire in 1834, he arrived in the city in 1858 as a representative for a hardware company based in New York. Soon after arriving, he began a railway supply firm with John Crerar.

William Westlake, born in England in 1831, was more of an inventor than a businessman. He was tin and copper smith for a number of railroad companies in his younger years and invented the car heater, loose globe lantern, oil cook stove and stove board in the 1860s. He perfected the first practical railroad car lamp in 1873. Westlake began a lucrative railroad globe lantern business soon after.

He joined forces with Adams and his company was re-organized as the Adams and Westlake Company in 1874. The company continued making globe lanterns, but it sold other railroad supplies as well. The Encyclopedia of Chicago has an entire catalog from 1875 available online. They also sold bicycles and early magazine cameras under the brand Adlake.

Westlake quickly grew tired of the business and left the company (and his patents) after only 3 years, moving to Brooklyn, New York in 1877. A few years later, he retired, although he never stopped inventing. He died in 1900. Adams, a keen investor and philanthropist, remained president of the company until he died in 1904.

The Adams and Westlake Company continued more than a half a century. Business slowed and, in the 1960s, they moved to Elkhart, Indiana. By the end of the 1970s, the company was out of business. Here is a photo of the building as it looked in 1978. I noted the ghost sign for the old telephone number on the building in a post in June.

It was renovated into lofts only a few years ago.

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