George Streeter

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George Wellington "Cap" Streeter (1837 - January 22, 1921) was born near the town of Flint, Michigan. From 1886 to 1921 Streeter spun lies, forged legal documents and used violence to wrest 186 acres (0.75 km2) of Lake Michigan shoreline away from its rightful owners. Failing in his efforts to defraud the wealthy landowners, he then turned to robbing the poor by selling them land that he did not own.[1]

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Streeter in Legend

During a storm on July 10, 1886, the former Mississippi River boat captain and circus owner ran his steamboat, the 35-ton Reutan , onto a sandbar 451 feet (137 m) off Chicago's north shore near the foot of Superior Street.[2]

Unable to move the vessel, which slowly silted into place, Streeter claimed it made up the independent "United States District of Lake Michigan" and thereby was not subject to the laws of Illinois or Chicago.[3]

Ever since the downtown clean-up after the Great Fire in 1871, Lake Michigan had been used as a dump by building contractors looking to get rid of backfill and general rubble. Streeter invited such contractors to dump their rubble on the sandbar where the Reutan sat, extending the size of his land considerably. Over time, this landfill connected the Reutan to the city. As the landmass grew, collecting more dumped rubble as well as silt from the lake, Streeter began to issue deeds to the land to others who saw themselves as "homesteaders" in the growing city of Chicago. City planners and founders saw otherwise.

In 1889, Streeter and his common-law wife, Maria, moved into a larger ship that had run aground in the District and named it the Castle.

That summer, industrialist N.K. Fairbank, who claimed rights to the area, arrived to inform Streeter he was an illegal squatter and would have to leave. Streeter chased Fairbank off with a shotgun. Shortly thereafter, Streeter also chased away the constables who had come to evict him.[4] Further attempts to remove them were met with gunfire and pots of scalding water. After one such raid resulted in his arrest for assault with a deadly weapon, Streeter was acquitted on the grounds that buckshot was not considered deadly.

Although Fairbank sued Streeter in 1890 and won, Streeter maintained his hold on the District, which was now home to prostitutes, the homeless and other "undesirables." In 1892, it was estimated that the land was worth around $300,000, a substantial sum in that era.[4]

During the World's Columbian Exposition, Streeter refloated the Reutan and used it to ferry passengers between Streeterville and the exposition grounds at Jackson Park.

From 1894 on, there were many attempts to forcibly remove Streeter from the District, often for violating laws that prohibited the sale of liquor on Sunday.[3] In cases in which police were injured by axes and gunfire, Streeter and his men were invariably found not guilty due to acting in self-defense. Streeter's fight for what he considered his land continued until his death on January 22, 1921, although he and his second wife had left Streeterville to move to East Chicago, Indiana, in 1918. The Streeters' heirs continued to lay claim on the land until April 1928, when the courts ruled in favor of Chicago Title and Trust. Even despite all the bad blood, the Mayor of Chicago attended the Captain's funeral.[1]

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