Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1900
Suburbs to the west of Chicago in their nomenclature join pioneer with modern days. Subdivisions newly platted and named by men now in active business life are springing up close to settlements which perpetuate the memory of early residents long since dead. Where Father Marquette, following an Indian trail toward the setting sun, crossed the Desplaines Rover, now complacently trundles his way on an up-to-date bicycle over the macadamized streets of Riverside. The interim between the memorable journey of the Jesuit priest and the coming of the end-of-the-century lot-stalker is filled with fascinating chapters, many of which are written about the naming of the suburbs. Some of these stories are given herewith.
Wheaton, which never was anything but Wheaton, embalms the patronym of Warren L. Wheaton, who was to all intents the first settler on the territory now occupied by the town, and who still lives in hale old age on the homestead just outside the corporation limits. He came to Du Page County from Connecticut in 1838. His first house stood on the slight hill occupied by his present residence, and for some time after he built he could see the smoke from only two other settlers’ chimneys within a radius of several miles. Jesse C. Wheaton, Warren’s brother, came not long after, the Gary brothers, and a small host of other secondary pioneers, and by 1848 the settlement had become a town.
In 1849 the Galena and Chicago Union railroad, now the Chicago and Northwestern, came to town, and it is not to be forgotten that only a savory dinner saved the place from an early death by being “left off the line.” Early in the spring J.B. Turner and William B. Ogden reached Wheaton, prospecting for the right of way for the road to Elgin. Some of the residents thought they saw a chance for a sharp bargain, and put a high price on their land for railroad use.
Turner and Ogden resented this, and were on the point of driving the stakes for a station some miles farther west, when Warren Wheaton and his brother invited them to dinner, and emphasized the hospitality by offering free way through their land.
That fall the railroad reached Elgin, and Wheaton became a railroad town. It was not much of a road, to be sure—”strap” rails nailed on wooden stringers—but it was full of promise, and in three years more the first streets were recorded in the village.
Wheaton became the county seat in 1868 by methods hardly to be thought of as possible by those who know only the staid, “dry” college town of the present day. Naperville had been the county seat, but in the election that year lost the coveted honor to Wheaton. The Napervillites, however, cried “fraud,” and refused to give up the records. So a mob of men went down to the southern courthouse, broke it open, and carried back to Wheaton all the public documents they could lay hands on. Two years later Wheaton became the scene of temperance agitation, which continued with varying fortune until ten years ago the “wets” gave up the fight, and the town has been strictly prohibition ever since.
Wheaton College also commemorates the founder of the town. When it began as the Illinois Institute, in 1853, Warren Wheaton, gave it the ground for its site, and $300 in cash. It was founded by the Wesleyan Methodists, nut they did not prosper, and in 1859 the Congregationalists took it off their hands,
The only conditions imposed by the Wesleyans was that college always should oppose human slavery and secret societies. Slavery has become a past issue, but the war on secret societies is waged still with such relentless ardor that it is on record that a student who believes so strongly in abstinence that he joined the Good Templars was expelled, and never taken back.
Evidence that Wheaton is a case of the survival of the fittest was found in 1869, when part of a mastodon’s skeleton was dug up in the outskirts of town. The bones were sent to Chicago, but were destroyed in the great fire.
Oak Park, such, did not come into existence until 1871, after having endured many vicissitudes in names, but the suburb as a settlement is one of the oldest around Chicago. It first secured individuality as “Kettlestring’s Grove” from Joseph Kettlestring, an Englishman, who settled there in 1833. For years this was the only place on that road to Chicago, and as the ridge offered the only passageway for wagons in wet weather through that region his pioneer dwelling soon became widely famous as a hostelry.
A story gained currency that Kettlestring kept not only board but bar in those early days, but it is affirmed, on the other hand, that he was himself a total abstainer, as it is further pointed out that years afterward, when he was selling lots in the village, so bent was he on having a prohibition community settled there that every deed he gave contained a forfeiture clause to become operative if ever a saloon was opened on the property.
Kettlestring’s own name for his hamlet was “Oak Ridge” because of the grove of oaks and the ridge on which the house was built. He removed to Chicago in 1843 and remained in the city, opening and grading streets, until 1855, when he returned to the “Ridge” and resided there until his death.
In 1859 the village had more names than it knew what to do with. The business place was “Oak Ridge” still, but the railroad station was “Harlem,” a name bestowed by J.H. Quick in memory of his old home, Harlem, N.Y., and the postoffice was “Noyesville,” christened by the department. There was another Oak Ridge in Illinois and letters used to take a long time to get to the right one, sometimes, when writers were mixed on the towns’ names. There was also another Harlem, so Quick went to Washington and had the postoffice changed to “East Harlem.” The other citizens revolted and in just thirty days Congressman Charles B. Farwell had had it changed to Oak Park—and O.W. Herrick installed as postmaster.
One of the early settlers in Oak Park was Reuben Whaples, who arrived in 1845. He had been for some years before on a farm of what is now Proviso, but one day the first cyclone on record in Illinois came along and took such a fancy to his house and barn that it carried them off. Being of a peaceable disposition he what the cyclone leftb to the “Ridge” and became a neighbor of Kettlestring’s.
A quaint means of comparing values is among the relics in the possession of Kettlestring’s descendants—a tax receipt for 1835 showing that in that year he paid on the 173 acres which later became Oak Park the total sum of 62½ cents in taxes.
Oak Park supplies a story of a practical way to make a “dry” town when the prohibitionists are in earnest. In 1872 there were still three saloons in the town and the proprietors, insisting on their “vested rights,” refused to close or be closed. Henry W. Austin, who was largely interested in the town, finding argument useless, quietly bought them all out for round sums and closed up the bar business in Oak Park for good.
Riverside got its name in pioneer days from the fact that the banks of the Desplaines, at the point where the suburb now lies, were of such a character that cattle could be watered there easily. It was the custom of the scattered farmers of the early days to drive their creatures there to drink. Besides the primitive use the place also was the ford of the road that ran from the old Bull’s Head tavern in Ogden avenue, south of Madison street, to Aurora. The use of the place as a ford came to the white men from the Indians, who had a trail that found a crossing at the place. It was over this trail that Father Marquette went on his journey from Michigan to the Illinois River.
David A. Gage, ex-City Treasurer of Chicago, in 1864 bought 1,000 acres of land embracing the site of the present suburb, and, taking the pioneer name, he called the tract “Riverside Farm.” Mr. Gage bought the land to grow vegetables and other rural produce for his hotel in the city, which was only twelve miles away. Mr. Gage little dreamed that the acres where his potatoes grew would become the beautiful suburb of today, but hints in that direction came to him four years after he bought the place.
Emer E. Childs conceived the idea of building a model suburban town near Chicago, and in casting for a site he fixed on “Riverside Farm.” After some negotiations Mr. Gage agreed in 1868 to convey the land to Mr. Childs. The latter then organized the Riverside Improvement company. A charter was procured from the Legislature, and the concern began work with a capital of $1,000,000. The officers and directors were:
- President—Emery E. Childs.
Directors—David A. Gage, A.C. Badger, W.T. Allen, S.D. Kimbark, George M. Kimbark, David S. Duncomb.
Olmstead, Vaux & Co., landscape architects, were employed to survey and lay out the land, with instructions to make it the most beautiful suburb in the country. The idea of a park was carried out, the streets were all on curved lines and about one-fifth of the entire tract was selected from different locations and laid out, beautified, and dedicated to the public for all time solely for park purposes.
General Plan of Riverside, IL
Riverside Improvement Company
An artesian well was put down which gave an abundant flow of pure water for the whole town. Gas works were built for lighting the streets and the residences, and a complete system of sewerage was adopted. The streets were of macadam and thoroughly made with asphalt walks throughout the town, so that the original idea of a choice suburban town seemed about to be realized.
Just at that time there was an epidemic of fever and ague throughout the whole Western country, and its proximity to the Desplaines River gave the impression that Riverside was especially susceptible to the argue. That idea has long since been exploded, and Riverside is now regarded as one of the most healthful suburbs in the country.
But this scare interfered greatly with sales of lots. Negotiations were started with Eastern financiers for additional capital with which to carry out the plans of the company. These were consummated when the Chicago fire came, and, after an expenditure of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 in improving and beautifying the property, the company found itself embarrassed and unable to meet its obligations. Suits were commenced, foreclosures instituted with bills and cross bills until it seemed as if the btitle was to a large part of the property was so involved that it never could be straightened out. But that has all been settled now, and, as a matter of sensational history at the time, the City of Chicago came into possession of some of the Gage land, which it still owns and calls it “Gage Farm.”
There is a spring at Riverside, near one of the main roads, known as Bourbon Spring. In the early days there was a political gathering at this spring. There was a plentiful supply of the usual toxicant, and to insure a proper mixture a half barrel of bourbon was emptied into the spring and the crowd was helped from it. The contents of the spring were soon at the time, exhausted. But it has been known ever since as the Bourbon Spring.
One of the pioneer spots of Riverside was a basin extending from what are now the outskirts of the suburb eastward as far as Western avenue, and from the ridge just south of the town to the ridge of Ridgeland and Oak Park region. In this basin grew a greater variety of wild flowers tan in any district of like size in the world. At least that bis what the rosy-cheeked country girls of sixty years ago used to believe.
Still another pioneer curiosity of Riverside was the old Indian burying ground there, where bones amd arrow heads used to be turned up with the soil.
The population of Riverside is 1,500. Among the residents are Edward A. Driver, Edward P. Ripley, W.A. Havemeyer, N.W. Mundy, Daniel H. Richardson, Albert Seckel, W.F. Frost, L.A. Seeberger, Watts De Golyer, and Lucius A. Howland.
Feehanville takes its name from Archbishop P.A. Feehan of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Chicago. The tract embraces 885 acres bordering on the Desplaines River, and near the Village of Desplaines. The place is noted as the home of St. Mary’s Training School and as the location of the summer residence of Archbishop Feehan.
The school had its inception in 1881, when the streets of Chicago were overrun with young boys who were homeless, penniless, and exposed to crime. At that time the public institutions for unfortunates of this type were crowded to the doors. A number of rich and philanthropic Catholics, recognizing the situation, decided to raise money to build a place to care for at least some of these boys. The Archbishop won the right to have the general location bear his name by being the first to subscribe to the project. He contributed liberally. It was decided from the first to establish an institution om a farm, so that the boys might become familiar with rural work.
At first a 440-acre tract of land was purchased. When the original building, recently destroyed by fire, had progressed to the laying of the corner stone on Oct. 8, 1882, a grand celebration was held. Many societies were present, and among the guests was Mayor Carter H. Harrison, father of the present Mayor of Chicago.
The next spring the County Court began sending boys to the institution, and the good work has gone on since. In addition to private aid the Legislature of Illinois has given assistance to the enterprise.
The names of those who signed the charter of the school follows:
In more recent years the highly cultivated farm of Frank Parmelee was added to the Freehanville holdings. This embraced 445 acres.
The summer residence of the Archbishop is a dignified dwelling. The surroundings are beautified with trees, shrubs, flowers, and general landscape effects.
Freehanville is twenty=five miles northwest of Chicago.
Elmhurst, despite its landscape features, was known in its youthful days by the inappropriate and indefensible title of “Cottage Hill,” a name bestowed about 1850 by the first postmaster, “Jerry” Bates, though J.L. Hovey was the pioneer in 1843. It was inappropriate because there was not even the broken promise of a hill anywhere in sight, and it was indefensible because the wildest flight of a pioneer imagination could not call Bates’ habitation a cottage. There was another and still more practical objection to “Cottage Hill,” Down south of Chicago there was a thriving suburb known as Cottage Grove, from which Cottage Grove avenue gets its name, and letters that were intended for the four families, more or less, that lived at the “Hill” were constantly going astray and being delivered to the ten families, also more or less, that lived at the “Grove.”
Thomas B. Bryan went out to “Cottage Hill” in 1856 and began an elaborate system of landscape garden experimentation on the inviting prairie. He had a predilection for elm trees and soon was planting them all over the town site. He was troubled by the mixing of “Cottage Hill” and “Cottage Grove” in the mails, and this worry and the sight of his trees gave him an inspiration that resulted in a new word in keeping with the landscape, a practical certainty of getting his letters before any one else had read them, and one of the prettiest of the many pretty suburbs that gem Chicago’s boundary.
Going back into the tongue of his ancestors, Mr. Bryan unearthed an old Saxon word, “hurst”—the seedtime—and, hitching this to his favorite tree, he evolved “Elmhurst.” At that time there was, as far as he knew, no other “Elmhurst” in the world, but the name proved a favorite, and today there are Elmhursts all over the country, all named from the Chicago suburb. Mr. Bryan’s residence bears the appropriate name of “Birdsnest,” and its trees are filled in season with feathered songsters.
Proviso involves in its name the memory of one of the critical periods in American history, the days of the spreading of the anti-slavery agitation and of the Wilmot proviso, so called because Congressman Wilmot of Pennsylvania. Insisted that if any lands should be acquired there should be a “proviso” that slavery never should be permitted in the new territory. The proviso failed to carry, but the settlers of the Illinois hamlet were sturdy converts to its doctrine, and they perpetuated the memory of their principles by christening their new town “Proviso.” “Long” John Wentworth proposed the name.
The pioneer of the town was Aaron Parsell, who settled there in 1832. The first ambitious enterprise in its history was a sawmill, started in 1853 by George Bickerdike and Mark Noble on the east bank of the Desplaines—then the Aux Plaines—not far from the present crossing of the Chicago and Northwestern road. This mill sawed most of the lumber that was used in the pioneer days in the western part of Cook and in Du Page Counties.
When the settlement had reached the dignity of a name it was dubbed first “Lyons Precinct” and later “Taylor” in a comprehensive way that took in most of the surrounding country, but on the organization of the town in 1850 “Taylor” gave way to “Proviso.” The Village of Proviso was settled in 1855.
La Grange was named by Franklin D. Cossitt, who really founded the town, and epitomizes to those who know its history the stories of a wholesale failure and a correspondingly great success. Until 1870 it was known as “West Lyons,” the old station of that name standing near the site of the present Stone avenue station. The first settler remembered in local history was Mr. Leitch, who came from New Jersey to Chicago in an early day and started cattle raising. The site of La Grange was his “range,” though there is no suggestion of that word in the town’s name.
Leitch in the ’60s thought of starting a town, and went so far as to select a name, “Kensington Heights,” but business reverses overtook him and the suburban plan was abandoned.
Four years later Mr. Cossitt came along, determined to start a town. He had been a wealthy planter in Tennessee, but the civil war had cost him his fortune. Confident that his second venture must succeed, he defied fate by giving to his townsite the name of his old Tennessee plantation—”La Grange.” The name was otherwise appropriate, for in the French original it stood exactly descriptive of the region as Mr. Cossitt found it—a farm with a single building on it.
In 1879 there were seventy families in the hamlet, an it was decided to set up a village government. At the polls forty-two votes were cast for the village plan and thirty-four against it. It was a sturdy and a moral population—many of of the residents worked out their taxes on the road, and in the same spirit of domestic thrift these men adopted a prohibitory rule against saloons.
Lyons is the oldest suburb west of Chicago, so old, in fact, that all its first settlers have long passed to their reward, and with them has gone memory of the identity of the sponsor of the place, if it ever had one. Lyons it was in 1830, when the old Black Horn tavern hostelry on the stage road from Fort Dearborn to Joliet, and Lyons it has persisted in being through all the vicissitudes of time and expansion.
David and Bernardus H. Laughton are known to have settled on the site in 1828. Elijah Wentworth, who was Chicago’s first letter carrier, bringing the mail from Fort Wayne before there was any postoffice in Chicago, went to Lyons in 1830 and kept, if he did not build, the Black Horn tavern. Here, later, John Wentworth had his great farm.
In 1834 the town had a boom on account of the canal, but before it got fairly used to its new ways the bubble burst and by 1843 there was a “canaler” left. In 1850 a township organization was effected, and here Lyons had its one narrow escape from being something or somebody else. Wilson McLintock was a prosperous and popular citizen and several votes were cast in favor of changing the town name to “McLintock,” but there were not enough to carry the plan.
Out of the original Town of Lyons three villages have been formed, however—Lyons, West Lyons, now La Grange, and Summit.
Austin was named for Henry W. Austin, one of Chicago’s early merchants. He came to this city in 1856 and almost at once began investing his surplus i suburban lands. In 1865 a village sprang up at what was called the Six-Mile House, in West Lake street. In 1866 Mr. Austin donated, just beyond there, the site for the plant of the United States Brass and Clock company, and the officers of the corporation, in compliment to him, gave his name to the village. The clock company failed many years ago, but the name of the place was never changed.
Mr. Austin, who was in the Illinois Legislature from the the old Third District in 1870, was called the father of the West Park bill. He was an enthusiastic horticulturist also, and much of Austin’s present beauty in trees is due to his efforts. As he laid out the village, nearly all the streets were embellished with central parks, but the people later decided against the system, and the only remaining example of those early thoroughfares is Midway Park.
Austin was long the town seat of Cicero. It was absorbed by Chicago in 1899.
Pierce Downer, from New York, was the first settler in Downer’s Grove, and from him the pleasant suburb naturally took his name. He took up his claim in 1832, attracted to the spot by the fine timber which covered it. For a year he lived alone in his log house, then his son Stephen joined him, and soon other settlers came in, until there was quite a frontier population around the grove.
There were no government surveys then, and the pioneers marked their claims in rude ways, which offered certain inducements to “jumpers.” Returning from Chicago one day, Downer found two of these interlopers erecting a cabin on his claim. He did not wait to expostulate, but cutting a good hickory stick, assailed the “jumpers” with the fury of a cyclone. He nearly had the worst of it at one time, but the hickory was tough argument, and in the end he beat his would-be neighbors off. That ended claim jumping at Downer’s Grove.
“Downer’s” was off the original trail from Chicago to Naperville, and much desirable trade went by it in the early days. To miss this was too much for human nature, so in 1838 Israel Blodgett and Samuel Curtis decided to offer what was a most practical inducement, in those days of bottomless roads, for travel to come their way. With twelve yoke of oxen they dragged a large tree trunk up and down along what is now Maple avenue, two miles or more, to make a hard, beaten path for a road. From that time “Downer’s” throve. These same men planted the maple trees along the road which make Maple avenue famous today. The Township of Downer’s Grove was organized in 1850 and the village in 1854.
The grove is remembered as having been a favorite spot with Wabansie, the Pottawatomie chief, whose name is still preserved in local annals.
Cicero has been Cicero from the start. In 1857 a municipal form of government was adopted, and Augustin Porter, who came from Cicero, N.Y., on the Erie Canal, christened the town for his old home. At the election fourteen votes were cast. There were three more offices to be filled than there were men to fill them, and some of the incumbents secured a plurality of positions. In 1867 the present corporation, practically unique among municipalities, was created by special legislative act. Cicero has been a victim of Chicago almost all its life. In 1869 it lost two of its eastern territory to Chicago, and last year all that part of it known as Austin was shorn off and made the Thirty-fifth Ward.
S. E. Gross
Sub Division Map
Grossdale, including within its limits Grossdale, East Grossdale, and West Grossdale, took its name from its founder, S.E. Gross. The original Grossdale was founded in 1889 and included over a square mile of business and residence lots. East Grossdale was laid out in 1893, and in 1895 the suburb of West Grossdale was established.
About Bridgeport clings much history that is of lively interest to all persons who love a fight. In the early days it was the only settlement in that part of the country and consisted of a scattering of houses about the old Fuller street bridge. It was over this river crossing that travelers passed on their way to Lockport, Joliet, and points beyond.
Up to the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the early ’50s Bridgeport had been a German village. But when the wheezy hydraulic lift, now supplanted by large pumps, was set going, the Irish people who had dug the canal settled in Bridgeport. For a time there was a reasonable harmony, but in 1856 the scattered brushes between Teuton and Celt became so numerous that the question of who should rule the place came to a sharp issue.
Finally, the Germans and the Irish lined up for a battle to establish supremacy one way or another. Several people were killed, a large number maimed, and when the smoke cleared away the Irish were proclaimed the victors.
After this the German residents moved up to what is now in the Maxwell street district and founded what was a German settlement there. The Germans in their new place and the Irish in Bridgeport did not forget their old feud, and it was a merry drubbing a member of either community got if he were caught out of the limits of his district.
Charles E. Piper of Berwyn still has a scar on his jaw, the reminder of a fight he had with Irish boys who mistook him for a German from Maxwell street, when he really lived out where Lawndale is now.
Bridgeport got its name from the old Fuller street bridge and from the fact that it was the port of Chicago end of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
La Vergne received its name from the managers of the estate of William B. Ogden. The land was platted by William B. Ogden, Mahlon D. Ogden, and Edwin H. Sheldon in 1877. The tract was subdivided in 1889. La Vergne is eight miles southwest of the Courthouse and two miles outside the city limits. There were but three instruments to the title of the land from the time it was patented by the government to the time it was platted by Chicago’s first mayor and his associates. Before the place was called La Vergne it was known as Cheviot, The name was given by Scotch border families who settled there early in the ’50s and named the site of their adopted home from the Cheviot Hills.
Brighton Park takes its name from the old race track for which the place is noted. The land on which the suburb has been built was bought by John Wentworth in 1857. N.T. Iglehart took hold of the property in time, made a subdivision of it, and named the place Brighton Park. The suburb is five and one-half miles southwest of City Hall, is a part of Chicago, and has a population of 6,000. Its first postoffice name was “Factoryville.”
Sanborn Fire Map
OTHER WESTERN SUBURBS.
P.B. Weare named Morton Park, and it is said he gave the place that title as a compliment to Joy Morton. The suburb is about eleven years old. It is situated six and one-fourth miles from City Hall, is on high ground, and is nicely improved. One of the features of Morton Park is that there are no saloons in the place and the residents say none ever will be allowed to get a foothold there.
P.S. Eustis gave Berwyn its name. When the place was incorporated in 1890 Mr. Eustis asked the privilege of selecting a title. This was granted and he chose the name Berwyn from the Berwyn Hills in Wales. Mr. Eustis is of Welsh extraction. Berwyn is ten miles from the center of Chicago and it adjoins Riverside on the latter suburb’s eastern boundary.
Harlem was named by J.H. Quick, who settled there in 1856, after Harlem, N.Y., where he was born. Originally it comprised the present territory of Oak Park, the eastern part of River Forest, and the present Harlem, but was shorn much of its territory by the creation of the former two municipalities. It was incorporated in 1884.
River Forest was called “Thatcher” for years, being named for David C. Thatcher, who settled on the site of the town in 1856. The name ‘Thatcher” was given to the station in 1868 by the railroad company, but was changed to River Forest by the townspeopel at the time of incorporation in 1886 for reasons sufficiently suggested by the landscape.
Lombard was a postoffice known as “Babcock’s Grove” for many years. Its name was changed in 1869.
Glen Ellyn’s first official name was “Danby,” from an early settler. This was changed to “Prospect Park,” and after it became a famous resort it received the still more romantic title it bears today.
Melros Park was christened by the Melrose Land comapny, which started the village in 1873. It was incorporated in 1882.
Maywood was founded in 1868 by W.T. Nichols of Rutland, Vt., who gave it its name because of the grove of and the great variety and beauty of the spring wild flowers that decked the prairie. It was incorporated in 1881.
Clyde was named by early Scotch settlers who came to America from Clyde, Scotland.