Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Lost Towns of Illinois - Weston, Illinois.

Weston was predated by a 100-house subdivision named West Field, which was on the verge of growing in size due to the proposed development for 50,000 people. However, DuPage County sued developer William Riley to prevent the town from incorporating, basing their challenge upon a technicality, and further stated that as it had not properly incorporated that the town had no legal right to annex land for development. 

In April 1964, four months after the town's initial unveiling, the project collapsed, and the developer filed for bankruptcy, blaming the county's lawsuit. Had construction proceeded as planned, the town would have contained the largest mall in North America, with some 2,000 stores within it. The town also was to have an airport, more than 11,000 houses, athletics fields, a town center, and even large man-made lakes.

The subdivision was taken over by DuPage County, allowing the few existing residents to remain. The residents then worked again to incorporate as a town in an attempt to free themselves from DuPage County control, eventually seeking help from the Federal Government through the US Atomic Energy Commission. 
Aerial view of Weston, the site for the National Accelerator Laboratory. 1966

The National Academy of Sciences also made a visit to the site of the community. In 1966, after much controversy from within both the community and the surrounding county, the community was chosen as the site for the new Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory at Kirk and Pine Streets, Batavia. 

Shortly after, it was revealed that the town would be contained within the laboratory's boundaries, meaning that the community's residents had to sell their homes to the State of Illinois, and the community of Weston ceased to exist.

Today, some of the original houses are still standing, used by Fermilab for boarding international scientists, but are not accessible to the public.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Vishnu Springs, Illinois.

The history of Vishnu Springs goes back to the 1840s when the Ebenezer Hicks family moved to McDonough County from Ohio. Settling in Hire Township, Ebenezer bought parcels of land, ultimately owning over 5,000 acres of ground in McDonough and Hancock counties.

One of these parcels was Section 7 of Tennessee Township (T5N R4W), and located on the property were natural springs. Ebenezer probably knew the springs were there but did not try to capitalize on them. Another man, Dr. J.W. Aiken, from the neighboring town of Tennessee, Illinois, did. However, to do so, Aiken rented the land surrounding the springs from Ebenezer and started promoting them for their medicinal qualities.

At the time, the springs were known as the Tennessee Springs, but shortly after Dr. Aiken rented the ground, the area was referred to as Vishnu Springs. One story for the change in the name is that Dr. Aiken wanted the name of the springs to reflect their healing qualities. Vishnu is the second God of the Hindu trinity, the one who is known as the Preserver of living things. Thus, the name Vishnu was taken.

Another story of the origin of the name is that Ebenezer's son, Darius Hicks, had read an 1861 book by Henri Mouhot. His book describes the discovery of the ancient preserved city of Angkor in Cambodia. The city's water was fed by the river Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu in the Hindu religion. In either story, the association of Vishnu and healing or preservation and the springs in Tennessee Township came to be.
With the name Vishnu Medical Springs, Dr. Aiken hoped to sell the medicinal waters and draw the infirmed to the springs to be healed. He claimed that the springs' water would cure many ailments, from inflammation of the bladder and kidneys to stomach disorders to diseases "peculiar to women." The cost of a gallon of spring water was 25¢, and Dr. Aiken sold many gallons of water, but probably not at the rate he would have liked.

When Dr. Aiken's association with the Springs ended, we do not know for sure, but we do know that in the 1880s, Darius Hicks' father, Ebenezer, was committed to the insane hospital at Jacksonville, IL, where he died in 1886. When Ebenezer wrote out his will in 1881, he clearly stated how his estate was to be distributed. He left the land in Section 7 of Township 5 North, Range 4 West, the land where Vishnu Springs is located, to the older of his living sons, Darius Hicks.

Darius Hicks' first wife was Ella D. Smith, whom he married in 1874. Evidently, Darius Hicks and his wife may have been having marital problems before Ebenezer's death because in 1885, the father added a codicil to his will stating that everything he had bequeathed to Darius Hicks was to be held by his brother, Franklin, in trust for Darius Hicks if Darius Hicks and Ella were still married when Ebenezer died. He didn't want Darius Hicks to inherit the land and then have it tied up in a divorce settlement if the marriage did indeed fail. Being the shrewd businessman that he was, Ebenezer wanted to protect his investments. He did state, however, that if Darius Hicks' marriage lasted ten years after Ebenezer's death, the property would be returned to Darius Hicks. Needless to say, Darius Hicks and Ella did divorce, and Darius Hicks inherited his share of his father's estate.
The shady valley, surrounded by rocky bluffs that are filled with caves, was long a place that attracted the early pioneers of the region. They used the quiet spot as a place to picnic, and in 1884, one annual gathering was said to have drawn as many as 1500 people from the surrounding area. Not long after this, many residents of the nearby town of Colchester began to realize that the water in the valley differed from the drinking water that could be found elsewhere. All that is remembered today is that the spring water was said to have a peculiar salt content, seven medicinal properties and an especially appealing taste. People began coming from near and far to sample the water, hauling away jugs of it from the springs. Allegedly, doctors sent their patients here on crutches and walked away without them.

By the 1880s, as many as 1500 to 2000 people were gathering here to hold camp meetings and consume the valley's cold waters. In an age when effective medicines were rare, the strange-tasting water offered hope to a great many people. The owners of the land and the springs claimed that the water would “cure of benefit all kinds of debility, neuralgia, rheumatism, palpitation of the heart, dyspepsia, kidney trouble, worms” and even “female troubles, dislocated limbs, broken backs, deafness, blindness and laziness.” And people believed the claims. They began buying the water for 25 cents a gallon, and they carried it home with them.

The March 1889 Colchester Independent reported that a hotel was to be built at Vishnu "to accommodate those who wish to try the healing qualities of the mineral water at that place." The paper also reported that a 26 X 40 ft. hotel would have first-class conveniences and would be built for $2,500. The road from the springs to the main road to the north was already in place, and the stonework for the hotel would commence soon. W.E. Way was foreman of the Vishnu rock quarry, which was owned by Darius Hicks and John Mourning, a man to whom Darius Hicks had sold 1/2 interest in Vishnu. It was later reported that the stone in the quarry was of such a fine quality that men would like to use it when they built their new homes at Vishnu.

A June 1889 newspaper article announced that the stonework for the hotel was done, and the frame was being put up. Tom Walters and his wife would run the hotel once completed. The roof was then put on, and Enoch Way had contracted to do the plaster work at a rate of 10 cents/yard. Four hundred visitors had recently been out to the Springs.

In 1889, Darius Hicks met and married his second wife, Hattie Rush, a widower from Missouri and mother of three young children, Robert, Benjamin, and Maud. Hattie was not a very healthy woman and probably came to the springs for their curative powers. In August 1890, the Colchester Independent reported that: "Mrs. Hicks, wife of Darius Hicks, proprietor of Vishnu hotel, is lying very low, but hopes of her recovery are entertained by her many friends." Hattie died in 1896 from an illness of several months from a complication of diseases, one of which was reported to be Bright's disease, an older name for a form of kidney disease.

In August 1889, a Holiness Camp Meeting, held at Vishnu, drew 2000-3000 visitors. The event was led by Rev. Sherman & Rev. Thompson of Colchester and Taylor Murray of Hire township. They obviously came to share in the experiences of their religious beliefs, but probably many also came to see the new hotel, which was nearing completion. Others probably came to partake of the springs' medicinal qualities, the site's central focus.

That same month, at the request of Darius Hicks and John Mourning, Surveyor Cephus Holmes drew the plat of Vishnu Springs. The plat shows a town that consisted of three blocks, one main street and three alleys. Thirty lots were drawn into the plat with lot sizes averaging 50 X 120 feet. Each lot was to be sold for thirty dollars.

In October of 1889, Andy Ruddell is reported to have been the first settler at Vishnu, with the Colchester Independent reporting two houses built and two more soon to be erected. Ed Sammons was planning on opening a restaurant, and Dave Reece was reported as a homeowner. C. K. Way was surveying his addition to Vishnu.

The following February, the paper reported that Dr. Luce, the Indian doctor, was visiting the springs, probably intending to settle there. Deed records show that he did indeed buy some property in North Vishnu Springs, which was sometimes referred to as "Loose City."

Also, around this time, a man by the name of C. K. Way was considering the potential of the land adjacent to the platted town of Vishnu. He also had a section of land to the south of Darius Hicks' platted and named it Way's addition. Because of strife between Darius Hicks and Way, a reporter to the Independent suggested that a toll booth might be put up between the two properties, so visitors from "the south" would have to pay a toll to get to the springs. Way's addition never prospered.

In 1890, the Independent reported talk of a post office at the springs. However, due to a lack of interest, the post office was not established until June 15, 1895. It was located in the hotel itself. On March 31, 1908, the post office was discontinued, and the postal services were transferred to Colchester.

Trade was on the increase in 1890. Mr. Reece was filling up stock at the store, and there was talk of a barbershop. Prices for goods at Vishnu were competitive with Tennessee and Colchester.

The hotel officially opened in May of 1890. The Capitol Hotel was three stories and cost $2,500.

Just before the hotel's opening, John Mourning decided to sell his interest in Vishnu back to Darius Hicks. A barn was built on site, as well as a livery stable. A windmill was being built to pump water from the springs to a water system that would be used to provide running water to the hotel. A "Driving park" or race track was being made. "John Oakman has bought a new horse and cart. Wonder if he will train him when the driving park is finished." (Independent, May 8, 1890)

In July 1890, Frank Williams fell 16 feet headfirst to the solid rock below while remodeling the windmill. A rope that was being used to raise up part of the windmill broke, and Williams was hit, knocking him off. The initial report of the accident, which reached Colchester, indicated that his injuries were fatal. In actuality, Drs. Aiken and Horrel were called, and they found he had broken some ribs, was cut up and was badly bruised.

Ever since its earliest years, there have been reports of crowds going to the Springs. Many visitors came out for a weekend gathering or a picnic, and others came to partake of the spring waters. After the hotel was built, more people were coming to Vishnu, so to capitalize on getting the visitors from Colchester, the location of the nearest depot, brothers John and Milton Mourning started The Vishnu Transfer Line. For 75¢, one could ride to, and from the springs in a spring wagon, meal included. If a better ride was preferred in a carriage or canopy-topped three-seated two-horse buckboard, the cost was $1.00.

The hotel had come under the management of a first-class hotel keeper, Mr. Thornton Maddox. He had added several amenities to the grounds; croquet was set up in the yard, hammocks were added, and a fountain was planned. A dumb waiter was installed inside the hotel to transport food from one level to another.

Also, in July 1890, the Independent gave a weather report: "It's hot." A new organ was put in the hotel parlor. Visitors were plentiful, and among them were musicians. Miss Ollie Hankins of Tennessee, "an accomplished musician and a good singer," was in residence. Bert Oakman and Prof. H.D. Jackson of Bardolph were guests. And as the paper reported, "Prof. Jackson as a music teacher, was an expert."

Misters Gaites and Powell opened a photograph gallery on Main Street and were doing quite the business. Steps were built on the side of the hill to make the path from the upper ground down to the Hotel an easier walk.

Religious events and visiting preachers were reported in the early years of Vishnu. One such event was the Camp Holiness Day of the previous year. In August 1890, the preacher Rev. Alexander Smith, son of the "Mormon Prophet," presented the religious doctrine of the Latter Day Saints as interpreted by him and his following at a gathering. It was reported by the paper that Alexander Smith and his followers did not recognize polygamy like the Utah saints did.

A couple weeks later, Elder Salisbury, a nephew of Joseph Smith, spoke to a crowd. Some of the attendees had come from California and Colorado to hear Elder Salisbury speak. He, like Alexander Smith, told his listeners that no members of his family practiced polygamy either. He also told of a "blissful land that one could enjoy if they would forsake their evil ways and become obedient to his teachings and wait 1000 years after death."

By December 1890, Darius Hicks had finished a large artificial lake called Lake Vishnu. During that first summer, Hicks continued to publicize the springs, and once the land in the valley went up for sale, it was quickly purchased. The lots were snatched up, and by October, Vishnu Springs had its first real occupant. His name was Andrew Ruddle, and he constructed a small house near the hotel. That winter, David Reece opened the town’s first store.

By the following spring, Vishnu had two more stores, a restaurant, a livery stable and blacksmith and a photo gallery. Darius Hicks organized the “Vishnu Transfer Line” that made trips from Colchester to the new resort. For the cost of 75 cents, a passenger could be transported to Vishnu, have dinner and then be transported back. A passenger could bypass the normally used spring wagon for an additional fee and be taken to the resort in a carriage or a canopied buckboard instead.

Darius Hicks evidently did not get along well with his developer, Charles K. Way, and there was talk of dividing the community into two parts. Way eventually developed land southeast of the hotel. Also, the resort became known for selling and consuming illegal alcohol (Colchester and the county were both “dry” at that time). The drinking on the grounds of the resort led to occasional fighting.

Things were not always good at the springs. In 1890, a stabbing occurred at Vishnu. Andrew Ruddle and John Mourning had an altercation. Ruddle had contracted with Mourning to do some stripping at the quarry. He did some of the work and received some of the pay. When Ruddle confronted Mourning about the rest of the pay, he was told that, like for most jobs, he would be paid in full when the job was done. Ruddle continued to ask for his pay, and Mourning continued to refuse to pay him until the job was done. When Mourning refused one too many times for Ruddle's liking, he attacked Mourning, cutting him with a knife, and opening a long and painful gash in his shoulder. Ruddle fled the scene and remained at large for several weeks. He was apprehended in Missouri and brought back for a court appearance.

Meanwhile, despite the drinking and the fighting, Darius Hicks continued to develop the resort as a place of peace and healing. The hotel boasted several improvements, like running water and an elevator to reach the third-floor ballroom. Amusements were added for the resort travelers, like a real horse-powered carousel, and the lawn around the hotel was fitted with swings, hammocks, croquet grounds, a picnic area and a large pond that was dubbed “Lake Vishnu” and stocked with goldfish. A small stream flowed away from the lake and vanished into the mouth of a large, unexplored cave. Darius Hicks also built a racetrack and established a park, both of which were not in the valley but on a nearby hill. A set of 108 wooden steps had been constructed to reach the part of the town located on the hill. He also promoted and arranged for cultural activities like dances, band concerts and holiday celebrations. He also organized a literary society and opened a schoolhouse for the children who had settled in Vishnu with their parents.

Although it sounds as though the town was rapidly growing, it wasn’t. Most of Darius Hicks’ efforts were being spent on a small number of full-time residents and travelers who came to take in the waters. There were never more than about 30 homes in the valley, and the hotel was not active in cold weather months. The road to the hotel was barely passable, making access nearly impossible. The hotel was also now under bad management.

For these reasons, the village never really gained an economic base, even as a popular resort, for there was no railroad connection to it, and it was far from any sizable town of the era. The residents managed to persevere through and gained a post office in 1896. Darius Hicks eventually moved from his nearby farm to the town itself and served as the local postmaster for several years.

In 1896, Darius Hicks' wife, Hattie, died from Bright's disease.

The following year, Darius Hicks remarried for what would be the last time. This last marriage caused quite a stir in the community as Darius Hicks married his own stepdaughter, Maud Rush. She was only 20 years-old at the time. After marriage, Darius Hicks and Maud moved to a farm north of Blandinsville. Darius and Maud had two children, a boy and a girl.

In 1903, two events would take place that would lead to the decline of Vishnu. On one warm summer day, the carousel was filled with children, carefully watched by the owner, who supervised their play and ensured that the horse that turned the gears continued to walk. It is unclear what happened, but somehow, the supervisor's shirt sleeve became tangled in the gears of the carousel, and he was pulled into them. The children’s cries of delight and laughter turned to screams of terror as the man was crushed to death. The carousel ground to a halt, and it never ran again.

Later on that same year, Maud Hicks gave birth to another daughter, but both mother and child died during the delivery. Legend has it that the event occurred in one of the rooms of the Capitol Hotel and that the event left such an impression that it is still being heard and experienced there today! Regardless of any questions of lingering ghosts, though, Maud’s death was a tremendous shock to Darius Hicks. He certainly never dreamed that his wife, 27 years younger than him, would precede him to the grave. On the day following Maud’s funeral, he took his young son, and he turned his back on Vishnu - never to return. But his troubles were not yet over...

After leaving Vishnu, Hicks bought a farm a short distance north near Blandinsville and took up residence there. He soon hired a housekeeper named Nellie Darrah, a widow, who was needed to help care for Hicks’ two young children. In the following years, Nellie became a mother figure to the children and became romantically involved with Hicks. By the winter of 1908, Nellie had become pregnant and confronted Hicks, demanding that he finally marry her. He refused, and she subsequently gained an abortion. Not surprisingly, the procedure did not go well, thanks to the time period, and she had to be hospitalized.

While in the hospital, Nellie contacted Hicks and threatened to publicize their entire affair. Hicks silently met the threats and quietly removed his .32 caliber rifle from his closet. After writing a letter that explained his entire situation, he shot himself in the head. Hicks died from the wound at the age of only 58.

The death of Darius Hicks sounded a death knell for the community of Vishnu Springs. He had been the main builder and promoter of the town and had literally given the place a spirit. He had remained involved in the town and hotel business, even after moving to Blandinsville. There was no one who was as invested, both financially and personally, in the village. Hicks’ death sent the community into a decline that it never came out of.

Now under indifferent management, the hotel and the town began to attract gamblers, thieves and criminals. On one occasion, a huge quantity of counterfeit half-dollars, which looked like the real thing but were made from pewter, were seized here. Their maker had been passing them off in illegal poker games at the hotel, and someone had eventually alerted the authorities. There were other stories of lawbreakers captured at Vishnu as well and legends that much of their loot was hidden away in the caves around the settlement. If there is any element of truth to such stories, the money still remains lost today.

Dr. Isaac Luce, who had settled in the village during its greatest prosperity, tried to develop the land he owned on the north side of the village but with no success. A man named Campbell also tried to stem the flow of people moving out of the now declining homes and businesses but his enterprise was also doomed to fail.

Eventually, the property was sold and left to decay. By the 1920s, Vishnu was nothing more than a legend-haunted ghost town, abandoned and nearly forgotten in the secluded valley. Vandals stole valuable hotel furnishings and broke out the windows of the buildings and the old hotel. Other visitors found their way to the spot, and the inside of the hotel was filled with their signatures. The earliest names scrawled on the walls are those of Marie Feris and Lil Baker, who came to the Capitol in 1893, when it was still in business. The owners encouraged the now historic graffiti, but the marks and scrawls that still appear today have lost the charm and the innocence of the signatures of the past.

By the 1930s, the hotel had decayed into little more than a shell, and the local banker's owner lost all of his property during the Depression. It seemed that the “curse” that plagued Vishnu was continuing to wreak havoc.

In 1935, a restoration effort was started by Ira Post. He bought the hotel and 220 acres around it. He restored the building and hired Lon Cale as the caretaker. They opened the former resort up as a picnic ground, and while it met with a limited amount of success, Vishnu would never be a community again. He and his family lived at the hotel for weeks at a time, overseeing the work that was being done. As with Darius Hicks, the magic of the little valley had worked its charm on Ira Post, and he longed to open the place back up to the public again.

Post died in 1951, and while the hotel was occasionally rented in the years after, the grounds became overgrown and unkempt. His children had all moved away, and soon even the caretaker was no longer needed to watch over an area that had once again faded into memory. Soon, it was completely abandoned once more.

In April 1968, Alfred White and Albert Simmons talked Ira Post’s niece into letting them try to revitalize the place once again. Their plan was to open the hotel and offer food and country music to the public. The venture soon folded, and Vishnu was abandoned once again.

In the early 1970s, Vishnu Springs saw life again as a sort of commune for a group of Western Illinois University graduates and their friends. They turned the hotel into their home and sacrificed their professional careers to live with nature. Earning enough money to pay the rent and the expensive winter heating bills, the group gardened and raised livestock to make ends meet, occasionally hosting music festivals that featured groups with names such as “Morning, Morning” and “Catfish & Crystal.” Eventually, they were gone, and Vishnu was once again deserted.

The old hotel has continued to deteriorate as the years have passed, and today it is little more than a crumbling shadow of its former self. Despite the interest of local societies and historic groups, the valley remained private property until the death of the last member of the Post family. Since that time, the status of the land has remained in limbo, and the ultimate fate of Vishnu remains a mystery.

And perhaps this very mystery, as well as its isolation, has been the source of the legends that have come to be told here. As the town fell into ruin and the houses collapsed and were covered with weeds and brush, those who ventured into Vishnu came away with strange and perplexing tales. The accounts spoke of a woman in black who roamed through the abandoned streets. Who this woman may have been unknown, but she was said to vanish without a trace when approached. Visitors also told of sounds from Vishnu’s past echoing into the present. They were the sounds of voices, laughter and music as if the glory days of Vishnu were still being lived out - in a world beyond our own.

In 2003, the Western Illinois University Foundation was gifted 140 acres of land in McDonough County, which included Vishnu Springs. The donor, Ira Post's granddaughter, is a 1946 graduate of Western. The site has been named the Ira and Reatha T. Post Wildlife Sanctuary.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - White Oak Springs, Illinois.

White Oak Springs was a settlement village (1838) in Brown County, Illinois. White Oak Springs was northeast of Benville and north-northwest of Morrelville. 

Arthur Martin was the founder of the White Oak Springs Post office. Martin was a blacksmith by trade and owned his own shop, a general store and a copper shop. Very little information is referenced about White Oak Springs.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Taylorsport, Illinois.

Glencoe owes its existence to an enterprising East Coast transplant — a fur trader who sought to make money with a series of innovative properties on Lake Michigan — and a business partnership known as the Glencoe Company.

Both efforts failed to make much money. Yet today’s Glencoe remains the beneficiary of these bold ventures. As Glencoe Historical Society president Karen Ettelson explained in a recent interview, speculation was taken with thoughtful planning for development.
Anson Taylor recognized the potential of the area that became Glencoe.

Glencoe’s history began in 1835 with a man named Anson Taylor, a Connecticut carpenter who traded in furs and built the first wooden bridge across the Chicago River. After coming north with his family, Taylor built a harbor into the lake.

He called it Taylorsport.

“It was Anson Taylor who first recognized the area’s potential,” Ettelson said. “He built a pier and sold timber [from the area’s woods]. He opened a post office. He opened a hostel called La Pier Inn, where the stagecoach stopped.

“But when the railroad was built in the mid-1850s, Taylorsport suffered.”

Taylorsport, like Wilmette and other North Shore towns, was born to create an ideal community, realizing a small but pioneering vision that put the spot squarely in sight for property development.

The development came in earnest, Ettelson said, with another East Coast newcomer, New York native Dr. Alexander Hammond.

Dr. Hammond had married and gone as far west as Iowa. But the doctor didn’t like Iowa. Instead, he settled near Rockford, where Dr. Hammond made money as a grain farmer. Unsatisfied, he went to Chicago, which he also didn’t like, until he roamed north to a farm owned by a businessman named Walter Gurnee, head of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad (later the Chicago & North Western). Dr. Hammond bought the farm from Gurnee in 1868, intending to develop the less than four-square-mile area.

Finding investors to underwrite his vision proved difficult until Dr. Hammond connected with Charles Brown, an Evanston developer, and made a deal to find other investors. The men formed a partnership and agreed to specific terms and conditions, such as an agreement for each investor to build two homes — one each to live in, one to sell — so that each investor would be existentially committed to Glencoe, with the pledge to fund construction of a school and a church.

Calling themselves the Glencoe Company, they incorporated Glencoe in 1869.

“The Glencoe Company included some investors who lost a fortune in the Chicago Fire of 1871, so many of them weren’t able to realize their goals,” Ettelson said. “But the park [Lakefront Park] that exists today was part of their original agreement, and Dr. Hammond is credited as being the one man who made Glencoe.”

He had previously lived in Skaneateles, N.Y., a general practice doctor known as an attractive lakefront village. Ettelson said that, in creating Glencoe, Dr. Hammond sought “to embrace both the love of nature and the attractions of the city.”

The Glencoe Company dissipated amid financial dispute and loss among various investors — one of them became governor of Illinois — and the partnership ended in discord. But the original house that Dr. Hammond lived in — a place called the Castle, which he’d bought from Walter Gurnee — survived.

So does the reality of Dr. Hammond’s goal of harmony between nature and the manmade — especially in the 15 acres within Glencoe known as Ravine Bluffs. It’s an area bought in 1910 by Mr. and Mrs. Sherman Booth, Frank Lloyd Wright’s lawyer, according to Glencoe Historical Society’s Ettelson, herself an attorney.
The bridge in Ravine Bluffs is the only one ever designed and built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Ravine Bluffs was supposed to be a magnificent estate by Frank Lloyd Wright — Ravine Bluffs would have been as famous as Fallingwater — and they started to build,” she said. “Then they shifted and divided the property into lots designed by Wright with landscaping by Jens Jensen.”

Ettelson said that, in the end, Wright designed several Glencoe homes and structures, including a bridge, which she describes as “the only bridge Wright designed and built” — and a train station. The depot was built and later demolished (Ettelson said plans are underway to rebuild it).

Booth and his wife, Elizabeth, were prominent in their own right. Ettelson said that Booth is the first person Wright called after the arson murders at Wright’s estate in Wisconsin, Taliesin. She added that Mrs. Booth was responsible for pushing through the Illinois Suffrage of Act of 1913, giving women the right to vote.

“She was not the typical suffragette,” Ettelson said. “She was the model of feminine diplomacy, she was very attractive, and she had files on every legislator and worked them over, though she had two little kids at home in Glencoe at the time. Elizabeth Booth found a way to use intelligence, curiosity, experience, entrepreneurialism and organizational skills to be an early successful woman.”

According to Ettelson, many of Glencoe’s residents were active in government, media and business, from Chicago Daily News founder Melville Stone, Marshall Field manager James Simpson and Gasoline Alley cartoon strip creator Frank King to poet Archibald MacLeish, actors Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Fred Savage (Wonder Years), and Federal Communications Commission head Newton Minow. Television journalists Walter Jacobson and Ann Compton spent their childhoods in Glencoe.

Other notable residents include advertising executive Leo Burnett, former Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak, August Zeising, president of American Bridge Co., later a division of U.S. Steel — and Judge James Wilkerson who put Chicago mobster Al Capone in jail.

“Glencoe has always had a population mixture,” Ettelson said, noting the community’s Jewish and black populations. “Even in the late 1800s, we were an integrated community. We had a [proportionately] large African-American population.”

Evidently, here, too, capitalism led to Glencoe’s growth, variety and progress. In the southwestern part of town, Ettelson explained, real estate developer Morton Culver purchased land and divided it into smaller lots to provide low-priced housing.

“We were a big picnic spot, and people would come and spend the day in the country right off the train,” Ettelson said. “We have photos of blacks picnicking in Glencoe. There were also Italians, Germans and Swedes and successful businessmen.”

Lakeshore Country Club was founded in 1908 with “a heavy concentration of Jews displaced from Chicago,” and Glencoe’s first reformed Jewish congregation opened in 1920. Ettelson estimates that half of today’s Glencoe population is Jewish.

“We were also one of the first communities to have a combined police and fire department. Public safety officers are cross-trained,” he said.

Among Glencoe’s most iconic landmarks are Kalk Park’s gazebo, the Chicago & North Western train station, the tower on top of the village hall and the entrance to Central School. Ettelson said that what makes Glencoe unique is its Frank Lloyd Wright legacy.

“Glencoe has an enclave of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, a bridge and other structures in Ravine Bluffs,” she said. “There’s nowhere else in the world where you can see that.”

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Riverview, Illinois.

Riverview was settled in 1833 and was a farming and industrial town. It was bounded by Oakton, River Road, Touhy, and Lee streets. The Illinois and Wisconsin Railroad made its first stop in the area in the fall of 1854. Riverview was incorporated in 1876 and had its own post office from1876-1925. By 1885 the town had four factories. Four years later, a fifth factory opened, making Riverview a boom town (today's Des Plaines).
In 1890, the Columbia Steel Car Works announced a new factory to be built south of Des Plaines, alongside the Wisconsin Central Railroad. Rumors circulated that a brewery would be built nearby.

The Magill Real Estate Company promised the Columbia Works, Sunshine Co., and Baltimore Tin-Plate would soon employ as many as 6,000 in another area known as Columbia, where the forest preserve now stands. None of the factories ever opened.
Columbia Steel Works, located at the southeast corner of Everett and Maple, stretching to Prospect & White, would have produced hopper cars and shipped them by the Wisconsin Central spur that ran alongside Circle Street. The factory was largely built in 1890 but never was finished.

The company's founder also started the Riverview Shoe Company in 1891, but work on its factory, adjacent to the Steel Car Works, was halted before a roof was even put on.

In 1891, the Western Coated Paper & Card Company opened a 75-by-250-foot factory on the north side of Everett Street between Linden and Orchard Street but went into bankruptcy in 1897. It burned to the ground on June 7, 1902. The nearby Kreh Chalk & Pencil Company was short-lived and also burned down.
The Western Brass Works, a hardware manufacturer, opened a factory on the west side of the Wisconsin Central at Howard Street in June 1892 but went bankrupt a year later. The building later became the Schaeffer Piano Manufacturing Company but burned to the ground on January 20, 1903, ironically one day after the foundation for its delayed sprinkler tank was finished.

Riverview Canning was built but lasted only three years. A small frame-planing mill was built but did not last long either.
Jones Woolen Mill opened in 1892 in a building along the Des Plaines River, some distance from the rest of Riverview. In 1896 the building became home to the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company, an early competitor to Thomas Edison's light bulb dominance.

Riverview's failure to launch left its scattered cottages with little reason to be occupied. The community continued to struggle, and in 1925 the remaining residents asked Des Plaines to annex it. With the annexation, Des Plaines transitioned from a village to a city.

Riverview's Town Hall at the northwest corner of Illinois & Everett, which once housed its fire pump on its first floor and an auditorium for dances and meetings, was turned into a tool shed for Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers and was demolished in 1941. A house now stands on its site, while a church across the street still stands.
A block to the north, at the southwest corner of Illinois and Prospect, the first Riverview School stood until it was replaced in 1938 by the current South School, which took seven years to complete. The Wisconsin Central depot between Circle Street and the tracks was also demolished.

Riverview's street names even disappeared. Jefferson Avenue became Oakton street, Cuttle was changed to Riverview, Everitt to Everett, Park to Prospect, Centre to Stockton, Columbia to Howard, Gay to Spruce, Broadway to Ash, Washington to Pine, Franklin to Cora, Oak to Linden, Walnut to Sycamore, Jennie to Locust, Hamilton to Birch, May to Bennett, and Green to Kennicott.
Riverview was planned to be an industrial powerhouse but ended up as a subdivision. Nothing remains of the post office, fire station, train station or town hall. Today, all that remains of its fledgling industry is a building occupied by Schawk, Inc., a graphics service and brand design company, 1695 S. River Road, numerous identical frame houses, and a church.
After the Douglas Aircraft Plant construction during World War II, many of the streets were filled with economical but sturdy colonial brick duplexes, wiping out any remaining signs of the failed industries of 50 years prior. The one successful factory still stands today. In 1920, Safety Electric Company, a small manufacturer of electric light fixtures, moved into a building first occupied by Jones Woolen Mill and then by Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company. After Safety Electric left, the building was home to Jordan Manufacturing Company from 1964-1979. In 1982, the radically altered building, minus one floor, the front tower, and with rearranged windows, became home to Schawk.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Lost Towns of Illinois - Papstown, Illinois.

Papstown, or New Brighton, was located on the high road to Belleville, just east of East Saint Louis city boundary and the seat of the National Stock Yards pens where the butchers of St. Louis draw their stock for local markets.

It was called the Papstown from the founder, an Englishman named Mr. Condit. People called him "Pap" and the place Papstown. Brighton was a noted cattle mart in England. The nickname New Brighton was appropriately applied to this great western cattle market. 

"Pap" Condit built his first house in Papstown of grub plank from old river rafts. Here he sold spruce beer which he made himself. Condit turned his first house into a tavern and sold spruce beer, which he made himself.

Condit was immensely wealthy. He had a farm in Morgan County, comprising thousands of acres, having many tenants upon it whom he employed to grow feed corn and grains for his stables and cattle ranch.

East Saint Louis, Illinois, annexed Papstown in the early 1870s.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Orchard Place, Illinois.

Orchard Place, Illinois, was a small farming community in Cook County, Illinois, just west of Chicago. 

First known as Farwell, it was settled by German immigrants in 1833. The Farwell Post Office opened in 1881, and then the Post Office's name was changed to Orchard Place in 1887. The Post Office seems to have closed in 1935. 

It became a stop on the Wisconsin Central Railroad in 1887 and received the name Orchard Place at that time. In 1942, Orchard Place was selected as the site of a new air base and aircraft manufacturing facility, Orchard Place Airport/Douglas Field. After the Second World War, the city of Chicago bought the airport from the United States government and converted it into a commercial airport; Chicago Orchard Field opened in 1946.

Before 1950, much of the land in the adjacent community was subdivided into residential lots, and a network of initially unpaved streets was developed. This development covered most of the area bounded by Touhy Avenue on the North, (Des Plaines) River Road on the East, Devon Avenue and Higgins Road on the South, and Mannheim Road. On the West side. The airport lies to the Southwest of the Mannheim/Devon intersection, more-or-less diagonally across that intersection from the Orchard Place community.

These de facto boundaries were altered slightly by the construction of the Northwest Tollway in the mid-1950s, forming a barrier separating it from the largely undeveloped southwestern corner of the area and the airport area in general. Orchard Place evolved into an unincorporated residential suburban area, with housing development proceeding piecemeal as individual lots were purchased by prospective homeowners and speculative builders. The community was annexed by referendum to the City of Des Plaines in 1956. 

The airport was renamed in 1949 to O'Hare International Airport and has grown into the Chicago metropolitan area's primary airport and a central North American transportation hub. Today, the former Orchard Place is the southernmost neighborhood of Des Plaines. 

Most early town settlers were buried in Wilmer's Old Settlers Cemetery, which closed in the early 1950s to make room for O'Hare International Airport's access roads. The remains from this cemetery were moved to the 2 remaining cemeteries.

The legacy of its original name persists in O'Hare's airport code (FAA LID: ORD), as well as in the name of Orchard Place Elementary School.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Millville, Illinois.

Millville was initially established in 1835 along the northern Chicago-Galena stagecoach route, which is now in the Apple River Canyon State Park. A roadway today is known as the Stagecoach Trail.
John Frink, Jr. had the first successful stage-line out of Chicago in 1832. The top brass marker commemorates the "Frink & Walker Stage Route Stop."

John R. Smith and the Burbridge family were responsible for the village's first buildings, and a sawmill was erected between 1835 and 1836. It developed as an essential rural service stop along that stagecoach route. Millville was significant in the early history of Jo Daviess County, serving as a civic and commercial hub from 1838–53. The town itself was platted on April 14, 1846, within Rush Township by John R. Smith.

Millville faced a decline after the railroads entered Jo Daviess County during the 1850s. Still, the town served as a minor commercial center for several decades. In 1853–54 the Illinois Central Railroad bypassed Millville, relegating it to a future as a "backwater town." Despite this, two prominent commercial operations remained in business into the late 19th century, the grist mill and a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop, eight buildings, two homes and a school are shown in town maps as late as 1872.

The town's fate was sealed by a June 1892 flood which reportedly swept away all of the town's remaining buildings, leaving no trace of Millville in its wake. Heavy rains swelled the pond at the Cox Mill, 1/4 mile from Millville, causing the mill dam to burst. The mill pond waters tore down Clear Creek and poured into the South Fork Apple River, rushing toward Millville. The town's buildings, unable to withstand the deluge, were swept away by the violent river.

The park was purchased by the State of Illinois in 1932, and no visible remnants of its structures remain today. The site of Millville was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as the Millville Town Site in 2003.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Lost Towns of Illinois - Chelsea, Illinois. (1837-1852)

In the early 1830s, the McGovney and Van Horne families and others settled along the banks of Hickory Creek, a tributary of the Des Plaines River and built homes in the Hickory Creek woods. Settlers sent and received mail and packages at Chelsea's post office in 1837. The Chelsea post office received mail once a week by a "horse express fast line" that followed the route between LaPorte, Indiana, and Joliet.

When the Rock Island Railroad came through, it passed less than a mile north of Hickory Creek and Chelsea. Chelsea's village Platt was incomplete when the village plans were abandoned because of the distance from town to the rail stop. By 1880 Chelsea had disappeared entirely, while Mokena sprouted up at the Rock Island rail stop.
The Hickory Creek Preserve, 20400 Wolf Road, Mokena, Illinois.

The Village of Mokena Post Office opened in 1853.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Lost Towns of Illinois - Brownsville, Illinois.

The Town of Brownsville, Illinois, was established in 1816. Doctor Conrad Will, "Father of Jackson County," offered to donate twenty acres near his salt works on the Big Muddy as a town site, and his offer was accepted. Thus Brownsville was founded. 

It was not a favorable location for a town because it was off the main trail and challenging to reach. Nevertheless, regardless of this handicap, it was a lively place for years. Brownsville was said to be the third largest town in Illinois.
The only known photograph of Brownsville, Illinois.
Brownsville was the first county seat of Jackson County from 1817 until 1843, when Brownsville's court house burned down on January 10, 1843, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the county's birth. Very few records were saved from the flames, the reason that so few records of Brownsville's pioneer days exist.

Brownsville continued to flourish until about 1835 when it began to decline. There were several reasons for this. Doctor Will, its leading citizen, died the previous year, and his various enterprises ceased operation. People began settling in the county's northern and western portions, demanding a more central county seat.

After the destruction of the court house in 1843, Doctor Logan offered to donate twenty acres as an inducement to relocate the county seat on his farm in Shieldsboro, Illinois (which changed its name to Murphys Borough), now where Murphysboro stands. His offer was accepted, and the new town was started. Many citizens of Brownsville moved to Murphysboro, some razing their buildings to move them to the new location. Other buildings were bought by various persons and removed from the Brownsville location.

Thus, in a few years, the town had vanished.

By referring to a map of Jackson county, it will be noted that the Big Muddy river swings northwestward at Murphysboro, flowing in that direction some two or three miles, then swerves slightly to the southwest for a considerable distance. It was on this stretch of the river that Brownsville was located, on the north bank of the stream, on the dividing line of sections two and three, Sand Ridge township, about five miles west of Murphysboro. Route 149 now passes within a short distance of the historic spot.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Clarke House - Chicago's (claimed) Oldest House - 1836

Clarke and his wife Caroline, along with three children and a servant, moved to Chicago from upstate New York in October 1835, even before the outpost was incorporated as a city (1837). They purchased 20 acres of land two miles south of town, the borders of which are now 16th and 17th Streets, State Street on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. The only way to reach the remote property was by an old Native American trail – now South Michigan Avenue – which cut through the Clarkes' land.

Henry and Caroline, well-educated and upper-middle class, had witnessed the fortunes made out east with the 1825 opening of the Erie Canal. They expected that Chicago would enjoy the same prosperity when it opened its planned canal, linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.
Reflecting their aspirations, the Clarkes chose to build their home in the Greek Revival style; a type of home familiar to them in New York. Popular in America in the mid-19th century, the style speaks to democratic and elevated ideals of ancient civilization. Writer James McConkey described the attraction of Greek Revival in the young republic as "a dream of order and proportion set down in rude wilderness." Clarke House would be a big – and sophisticated – house on the prairie.
Pattern books for Greek Revival houses were available, but the Clarkes wanted something better – and larger. They hired experienced finish carpenter John Campbell Rue to customize their Greek Revival mansion. Erected in 1836, Clarke House is an especially fine example of the style. Balanced and symmetrical, the east and west facades feature identical porticoes. Each portico is composed of a wide stair and a classical pediment atop four Doric columns. The main floor plan was typical of the style: two large parlors on each side, bisected by a grand main hall. The house has been returned to its original sandstone exterior paint color.

Although the Clarkes could have utilized the new Chicago innovation in building construction – "balloon" framing, which was fast and cheap, using boards and machine-made nails with no need for skilled labor – they chose, instead, the older method of timber construction, with carefully crafted mortise and tenon joints. This sturdy construction would serve the house well in its subsequent moves… and mishaps.

Henry Clarke was enjoying success in Chicago with his hardware and banking concerns when the Panic of 1837 hit and caused him to declare bankruptcy. Construction on the house came to a halt by 1838. Clarke turned to farming and hunting to survive and support his family. The family took in boarders to make ends meet. Of this period, one of the boarders described in her journal how the unfinished south parlors were used for meat storage. She writes of rooms filled with "half a dozen deer, hundreds of snipe, plover, and quail, and dozens of prairie chickens and ducks."

The economy recovered by the late 1840s and Chicago entered a major boom phase. The Illinois & Chicago Canal finally opened in 1848. The first railroad line from Chicago was completed that same year. Prosperity was returning. But cholera also came to the City in 1849 and claimed Henry Clarke as one of its victims.

Now a young widow with six children, Caroline decided to sell the majority of their increasingly valuable land. With the proceeds from the sale of 17 acres, the family would be secure financially. And, finally, the house could be finished.

But Mrs. Clarke did more than complete the 1836 structure. She remodeled it inside and out with the most up-to-date 1850s features. Inside, the south parlors (formerly meat lockers) were transformed into an elegant Victorian double parlor. She added gas service to the house, which meant fine new light fixtures. And for the crowning touch, an Italianate cupola (or belvedere) was perched atop the house, accessed via a winding stair from the second floor, which added light and air circulation to the entire structure.

Caroline Clarke died in 1860 and a number of her children continued to live in the house, the elder ones caring for the younger ones. In 1872 they sold the house and the three acres of land to separate buyers. The Chrimes family purchased the "Widow Clarke House," and three generations of their family would inhabit and lovingly care for the home.

But first, they decided to move the house three miles south to 4536 South Wabash Avenue. In the move, the two porticoes of Clarke House were removed and those prominent Greek Revival elements were lost. A porch and double-doored entrance was added and it appears the structure was painted in contrasting hues.
The Clarke House move.

After unsuccessfully attempting to convince the City of Chicago to purchase the home for conversion to a public museum, the family found a preservation-minded buyer in Bishop Louis Henry Ford and his congregation, the St. Paul Church of God in Christ. (Bishop Ford was the leader of his some eight-million-member national church body and has a portion of I-94 named for him.)

The church became the third owners of Clarke House in 1941 and over the years used it for a community center, parsonage, offices, and schoolrooms. They loved the house and each year hosted a birthday tea to celebrate its construction. During a time of rampant "urban renewal" thinking, Ford and his congregation fought off demands to raze the house to make way for new development. The only way they would eventually sell is if they knew the home would be preserved.

And finally in the 1970s the City of Chicago was ready for Clarke House. The City had purchased land near Clarke House's original location and the new site (Prairie and Indiana Avenues, 18th and Cullerton Streets) was adjacent to the newly designated Prairie Avenue Historic District.

Now, to move Clarke House one more time! There was one formidable obstacle: the elevated tracks. Many schemes to accomplish the move were entertained, but finally it was decided to use hydraulic lifts to raise the 120-ton structure over the tracks. It was a bitter cold December night in 1977 when the "L" trains were temporarily stopped to allow for the passage of the house over the tracks. All was well until it came time to lower the house. The hydraulic lifts were frozen. Clarke House would remain suspended in the air for a full two weeks!

Eventually, the house made it to its new home on South Indiana and was set down on its new foundation – only a few blocks from its original location at 17th and Michigan Avenue. The City, with the expertise of Joseph W. Casserly and Wilbert R. Hasbrouck, set about restoring it to its original Clarke family-era appearance. Paint and finish analysis was performed and colors and wallpapers reproduced. A photo believed to be from the 1850s (shown above), after Caroline Clarke's renovations, proved to be helpful.

Clarke House was opened to the public in 1982. Further restoration work was done in 2004 by Gunny Harboe, notably: adding the west portico. The house is owned by the City of Chicago, furnished by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois, and operated by neighboring Glessner House Museum.

Today, those visiting Clarke House get a detailed look at early Chicago life and marvel at the story of a house that exists today in large part because of the love, care, and far-sighted preservation it has known for 179 years.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Noble Seymour Crippen House, Chicago's (claimed) Oldest House - 1833

Mark Noble Sr., an English immigrant, was a noted early Chicago pioneer. He was a founder of Chicago's first Methodist Church, helped avert a famine after the Blackhawk Wars by butchering cattle and once lived in John Kinzie's cabin. In 1833, Mark and Margaret Noble claimed more than 150 acres in the area and built the first frame house in the township on the top of Union Ridge, a glacial moraine and once the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Its southern wing, built in 1833, is widely considered the oldest existing building in Chicago. The Noble-Seymour-Crippen house lays claim to being the oldest existing home in Chicago.
The southern wing of the house was originally used as a farmhouse. The frame structure was approximately 25 by 30 feet, and the main entrance was in the center of the south-facing end, facing Talcott Road. It was built from white pine with a brick foundation. The center of the building featured a fireplace, and there was probably a cellar. A window was found on each side of the main door; there were probably two windows along each of the long sides of the house.
In 1868, Thomas Seymour, a prominent member of Chicago's Board of Trade, bought the house and land. He and his wife Louisa immediately added an Italianate-style northern wing to accommodate his large family and servants. He also raised the roof on the older section, the south wing, to build a second floor. This also allowed for the implementation of round, arched windows. A small, wood-frame summer kitchen was added to the south gable of the south wing. The family used the first floor of the former Noble house as a large dining room, and they used the second floor as servants' quarters. A frieze was added to this wing below the roof to ensure architectural harmony with the newer section.
The Italianate addition has a typical floor plan for the era. A side entry hall with a stairway opens to a parlor, library, and dining room, which was the former Noble house. The second floor was used for bedrooms with a connecting door to the servants' quarters. In the 1890s, Seymour built a wood porch stretching from the south wing entrance to the Italianate entrance. Porticoes were installed over each door.
Mr. Seymour raised cattle and cultivated an apple orchard, cherry trees, and a vineyard. Seymour joined the Norwood Land and Building Association in its efforts to build a moral, healthy and beautifully landscaped suburban village. This led to the purchase of six farms and the founding of both the Township and Village of Norwood Park in 1874. Mr. Seymour served as president of the Village for 14 years. When he died in 1916, the property was sold. The house and the land south, to the far side of today's Kennedy Expressway, were sold as one of the subdivided units.
Charlotte Allen Crippen purchased the property in 1916 for her family and her business, the L.B. Allen Co. Dramatist Charlotte Allen had met her husband, concert pianist Stuart Crippen Sr., on the Chautauqua circuit. The civic-minded Crippen family sponsored community theater and musical productions and founded the local Little League Baseball program and the Norwood Park Baptist Church. They raised $750,000 for a World War II hospital plane named "The Spirit of Norwood Park."
Initially, the Crippens' home was only a summer residence without plumbing or electricity. During the 1920s, the Crippens installed indoor plumbing and electricity and added a second stairway to the Noble wing. With these additions, they made it their permanent residence. During the Depression, the house was divided into two residences and occupied by their two sons, Paul and Stuart, Jr. and their families. When the Kennedy Expressway was built in 1960, the L.B. Allen Co. was forced to move and the land was sold.
Agnes Crippen, widow of Stuart Jr., and her children, Nancy Crippen Michener and Stuart C. Crippen sold the house and the remaining 1.7 acres of land to the Norwood Park Historical Society on December 31, 1987. The Noble Seymour Crippen House was designated a City of Chicago Historic Landmark on May 11, 1988, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 11, 2000.

Since 1998, the building has served as the Norwood Park Historical Society, a museum and community center at 5622-24 North Newark Avenue in Chicago.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.