This letter was written by Benjamin Wright Raymond (1801-1883), the son of Benjamin and Hannah Raymond of Rome, Oneida County, New York. Raymond was educated at St. Lawrence Academy in Potsdam, New York as well as in Montreal, Canada. He returned to East Bloomfield, New York and worked as a merchant before deciding to try his luck in real estate in Chicago in 1836 with the backing of his friend, Simon Newton Dexter, to whom he addressed this letter. In 1835, he married Amelia Porter, the step-daughter of Judge Josiah Porter of East Bloomfield.
Raymond was twice elected mayor of Chicago. In 1839, he was elected the city’s third mayor, defeating James Curtiss. He ran for reelection the following year, losing to Alexander Loyd. In 1842, he was elected to a second term as Chicago’s sixth mayor, defeating the incumbent, Francis Cornwall Sherman. At the time, mayoral terms were one year. During his terms as mayor, Raymond ensured that State Street would be a wide thoroughfare. During his first year in office, he secured the site of Fort Dearborn for the city of Chicago when it was sold by the federal government.
In 1843, after finishing his second term as Mayor, Raymond and Dexter built the first woolen factory in Illinois, in Elgin, Illinois. Raymond also served as the president of the Fox River Railroad, which connected Elgin to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In the 1850s, he was instrumental in securing the charter for Lake Forest University and building the city of Lake Forest, Illinois. In 1864, approached by J. C. Adams of the Waltham Watch Company, Raymond agreed to put up the money to start a watch company in the Midwest. The men elected to build the company in Elgin, Illinois, which donated 35 acres (140,000 m2) of land to the entrepreneurs. The building was completed in 1866 and housed the Elgin Watch Company. The first model the company made was named the B.W. Raymond. [Source: Wikipedia]
The subject of this letter pertains to the acquisition of considerably property in the rapidly developing village of Des Plaines, Illinois.
Addressed to S. Newton Dexter, Esq, Whitesboro, Oneida County, New York
April 4th 1837
S. Newton Dexter, Esqr.
I wrote you four days since anticipating a purchase of some Des Plaines Town Property. The proprietors called upon me yesterday and said they had $3,000 to raise this week and the Bank had passed a resolution to discount only to merchants and they must sell some of their property low to raise money. I made up my mind that under present circumstances, I had better not make a large purchase but thought it would be an object to get some interest in the town as there is beginning to be quite an interest excited in favor of the place since it is pretty well settled that the Indiana Canal will very soon be constructed and the farmers in the vicinity are disposed to encourage the growth of the place.
I, therefore, venture to make the following bargain. I purchase 5 undivided acres of the whole 80 acres which is laid out or 1/16 of the whole @ $1,250 or $250 an acre, and have taken their written refusal for 15 acres more for 4 months if I take the whole 20 acres to have it for $4,000 — 1/4 of the whole. The number by which I have obtained this refusal is by paying cash $1,500; that is I pay $500 here, and give them a draft upon you for $1,000 at 4 months payable at Utica Bank. This draft I am to meet if conclude any time between this time and maturity of the draft to take the other 15 acres, and am to pay the balance in 12 months — or if I should not think best to take but the 5 acres at the expiration of the 4 months, they have given me their note @ 4 months for $800 which they are to pay toward the draft which will leave $700. I shall have paid towards the 5 acres & the balance $550 am to pay in 9 months.
The proprietors of whom purchase are Engineers on the Illinois & Michigan Canal and abundantly able to pay the $800 at the time. They have refused the same offer of $4,000 cash from another person for the property on account of their promise to give me an interest for commencing a store there, and they have no payments they say to make except the $3,000 and can manage without selling any more to get along, so that if we should not think best to purchase but the 5 acres, shall have but the 244 to raise ourselves to meet the $1,000 draft. And in the meantime, if there should be a rush of capitalists to this country in the spring as you seem to apprehend, have the opportunity to make something by the sale of this property to a considerable amount without paying out much except the advantage of your credit by acceptance of the draft. I should not draw upon you were it not for your permit, provided I saw a good opportunity to invest and the opportunity of having the principal part of it paid back to make it provided I should find it difficult to keep the whole 1/4 of the town.
There was also a person yesterday in the store very much in want of money who owned a 40 acre lot of heavy timbered land within a mile of the town of Des Plaines. He paid one year ago $500 cash for it. The Michigan & Illinois Canal runs within a few rods of it. He offered it @ $600, 1/3 down but in 6 & 12 months. Such land is not valued at less than $25 an acre. I accordingly as hard as am pressed for money paid him the $200 cash & gave notes for the balance @ 6 & 12 months & took his deed. I consider it worth this moment $25 an acre, paid $1 [paper torn] here. I stop for the present unless I can hear [paper torn] man pays his drafts. I hope he will for I hear the Colorado & Red Pines Land Scrip is worth 50 cents an acre. I paid 30 cents for ours – if I get it. I hear often from the East that Chicago is down. It is a thunder. It is going ahead. There are to be erected a great number of buildings the coming season. There are not enough homes by 100 as are now started for immediate use. Scarcity of money has stopped speculation and mercantile business for the present but the country is filling up & the opening of navigation will, I trust, create a different state of things.
In haste. Yours sincerely, — B. W. Raymond