Friday, April 14, 2023

Lost Towns of Illinois - Sag Bridge, Illinois.

Sag Bridge was a village that is now part of the Village of Lemont. It had a hotel and its own post office, a number of businesses, a railroad station, a stop on the electric line between Chicago and Joliet, and a port on the I&M canal.
Photo of farmland where the Cal-Sag Channel now is. The town of Sag Bridge is behind the buildings in the background on the left. On the right, the land rises to St. James Church on the bluff. 1910

Joshua Bell, who came to Sag Bridge in the 1830s, was the postmaster and owner of the saloon/hotel. Although the town soon found it too expensive to continue as a village, it had a school district composed of one of the last one-room schoolhouses in the state, which did not close until 1961.

When the glaciers retreated from Northern Illinois, Prehistoric Lake Chicago remained, which eventually receded, leaving Lake Michigan. As it receded, it left two valleys, the Des Plaines River Valley and the Sag Valley, on either side of an elevated triangle of land called Mount Forest Island.

Sag Bridge was located on the south side of the Sag Valley. The historic St. James at Sag Bridge, the oldest continuously operating Catholic Church in Cook County, was built on the north bluff in the forests at the western edge of Mount Forest Island. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1853. It took six years to haul the quarried rock up the bluff to complete the building.

Before permanent settlement, Mount Forest Island had been inhabited by Indians who valued the land for its vantage point and strategic location.
St. James Catholic Church and Cemetery, aka Monk's Castle and St. James at Sag Bridge Church, is a historic church and cemetery in the Sag Bridge area of the village of Lemont, Illinois. It is claimed to have been built on the site of an Indian village, possibly over an Indian mound, and later a French fortification building. Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet stopped there during their exploration.

Many immigrants to Sag Bridge came from Ireland to find jobs digging the I&M canal in the 1840s, and when the canal was finished they stayed to farm or work in the local quarries. In the 1890s, the sanitary canal, the waterway that reversed the flow of the Chicago River, brought more Irish to Sag Bridge and Lemont, as well as the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago.

What does “Sag” mean, and what was the bridge? The answers are speculative. The term Sag probably derived from a Potawatomi Indian word, Saginaw, which may have meant “swamp.” The Sag Valley was a low-lying swampy area, and it is presumed that a bridge may have provided transport across it. The name could also refer to the geographic coming together of the two valleys. When one considers that recorded history relates that the first white settlers to arrive in the area came in 1833 and that the oldest grave at St. James Cemetery is that of Michael Dillon, buried in 1816, further fuel is added to doubts about the accuracy of the history.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

The Ghosts of Sag Bridge, Illinois.
The late 1890s seems to be when ghost activity peaked in the area of Sag Bridge, Illinois, now the northeast corner of Lemont. Many ghostly tales, some well documented, began here.

In late December of 1897, a rash of new sightings and hauntings was stirred up. Some said it was due to the discovery of the skeletons of nine Indians, well documented by scientists from Chicago. Professor Dosey determined the skeletons were several hundred years old, one being over seven feet tall. This was not the first time: skeletons had been turning up in and near Sag Bridge for years. But now villagers began reporting phantom Indians on horseback riding through the town at night and other visions of roaming spirits. Some felt this was due to the fact that the skeletons had been disturbed and demanded they be reburied. Some were reburied, but some were sent to the Field Museum in Chicago.

Not only Indians haunted the area. There were tales of a horse-drawn hearse traveling along Archer Avenue, pulling an infant’s casket, which was seen to glow through the viewing window. A county policeman reported chasing several figures in monk-like robes until they vanished before his eyes. A priest is rumored to have seen the ground rise and fall as if it were breathing.

Much of this activity seems to have been near St. James at Sag Bridge, a church in the middle of the forest, surrounded by a cemetery dating back to the early 1800s, years before the church was built. It is said that the site was originally an Indian village and an ancient Indian burial ground. Even in the daytime, the property gives off an eerie atmosphere.

A story told about St. James at Sag Bridge also happened in 1897. Two musicians, Professor William Looney and John Kelly, had provided entertainment for a parish event, which went on until 1 am. Not wanting to return to their homes at this late hour, they slept overnight in a small building on the property. Looney was awakened during the night by the sound of galloping hoofs on the gravel road and looked out the window. He could see nothing to account for the sound, and gradually it faded.

Looney woke Kelly to tell him what had happened, and as they spoke, the sound returned. Both men looked out, and as the sounds again faded, the form of a young woman appeared in the road. The sounds again approached, and this time horses and a carriage were seen coming partway up the drive. The woman danced in the road until she entered the shadow, and the horses and carriage disappeared, only to start again a short time later. Each time they appeared, something new was added to the scene, and the woman began to call, “Come on!” as she disappeared.

The men reported the incident to local police the next morning, and it was verified that NO drinking had taken place to account for the tale. Since that time, similar sightings have continued to be reported by respectable residents. It is said the ghosts were the spirits of a young parish helper and housekeeper from the church, who fell in love and decided to elope. The man told his young lover to wait partway down the hill while he hitched the horses, but they were startled and bolted as he was coming for her. The wagon was overturned, and both were killed.

By Pat Camalliere, "The Mystery at Sag Bridge."


  1. My 3rd great grandfather Jeremiah Luther came to Lemont in 1833 and bringing his family back in 1834. He also brought several of his friends from New York.

    1. My sister and I were baptized at St. James at Sag Catholic Church, 1947 & 1950 respectively. I have visited the church and cemetery on a few occasions, but I also felt uneasy while there. I thought I was the only one and have never mentioned it. I didn't know that the church and cemetery were built on the graves of the Indians from the area. I suppose the Indian graves were not marked, but it seems to me that, in digging, once human bones were unearthed, it would have been obvious that it was a burial site and a new location should have been selected. Such a shame.
      Speaking of 1 room schools, there was a fairly large group of people that lived in what is now Romeoville. The settlement was the site of a Rendezvous used by trappers in late 1700s, early 1800s. The area is now called Isle ala Cache & owned by the Will Co. Forest Preserve with occasional guided tours of the settlement. The Visitor Center is well marked & is located on 135th Street in Romeoville, between Rt. 53 & New Avenue. Isle ala Cache is actually on an island settled probably by the trappers & their families. A school, church, homes, general store & post office were built there. Because of the good hunting, a hotel/inn and tavern were built there too. Remains of some buildings still exist. It is worth the trip to visit Isle ala Cache even if a tour isn't scheduled that day. I believe tours are offered once a year by Rangers.


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