History of DuPage County : DuPage Roots

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It is ironical that the first engine to bring trains into DuPage was called The Pioneer. For this newest product of mid-nineteenth century technology marked the end of the pioneer era.

The originally projected route had been from Elmhurst, where Gerry Bates had given the right-of-way adjacent to his store, continuing through Lombard, with plans calling for its following St. Charles Road. However, the Wheaton brothers entertained Galena & Chi­cago Union (G&CU) Railroad president William Ogden in Jesse's home in 1848 and promised the right-of-way land without cost, thus winning a more southerly route for the line. They were joined in their offer by Erastus Gary, who had moved to Wheaton in that same year.

Thus the development of what became Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Winfield, and West Chicago was assured. As the G& CU track was laid through today's Winfield in 1849, John Hedges built the first depot and post office. In 1854 the railroad built a station, briefly called Warren, showing the influence of Julius War­ren in the Winfield area. The Besch family owned Hedges' home from 1897-1977; then it was moved to its current location on north Winfield Road.

In West Chicago John B. Turner, president of the G& CU, platted the twenty-two acres, the first in the community he called Junction, because the Burlington and the St. Charles Branch line joined the G&CU at this location.

William Robbins. Courtesy of Hinsdale Historical Society

  The town was later called Turner, after him. In 1857 William Currier (related to the Currier and Ives lithographers) built the Gone With the Wind-style house, subsequent­ly occupied by Congressman Chauncey Reed. Comparable economic activity was also evident in Babcock's Grove, newly organized and named Lombard in 1868 after developer Josiah Lombard, who had bought the property of Reuben Mink.

By 1864, because of cooperation between communities in the southern part of the coun­try, the Burlington track was laid from Aurora through Naperville, Lisle, Downers Grove, and Hinsdale. The families from Fullersburg had hoped to have the line extend through that community, but the grade to the east was an insurmountable forty feet; therefore the road­bed followed the valley between hills to the south, through what is now the center of Hinsdale.

The man to anticipate that direction was William Robbins of Chicago, who had pre­viously gone to California during the Gold Rush. Upon his return he purchased 800 acres from Alfred Walker, including the right-of-way for the incoming Burlington. The platting of land was opposed by area farmers who saw it as a threat to their established pattern; but even­tually they accepted the iron horse as inevit­able.

To the east of DuPage the problem of laying the railroad bed was complicated by what were called "The Flats." The ground between Hinsdale and today's Western Springs was so marshy that the first train sank eleven feet into the bog. Engines had to be brought in from both sides to lift it, so that the roadbed could be filled.

Other aspects of economic growth besides the railroad included the A. S. Jones Plow Company and Stenger Brewery in Naperville. There were also the enterprises of Ernst Von Oven, who had immigrated in 1852 after his two sisters had married the Hammerschmidt brothers, Adolph and Herman. Following the Civil War, Von Oven purchased the Martin and King Tile and Brick Works, which soon expanded rapidly because of the new use of field tile to drain wetlands in the Midwest. Within fifteen years one million tiles were being produced annually. Ernst's real love, however, was the Naperville Nurseries, established in 1866 and operated until 1918. He brought this interest from his native Westphalia where trees and shrubs ornament both elegant and modest homes.

Zion Lutheran Parish
Church Road - Bensenville, Ill.


Pioneer at Cottage Hill Station. Courtesy Elmhurst Historical Society

Adolph Hammerschmidt began in this same period to purchase quarry sites in Lombard and in Elmhurst, while having his son William develop the tile and brick business in Lombard as well. The Elmhurst site became the Elm­hurst and Chicago Stone Company. In the twentieth century these holdings have ex­panded to locations in Greene Valley and Warrenville. This family's enterprise indicates how influential the German population had become during the Civil War era.


  The 1850 census showed that out of a popu­lation of 9,290 there were 2,553 United States-born residents eighteen years or older in the county and 1,859 foreign-born. Of those from abroad the German population numbered 878, the largest single group, not including the 200 German-speaking persons from the Al­sace-Lorraine region of France. Next in num­ber were 354 from Ireland.

The 1860 figures show 4,672 foreign-born out of a total of 14,701, with 2,680 from Germany. That comparison indicates how the growth of German population accelerated during the period just prior to the Civil War.

Factors at work from earlier in the nine­teenth century accounted for this dramatic immigration pattern. One was the economic disruption following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Promotional literature like Gottfried Ouden's travel narratives, painting a rosy picture of the Middle West, led John Glos, Jr., to bring his family from Bavaria to York Town­ship. The liberalizing movement in Germany had been thwarted in 1830 and again in 1848. After the latter aborted uprising, the Ham­merschmidt brothers left. The potato famine in Ireland also had its counterpart on the con­tinent. Conscription of young German men into the military for long terms of service provided still another impetus for emigration, as was the case with Franz Hoffmann. As a result DuPage had a variety of German groups arriving.


Fischer Mill

The northeastern corner of the county was settled primarily by those from Protestant northern Germany; those from Prussia were mostly of the Reformed faith while those from Hannover were Lutheran. 1n1838 the German United Reformed Lutheran Church was formed in the Churchville area of today's Bensenville. The name was later changed to Zion. The Reformed group established its own Emmanuel Church in the same vicinity in 1859. Zion served as the founding church for Lutheran congregations within a ten-mile ra­dius. St Paul's in Addison, St. Luke's in Itasca, Trinity Church in York Center, Immanual in Elmhurst, and Calvary in Wood Dale were among the offshoots.

Immigrants from southern Germany and Alsace-Lorraine settled in Lisle and Naperville townships. SS. Peter and Paul Church, as previously noted, was composed primarily of immigrant families from Alsace-Lorraine, although its first pastor was Italian (Father Raphael Rainaldi), its first wedding French (Beaubien), and its first baptism Irish (Wheeler). The second Catholic church was to start in the southern part of Bloomingdale and the northern part of Milton townships. St. Stephen's began in 1852 in the pioneer com­munity of Gretna, at the end of Main Street and St. Charles Road, in today's Carol Stream. It continued as a mission church until its closing in 191 l. A church that has continued, how­ever, is St. John the Baptist in Winfield, organized in 1867, with its first pastor, Father John Wiederhold, serving from 1869 to 1921. It is significant that there was no Catholic church in Addison until 1913, a sign of how the patterns of settlement persisted until a rela­tively late date.

One family who typified these waves of settlers was the Dieters. The first of the group to come from Kleinhausen in Hess Dormstadt was Valentine Dieter Sr., who arrived in 1846, just in time to become a charter member of the Naperville parish. He farmed near Belmont and Hobson Road. His grandson Valentine Dieter Jr. became Naperville's mayor at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, the Nicholas Dieters arrived in 1854, and by 1867 had mortgaged their farm at the Bloomingdale­-Winfield township line to help start the St. John parish.

While the Catholic German settlers tended toward farming, their Protestant counterparts were engaged in more commercial ventures. Among these were the four "Dutch Wind­mills" that once graced the DuPage landscape. These grinders of flour/feed and sharpeners of tools included the Fischer Mill, previously mentioned and the only one left standing in DuPage County. It was constructed by Dutch workmen at Grand Avenue and County Line Road. The Old Holland Mill in York Center was completed by Louis Backhaus in 1851, purchased by Colonel Fabyan in 1918, and moved to his Fox River estate, now part of a Kane County forest preserve. The Holstein Mill in Bloomingdale, south of Schick Road, was destroyed by a tornado in 1899. The largest, Heidemann Mill in Addison, had a wing span of ninety feet; fire destroyed it in 1958.


Martin and Von Oven Brick & Tile Works

Art by Lester Schrader

Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society


It was also from Holland that the Germans borrowed the Christmas custom of St. Nicho­las gift giving and combined it with their own Tannenbaum festivities. In marked contrast, those of Puritan background held to the strictures against Yuletide celebrating; Wheaton College President Jonathan Blanchard re­quired class attendance on Christmas Day. This practice, however, did not long endure.


  What has continued, however, is the New England pattern of townships. The year 1850 marked the transition from pioneer govern­mental structures as the nine townships were established in DuPage. This development was the result of former Connecticut Yankee War­ren Wheaton's efforts when he was a state legislator from 1848-1850.

Nocturnal seizure. Wheatonites confiscate county records from court house in Naperville in 1868.
Art by Lester Schrader
Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society

  The other major change of this period was moving the county seat from Naperville to Wheaton. An initial attempt in 1857 to re­locate to Wheaton's more central and rail ­serviced location was defeated. A second effort in 1 867 succeeded, with the referendum carry­ing 1,686 to 1,635.

Naperville, however, refused to turn over the records. The transfer, therefore, necessi­tated a midnight raid in which a contingent of Civil War veterans from Wheaton seized the records from the old court house. When the men were making their escape, the alarm was sounded. A few books were dropped. These were taken into Chicago for safekeeping, but were consumed in the Great Fire.

The governmental move to Wheaton also caused Naperville's plank road to lose out to the railroad. By the time the planks had warped and had been discarded, the mainstream of public life had already shifted to the towns along the G& CU. The mail, for instance, had to be brought to Naperville by way of the train station at Winfield; at this point it was trans­ferred to stagecoach and taken down Winfield Road through Warrenville. The mail route in Downers Grove depended upon a comparable service from Lombard, until the Burlington line was finally completed in 1864.

A final aspect of the governmental evolu­tion was establishment, in 1856, of the state requirement for public education. Previously, schools had operated on a subscription basis. Typical of these was the Churchville School across from the Zion Lutheran Church. It was built in 1850 for eight grades and one teacher on land donated by August Fischer. After its conversion to a public school, it continued in use until 1931. The Naperville Academy, built in 1851, became a public school in 1860; the building stood until 1928. Gleaner's Hall(now the Pleasant Hill School) was erected in 1852, just to the west of the cemetery on Geneva Road, where Revolutionary War veteran Gideon Warner had been buried nine years earlier.

Churchville School.
Art by H. Gilbert Foote

  In the mid-nineteenth century the school year lasted six months; during the other half children could work on farms. Teachers were paid at the rate of $20 to $40 a month. Young men often found teaching a stepping stone to other vocations. For example, Myron Dudley taught in Addison in 1853 and later became a judge.

It is also significant that the 1850 census shows only three teachers in the county. This low number resulted from women's vocations not being counted in the census, a practice corrected in the 1860s.

The 1850 census did, however, show Clarissa Hobson to be the wealthiest individual in DuPage with $18,000 in property value. Her husband, Bailey, had died that year. His de­mise was yet another sign of transition from the pioneer era. In contrast, the wealthiest person in the 1860 census was Thomas B. Bryan of Elmhurst; his real estate was valued at $300,000 and his personal property at $25,000. He represented the gathering forces of modernity in post Civil War DuPage.