Born in Newburg, New York in 1819, Edward Burling came to Chicago in 1843 after working as a carpenter since the age of 14. He was never formally trained as an architect, but as for so many who came here in the decades surrounding the Great Fire of 1871, this was a place of opportunity. After moving to Chicago, he became a contractor and builder. He superintended the construction of several buildings that were later destroyed by the fire, such as the Tremont House and the Marine Hospital. Soon, he worked his way up to being a full-fledged architect and established his own firm. Many famous pre-fire buildings were of Burling’s design, for example the Maison d’Orée, the Chamber of Commerce, the First National Bank, and the old Tribune Building. Sadly, these were also destroyed in Chicago’s infamous catastrophe.
After the Great Fire, Burling was one of the architects Chicagoans sought out for the rapid rebuilding process. He was hired to redesign the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, which he had built in 1857 but had mostly burned down. He also designed, among other buildings, the Nickerson Residence—now known as the R. H. Love Galleries—and a house for John DeKoven. The DeKoven house was later sold to the Biggs family, from which it takes its current name.
A self-taught architect known for the elegance and simplicity of his designs, Burling partnered with many famous architects throughout his career, including Frederick Baumann and Dankmar Adler, who later worked with Louis H. Sullivan. Although a number of his greatest works were destroyed, he remains a giant of Chicago architecture, one of the great men who helped make the city what it is.