History of DuPage County : DuPage Roots

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CHAPTER 4 The Tap Root

                   INTO THE MODERN ERA:


The period from 1870 to 1920 functioned as the tap root for the modern world In that period the inventions which were to give shape to modernity came into play. While it is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, it can also be said that invention is the mother of necessity, since modern people have become dependent upon technology to sustain new life­styles. This broad historical force was clearly manifested in DuPage.

Infatuation with innovation is portrayed in The Cottage on Maple Avenue, a film produced by the Lombard Historical Society drama­tizing a typical day at 23 West Maple Street in 1876. Newell and Flora Matson are shown entertaining William and Helen Plum by demonstrating the newest devices they had brought back from the Philadelphia Centennial World's Fair.

But it was the Chicago World's Fair which triggered the next chain reaction of life-style change. Not only did the Columbian Exposi­tion of 1893 demonstrate how Chicago had emerged as the fastest growing of all cities (from 100,000 in 1860 to one million in 1890, despite the Great Fire of 1871), but it also revealed the wonders of new technology, espe­cially electricity. Electrical demonstrations led quickly to the installation of public utilities in suburbs to the west.

The same impetus carried over into the first two decades of the twentieth century as the automobile replaced the horse and buggy, al­though they could still be seen side by side at the turn of the century. The 800 cars in the nation in 1900 became 8 million by the end of World War I. By 1920 motion pictures had become prevalent enough that a version of the Black Hawk War was produced on the edge of Lake Ellyn, with Indians giving chase to fron­tiersmen up Honeysuckle Hill.

The mechanical inventions of this half cen­tury found their counterpart in the realm of ideas, such as those pertaining to the women's movement and to the growth of colleges and schools. Both the offspring of original settlers and those from outside DuPage secured a significant place for the county in society's intellectual, social, and economic soil.



  The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, later known as the Milwaukee Road, was established in 1873; it cut across the northeast corner of DuPage. The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern ( EJ&E) was established in 1888, the same year in which the Chicago Great Western was laid across the county. The Illinois Central completed its line in DuPage in 1891, and the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin (CA&E), first called the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railway, brought electric rail service to the county in 1901.

With the final laying of rails came the great increase in dairy production and in commer­cial, industrial, and land sales. The railroads were both cause and effect of DuPage's trans­formation from a crop to a dairy producing area. After the Civil War, as wheat production moved to the western states, corn reemerged as the main staple crop. Milk and cheese produc­tion, however, became the predominant ele­ment in the economy until the 1920s. The growing population of Chicago during this half century accounted for the large-scale shipment of dairy products from neighboring DuPage.

Along the Milwaukee Road, Bensenville, Lester's Station, Itasca, and Roselle were pickup points for milk pails. Bensenville had been a quiet German farming community prior to the coming of the railroad in 1873. Fol­lowing the establishment of the Milwaukee Road, 400,000 pounds of cheese and 150,000 pounds of butter were shipped annually from that town. By 1910 the roundhouse and switch­ing yards had also been constructed in that community, further diversifying its economy and population.

Residential and other commercial develop­ments followed quickly. Dr. Elijah Smith's 1 874 platting of Itasca anticipated the immi­nent new home construction. Roselle Hough had 300 acres surveyed for the "Roselle Ad­dition," in addition to his flax factory for linen and rope production. It was Hough who also was responsible for the directing of the Mil­waukee tracks away from Bloomingdale and northward through his own property.

Ontarioville, too, benefited from this rail route. This southern part of modern-day Hanover Park had been called Ontarioville from as early as the 1840s, for it lay on an Indian trail connecting Lake Ontario to Green Bay. With its original post office in DuPage and its first school in Cook, it served farmers in both counties. The Wanzer and Wieland dairy companies originated in this area. Other small butter and cheese factories arose before the advent of refrigerated railroad cars moved production farther north. Evidence of the pros­perity was John Henry Harmening's construc­tion of an Italinate-style home on today's Route 20 in 1871.


CB & Q Lisle Milk Stop.
Courtesy of Holleye Riedy Purcell


Ontarioville Historical Museum - in Hanover Park

  The Illinois Central and Great Western offered both passenger and freight service, while the EJ&E functioned strictly as a "belt line," connecting industrial sites on the peri­meter of the metropolitan area from Dyer, Indiana to Waukegan. The Illinois Central (IC) made its 10:00 A.M. milk stop at Cloverdale at Gary and Army Trail roads, where Tedrahn's Grocery began its ninety-five year history in 1888. A hundred people lived on the surrounding dairy farms.



John C. Neltnor House.
from 1874 Atlas & History of DuPage County, Illinois


Elbert Gary and John Gates.
The prominent industrialists' portraits are featured in the DuPage Heritage Gallery.

  By 1894 at the eastern end of the county an equal number of people would be riding just one of the three commuter lines serving the 1,500 residents of Elmhurst. The Great West­ern was among these. This line was intersected at the turn of the century by the CA&E. Thus the rural community of Prince Crossing was formed. The Country Home for Convalescent Crippled Children, later owned by the Univer­sity of Chicago Clinic, was established nearby in 1911. This institution shipped its extensive dairy produce from this rail junction.

  The EJ&E brought hope of rapid industrial development to Turner's Junction-not that the community had lacked enterprising indi­viduals during its earlier years. J. C. Neltnor, whose parents had come to Bloomingdale Township in 1847, moved to Turner's Junction at the beginning of the Civil War. By 1874 he owned a nursery in partnership with C. W. Richmond, then county superintendent of schools and also author of the first history of DuPage County. In 1872 Neltnor started The Fruit and Flower Grower, a horticultural magazine. Active in national Democratic poli­tics, he began publishing The DuPage County Democrat in the 1880s. This paper lasted until 1913. Neltnor himself lived until 1938, when he died at the age of ninety-six.

He was a contemporary of John "Bet –A-­Million" Gates, who had grown up on thefamily farm outside Turner's Junction and who was nine years younger than neighbor Elbert Gary. In 1874 through family connections Gates was established in a hardware store, in which he fared poorly. After selling his in­terest, he became such a stunningly successful salesman for Joseph Glidden, the DeKalb inventor of barbed wire, that he began to buy steel companies.

This led, in turn, to his involving attorney Elbert Gary, by then the mayor of Wheaton and former county judge, in mergers which resulted in the formation of United States Steel Company. Although Gary became president, Gates was excluded by the conglomerate part­ners. He then turned his organizing abilities to the founding of the Texaco Company. All of this, however, occurred beyond the confines of DuPage.

Meanwhile, in Gates' hometown Civil War veteran and wealthy hide/tallow merchant C. E. Bolles built an 1894 "opera house," which featured plays and other entertainment. To further the prospect of a boom the name of the town was changed to West Chicago. It was not, however, until the mid-twentieth century that West Chicago fulfilled such promise.

The commercial development did, though, materialize early along the Burlington line, particularly in Downers Grove. After the roundhouse for the Burlington was built in 1893, half of the suburban trains were serviced there and returned to Chicago; the other half were sent on to Aurora. This community had already undergone expansion, as another Civil War veteran and insurance magnet, A. C. Ducat, had come in 1 885 to pur­chase 800 acres. He subdivided this land, south of 55th and west of Main, with the intention of making it a model community. A promotional booklet in that same year touted SO foot by 200 foot lots ranging from $3 to $10 per frontage foot, "free from the odors of Bridgeport." He soon offered to install a water system in the mid-1880s if village trustees would have front yard fences removed, an offer which they chose to refuse. He did eventually succeed in enticing his friend Marshall Field into buying the property, eighty acres of which became Maple Grove Forest Preserve.

The other major residential developer, E. H. Prince, also used the Burlington to bring ex­cursion trains from Chicago to interest pro­spective buyers in the 250 acres he had sub­divided north of the tracks. Prince Pond did, and still does, provide the focal point of that vicinity.

Just south of that neighborhood the first industry in Downers Grove, Dicke's Tool Company, which still makes equipment for electrical linemen, was established in 1889. Casper Dicke had won a prize for such innova­tions at the Paris World's Fair before coming to America from his native Cologne. Although Downers Grove residents a1: the time of Chi­cago's Columbian Exposition were still draw­ing water from wells and lighting by coal oil, they had made public improvements by the end of the century. The electrical plant, water works, and paved streets were due largely to Dicke's leadership.


Dicke's Tool Company.


Other commercial developments of im­portance in that locality were the Austin Nur­series, the Washburn Greenhouse, and the Kidwell Greenhouse in Belmont, the largest in the county at the turn of the century.

Associated with this business expansion was the Polish settlement in East Grove, along Fairview Avenue. This area was also known as Gostyn, after the village in Poland, from which many of the 500 turn-of-the-century residents had come. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1891 to serve these Eastern Europeans as well as the Irish residents. This was the only Catholic parish between La Grange and Naperville, until St. Joseph's was built in downtown Downers Grove in 1906.

Altogether, this community's growth was among the most dramatic in DuPage. It grew from 586 persons in 1880, to 960 in 1890, to 2,103 at the beginning of the new century, making it among only four villages with popu­lations of more than 2,000. The others in order of size were Naperville, Hinsdale, and Wheaton.

Naperville's development, to the west, featured the emergence of James Nichols, a leader not only of local significance, but also of worldwide importance. He had come as an im­migrant from Germany in 1876, had graduated from North Central College, and had become the owner of a company that produced manuals for business. This made him the Dale Carnegie of his day. Nichols' self-help book, The Business Guide, sold four million copies; it was translated into German and Spanish. He was also instrumental in pioneering door-to­door salesmanship. One of the young men Nichols helped in particular was P. E. Kroehler, who took Fred Long' s furniture shop and converted it into Kroehler Manufacturing Company. This was once among the world's largest furniture companies, although it is no longer in business in DuPage County.

In the same year that Nichols came to Naperville, the community purchased the Joe Naper Pumper, its first fire engine. This horse­drawn, hand-operated equipment was used until replaced by a motorized engine fifty years later. That single transition might be taken as the symbol of the whole economic transfor­mation through which DuPage had passed.

At the same time the social scene assumed an elegance for a growing elite. Ironically, this development followed Chicago's greatest di­saster until that time. Even citizens of Naperville could view the Great Chicago Fire thirty miles away from the widow's walk of Willard Scott's home, on the high land at Franklin and Washington streets.



The Joe Naper Pumper. Present day students at the Naper Settlement learn first hand of early firefighting effort, with the Paw Paw Post Office on the left, and the Martin-Mitchell Museum in the background.


Teamster George Stafford on his stake wagon, with the DuPage Courthouse in the background. The rig was used to move household furniture between Wheaton and Chicago in the 1885-1890 period-the round trip taking three days.

Courtesy Willis Stafford


William Greggs House.

The Great Chicago Fire had multiple effects on the county. After many had fled the flames, they began to make the area west of the city their home. Noted clothing merchant Henry W. King had purchased Hill Cottage in 1867, using the original tavern of Gerry Bates. It was to become Elmhurst's most famous residence. Not only had Thomas Bryan once owned it, but prominent portrait painter George Healy had also lived there. His “beardless" Lincoln is the only one of its kind of the president. King used it as a summer home until the 1871 fire. He describes the escape from his Lincoln Park home as follows: "As the dry leaves took fire beneath our feet, crossing a bridge on North Avenue and reaching the west side we found a conveyance at noon which brought us out to Elmhurst. We almost felt ashamed to be so comfortable." King subsequently established permanent residence in Elmhurst.

Thomas Bryan housed refugees from the fire on his estate, called "Byrd's Nest," named af­ter his wife's family, the Byrds of Virginia. Ela­borate balls and musicales would become common on such estates by the "Gay Nine­ties," although Elmhurst still remained a one­ street hamlet, with prairie chickens so plenti­ful that they were called "food for newcom­ers."

Another area affected by the fire was Westmont, so called because of its location as a high point between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River valley. The person to capi­talize on this location was William Greggs, who established the Excelsior brick-making firm beside the clay pit there. The recon­struction of Chicago was facilitated by these building blocks from Gregg's Station, as Westmont was first called; they were placed on the Burlington cars and the gravity of the downhill slope drew the heavily laden train into the city.

Westmont's neighbor to the east, Hinsdale, also received its share of prominent fire re­fugees, such as H. L. Storey, founder of Storey and Clark Piano Company. As "Millionaires Row" was built in what some called the “Gold Coast of DuPage," the population rose from 500 in 1873 to 1,584 by 1890; thus it moved ahead of Turner as DuPage's third largest village. By 1900 it had replaced Wheaton as the second largest. It was the first community to establish water works, in 1890, and a power plant, in 1896, which it had purchased for $1.00 from J. C. F. Merrill, later president of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Hugh G. Dugan in his Village on the County Line describes this period of "crinoline and lace, broad acres and verandas, cupolas, sleighs, surreys, side-saddles, piano recitals, archery, costume balls, and calling cards." The bicycle craze was represented by races every Saturday afternoon in the summer. The Tennis Club was organized in 1893.


The Middaugh Mansion.

  Also in this decade, Frank Osgood Butler moved to Hinsdale. The Butlers of Oak Brook are descendants of those who came in the 1830s from Burlington, Vermont, and estab­lished the first paper mill west of the Alle­ghenies, in St. Charles. After purchasing a home in Hinsdale, Butler bought property in the Fullersburg area from George Robbins, son of Hinsdale's founder. The stands of oak trees along the Salt Creek suggested the Oak Brook name. The Natoma Dairy also became part of the Butler enterprise. Subsequently called Bowman Dairy, it was a pioneer in certified milk and thus anticipated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. By 1909, F.O.  Butler's son Paul had organized the Chicago Polo Club.

The Butlers also had interests in what was first called West Hinsdale, but by 1873 was named Clarendon Hills, as suggested by Robert Harris. This president of the CB&Q Railroad sought with others to turn Clarendon Hills into another high-growth suburb. Oliver J. Stough had purchased Jarvis Fox's land south of the tracks in 1866. Henry C. Middaugh had purchased the 270 acres north of the railroad in 1869. In 1871 he drain-tiled the acreage and planted eleven miles of ash and elm. A designer laid out streets in the curvi­linear fashion of Frederick Olmstead, the land­scape architect famous for his Riverside Plan. One early commentary on this layout reads: "The peculiarity to this place is that no two streets are parallel and no two lots of the same shape or size. Only men of steady habits must settle in this place, for the serpentine appear­ance of the streets might prove too much for a head not evenly balanced."



Chicago Golf Club Diamond Jubilee, 1892



Burlington Park
Courtesy of Mary Wehrli

Middaugh also built his own mansion at Norfolk and Chicago Avenue in 1892. But the anticipated boom did not materialize until after his day-in the 1920s. In the meantime the streets and parkways north of Chicago Avenue were formally vacated by ordinance in 1913, with the trees of today marking the original lines. What did survive the development lull was the Hinsdale Golf Club on Middaugh property, which the Butlers were later to pur­chase. Golfing represented still another component of the "Gay Nineties."

On New Year's Day in 1906, Marshall Field played at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton with Robert Todd Lincoln. According to Wayne Andrews' Battle for Chicago, he was back on the same links again a week later on one of the bitterest days of the year. By mid­month Field was dead from an illness con­tracted from the cold. The incident is illustrative of DuPage at the turn of the century, not only in terms of the golf craze, but in what it represented in the pattern of wealth and class.

The World Columbian Exposition of 1893 precipitated the spread of the sport, with Charles Blair Macdonald laying out the first nine-hole course west of the Appalachians on a stock farm off Belmont Road in Downers Grove. Within a year the Chicago Golf Club, later to play host to Walker Cup and other major championship competitions, was founded on the 200-acre Patrick farm in Wheaton. This was the first eighteen-hole course in the U.S.

By 1900 twenty-six clubs were operating in the Chicago area, including those of Hinsdale and Elmhurst, the latter in old Duncklee's Grove along Salt Creek. To the west the Medinah Country Club would be established in Meacham's Grove.

Parallel to this development was the con­tinued growth in estates. Again, Field was a case in point, having purchased the large acreage in Downers Grove in the mid-1880s. By 1920 Marshall Field II had sold the virgin maple stand to the DuPage County Forest Pre­serve and the balance to developers.

It was indeed the spread of disposable income to greater numbers that led to the opening of Burlington Park in Naperville, an early version of today's amusement parks. On a weekend as many as 10,000 people would ride out from the city on the train for recreation. A counterpart was the Roselle Park Club, established in 1898. Both parks provided for new-found leisure time.

Such modern trends could be related to that life-style-defining event, the Columbian Expo­sition. Thomas Bryan, who had given Cot­tage Hill its new name of Elmhurst after the row of elm trees he had planted there, had served as vice president of the World's Fair, His neighbor, banker Henry Glos, had visited the fair so often that one of the rooms in his 1893 Romanesque mansion was decorated with souvenirs from the exposi­tion. A year earlier John Quincy Adams had built the Wheaton library in the same Roman­esque style; today it is the DuPage County Historical Museum.

The fair's impact extended even to the westernmost edge of the county. The Dunham farm in Wayne, developed largely by Mark, the son of early pioneer Solomon Dunham, was among the largest horse farms in the country. It specialized in Percheron horses from France, a Clydesdale type needed to break up prairie sod. After a return trip from France, Mark had built what has been called a castle on the northwest corner of Dunham Road and Army Trail Road.



Oaklawn Farm 

CA&E Ardmore Excursion.

Courtesy Villa Park Historical Society

In 1893 during the Columbian Exposition, the Chicago & Northwestern trains brought visitors to the Dunham or Oaklawn farm to view the latest in agricultural technology, as demonstrated by International Harvester. During the early 1900s the line brought guests for the horse shows, which continued to be featured in that vicinity.

  The electric railroad, in itself, had such diverse and far-reaching effects in DuPage as to warrant particular treatment.