Walter Smith Gurnee
14th Mayor of Chicago
In office
March 11, 1851[1] – March 7, 1853[2]
Preceded byJames Curtiss
Succeeded byCharles McNeill Gray
City Treasurer of Chicago[3]
In office
Preceded byFrancis Cornwall Sherman
Succeeded byWilliam L. Church
In office
Preceded byN.H. Bolles
Succeeded byN.H. Bolles
Personal details
Born(1813-03-09)March 9, 1813
Haverstraw, New York, U.S.
DiedApril 17, 1903(1903-04-17) (aged 90)[4]
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting placeSleepy Hollow, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
ChildrenAugustus C. Gurnee
Residence(s)Chicago, Illinois

Walter Smith Gurnee (March 9, 1813 – April 17, 1903) served as Mayor of Chicago (1851–53) for the Democratic Party. The Village of Gurnee, Illinois is named for him.[citation needed]


Gurnee was born in Haverstraw, New York and arrived in Chicago in 1836 after spending time in Michigan.[5] Once in Chicago, he established a tannery, which, by 1844, employed between thirty and fifty men.[6] He was a founding member of the Chicago Board of Trade. Prior to becoming the mayor of Chicago, Gurnee was the primary partner of Gurnee & Matteson, a saddlery and leather firm. Gurnee did well enough in this business, and in his tannery, that he amassed a large fortune before moving to New York City.[7]

Gurnee campaigned for the mayoralty on the issue of public ownership of the city's water supply. Once in office, he fought against the merger of the Illinois Central and Michigan Central railroads, originally planned to meet up south of the city.[8] He was elected to two terms, winning the mayoralty in 1851 and being reelected in 1852.

Gurnee unsuccessfully attempted to stage a return to the mayor's office in the 1860 mayoral election. He lost to "Long John" Wentworth, who had previously served a term as mayor as a Democrat, but had switched to the Republican Party.[9]

The mausoleum of Walter Gurnee
The mausoleum of Walter Gurnee


  1. ^ "Mayor Walter S. Gurnee Inaugural Address, 1851". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  2. ^ "Mayor Charles McNeill Gray Inaugural Address, 1853". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  3. ^ "Centennial List of Mayors, City Clerks, City Attorneys, City Treasurers, and Aldermen, elected by the people of the city of Chicago, from the incorporation of the city on March 4, 1837 to March 4, 1937, arranged in alphabetical order, showing the years during which each official held office". Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Death record from the City of New York, Department of Health, 125 Worth Street, Manhattan; certificate number 12138
  5. ^ Pierce, Bessie Louise (2007). A History of Chicago: The Beginning of a City, 1673-1848. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 177.
  6. ^ Pierce, Bessie Louise (2007). A History of Chicago: The Beginning of a City, 1673-1848. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 141.
  7. ^ Gale, Edwin O. (1902). Reminiscences of Early Chicago and Vicinity. Chicago: Revell. pp. 385.
  8. ^ Fehrenbacher, Don E. (1957). Chicago Giant: A Biography of "Long John" Wentworth. Madison, WI: The American History Research Center. pp. 110.
  9. ^ "Walter S. Gurnee Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. April 18, 1903. Retrieved November 15, 2021.