Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lost Towns of Illinois - Half Day, Illinois.

Half Day was an unincorporated town in Lake County, Illinois, in the northeastern region. It was about 30 miles northwest of Chicago.

The historic town of Half Day claims many firsts in the annals of Lake County history - the first post office (1836), the first school (1836) was taught by Laura Sprague in her family's log cabin, and the county's first non-native settler, Captain Daniel Wright.

Wright's wife and seven children arrived from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, their former home; a son died, and three days later, his wife died, presumably from the hardships of the trip. Local historians have concluded that Captain Wright was from Mt. Vernon, so he suggested the township be named Vernon.

Contrary to modern urban legend, Half Day was not named because it took one-half day to get there from Chicago by horse or stagecoach. The 30-mile trip would have taken about 6 hours, at a 5 mile-per-hour average, depending upon trail and weather conditions.

The town's actual name was Halfda or Hafda in honor of the Indian Chief whose name Aptakisic's [pronounced: Op-ta-gu-shick] (also spelled Aptegizhek) was translated to English as "Center of the Sky," "Sun at Meridian," or "Sun at Half Day." An early cartographer misspelled "Halfda" as "Half Day," so it remained.

Aptakisic was known to the settlers as Half Day. Both Daniel Wright (1778-1873) and Henry Blodgett (1821-1905), who knew Aptakisic, documented that he was "known as Half Day." Wright went on to say that the village took its name from Aptakisic. Blodgett had met Aptakisic in 1832, during the Black Hawk War, when Aptakisic protected the settlers in Downers Grove from an impending attack. Wright became acquainted with Aptakisic and his tribe of Potawatomi in 1833, and he lived with them until he built a log cabin near the Des Plaines River.

The Wright's daughter, Carolina, became Lake County's first bride, marrying another "first settler," William Wigham. Hiram Kennicott officiated. He, along with Wigham, came to Lake County in 1834. The Wighams had two children. William Wigham, Jr. resided on the Wright farm for many years.

Union Church, Half Day, IL. (1910)
1834 saw the arrival of William Cooley and Theron Parson. They settled in the Wright neighborhood; Parson opened a tavern in Half Day, and Cooley dealt in cattle buying and selling, but tired of pioneer life, he left the area.

Hiram Kennicott built a sawmill and grist mill near the Luther Bridge, which spanned the Des Plaines River. He opened a store in Half Day and later one in Libertyville. He had studied law and was the first Justice of the Peace in Lake County. John Kennicott was a riding circuit doctor and was highly respected.

In 1835, more settlers came to Lake County, and among those settling in Vernon Township were Matthias Mason, William Easton, Moses Putnery, B.F. Washburn, Ashabel Talcott, Henry Wells, John Gridley, sons John A. Mills, James Chambers, Erastus Bailey, Matthew Hoffman, and Thomas Bradwell.

Seth Washburn was the first postmaster in Lake County, appointed in 1836. He built the first sawmill near Wright's homestead. His family later donated the land for Washburn Congregational Church and the Half Day School. Matthias Mason opened a blacksmith shop. He was appointed the first county treasurer.

Wright remembered: "When I stuck my stake in the banks of the Aux Plain River, I was surrounded by the native tribes of Potawatomi. They helped me raise my first rude cabin, the first house built in the county." These native people also assisted Wright in planting crops and tending to his family when they became ill.
Wagon Bridge over Indian Creek, Half Day, Illinois - 1904
According to James A. Clifton in his book, The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian Culture 1665-1965, Aptakisic was present at the negotiations for the Treaty of Chicago, which took place in September of 1833. "Apparently wearing Meteya's [Mettawa's] moccasins, Aptegizhek stood and informed Commissioners Porter and Owen that the Potawatomi had no wish to consider moving west of the Mississippi until they had been allowed to inspect the country. He insisted the Potawatomi had assembled merely to enjoy their Great Father's beneficence and liberality. Could the annuities due to the Potawatomi be distributed quickly so they might return to their villages to tend their gardens?"

Ultimately, the treaty was signed by Aptakisic (twice!) and other leaders of the United Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Indian Tribes on September 26, 1833.
General Store, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
In 1918, the students of Half Day School wrote a history of their school and community. In it, they recounted that "Half Day was named so in honor of an Indian chief, Hefda, who some people say is buried in this locality." They said Half Day was a "halfway station" between Chicago and the northern part of Lake County.
Half Day Hotel, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
Interior view of Chief's Tavern in Erickson Home, Half Day, Illinois - 1915
The confusion may have been started by visitors to Half Day, possibly as early as the 1840s. The Half Day Inn was established on Chicago and Milwaukee Road (today's Route 21) as a Frink & Walker's General Stage Coach stop In 1843. The rutted and muddy road would have made for slow travel, leading travelers to surmise the town's name came from its distance from Chicago.
The Stagecoach wasn't as glamorous as the movies made them out to be.
In 1886, train service was available on the Wisconsin Central Railroad to Prairie View, several miles west of Half Day. That trip would have taken at least two hours and then a buggy ride over to Half Day, again leaving visitors to believe the name was a matter of travel time. Even with the advent of the automobile, travel was slow until roads were paved in the 1930s. Travelers who do not know the true origin of the name have adopted a new meaning. As the people who knew Aptakisic died and generations passed, the connection to Aptakisic faded, and the new tradition took root with no one around to contradict it.

In a letter written late in his life, Henry Blodgett once again recalled his friend, Aptakisic: "In the fall of 1837, Aptakisic's band was removed to a reservation on the west side of the Missouri River near the mouth of the Platte and later were moved into what is now a portion of the state of Kansas, south of the Kansas River. I well remember the sad face of the old chief as he came to bid our family goodbye. We all shed tears of genuine sorrow... his generous kindness to my parents has given me a higher idea of the red man's genuine worth." Henry Blodgett was a young man in 1850.

Aptakisic's legacy continued in the names of Aptakisic Road, Aptakisic Creek, and the former community of Aptakisic located in today's Buffalo Grove. Aptakisic was a railroad stop on the Wisconsin Central line at Aptakisic Road (west of Route 21) and had its own post office from 1889-1904.
Public School, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
Road House, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
Solomon Brothers, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
Vernon Cemetery, Half Day, Illinois - 1910
The town was forcibly annexed by the village of Vernon Hills in 1993. The following month, the village of Lincolnshire also attempted to annex a portion of Half Day. The two villages entered a legal battle, filing lawsuits against each other. Eventually, this resulted in the Vernon Hills annexation being approved and Lincolnshire's being denied.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
 Diana Dretske | Lake County Discovery Museum


  1. I remember driving up to Half Day in the mid 70's, as my then-girlfriend had an aunt and uncle there. They also supported the legend of it being a half day's journey from Chicago.

  2. Very intersting compilation of history. There are other sources that back this up with more information. Raupp Museum, Accounts of Town histories, Wheeling Historical Museum, Palatine, Springfield Natural Museum and the "Grove". Where is Aux Plain River?

    1. Aux Plain is one of the former names of today’s Des Plaines River.

  3. Once again Neil, a fabulous account of Illinois history.
    How nice the Potawatomi people were to us (them). If only we had treated them better.

  4. Thank you for the " Half Day" clarification.

  5. The cemetery, however, is part of Lincolnshire, in spite of losing the overall annexation rights to Vernon Hills.

    1. My great grandparents, grandparents and parents are all buried in this cemetery. My family has been in Half Day since 1883.

  6. When my Dad died in 2012 I put the "Half Day" Story in his breast pocket in the casket. For 40 years every time we would pass the "Half Day Road" sign my Dad would say " Son, do you know why they call this Half Day Road"?... No Dad why? (with my eyeroll) "Because it would take you a Half Day to get here from Chicago"!... I wish I could hear that just one more time.


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