A Brief History of an Old Railroad Town - by Frank F. Scobey and Gerald D. Musich

In 1984, the City of West Chicago Historical Museum in West Chicago, Illinois, published "A Brief History of an Old Railroad Town: An Updated Review of West Chicago" by Frank F. Scobey and Gerald D. Musich.

In order to share the history of West Chicago with a wider audience, West Chicago City Museum (formerly known as West Chicago Historical Museum) will release an enhanced digital version of Scobey's book, chapter by chapter.

Although this book is currently out of print, visitors to City Museum may read the book in our reference library. Visit West Chicago City Museum at 132 Main Street, West Chicago, Illinois 60185. Find us on the web at www.wegohistory.com. Please send questions, comments, or feedback to [email protected]

Chapter Content

Chapter 1: The West Chicago Story

..And so it came to pass in the year of 1849 that from the belching smoke of the Iron Horse came the breath of life to a new entity in Illinois – a railroad community. The ten-ton Pioneer, a wood-burning locomotive has the distinction of creating a new and successful railroad era in the Fox River Valley and in Illinois.

                With the selection of a railroad junction point here, other branch lines sprouted out to join the main line of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. The directors and officials of the booming Galena Road ordered a westward extension from here. Soon after railroad repair and maintenance facilities were built, and Junction became an important and busy railroad center, with trains arriving from all directions.

                The railroad companies prospered and Junction or Turner Junction increased in population and development. By 1857 two townsites were platted – the Town of Junction and the Town of Turner, but no one in those far-off years made any attempt to petition the Illinois State Legislature for a special act giving the community a corporation status.

                …And So it came to pass that petition to incorporate as a village under the general law for the incorporation of cities and villages was circulated here under date of April 22, 1873. There were 43 petitioners for the long-delayed village organization, the list containing names of many prominent residents who were identified with the community's history and development, as follows:

                Thomas Barfield, Charles E. Bolles, Henry Bradley, E. C. Brooks, Alfred S. Cantelo, Michael Carey, Charles M. Clark, H. T. Drake, Thomas Evenden, John M. Fessler, James A. Foster, William H. Foster, Jacob Foxen, Ira Green, G. M. D. Gregory, Richard S. Gough, Dr. D. T. Hamlin, F. Hassam, John D. Hill, John Kelly, E. H. Ketcham, George H. Ketcham;

                Also, Fredrick Lagger, John H. Lakey, James McGraw, Norman Nellis, John C. Neltnor, Joseph A. Norris, Calvin K. Sanders, William Simmons, Joseph W. Smith, Edgar Stephens, Morris L. Town, James B. Trull, Casper Voll, Emory B. Watson, Frederick Weger, John West, Frank Whitton, Albert H. Wiant, Joel Wiant, Dr. William J. Wilson and Walter S. Wilson.

                The area of the proposed village comprised 645 acres, located in parts of Sections 3, 4, 9, and 10. It absorbed the Original Plat (John B. Turner's Town of Junction) and Joseph McConnell's Town of Turner, and also the Atcherson's, Church's, Heslop's, Rolling Mill, Updike's and Winslow's Additions and James B. Trull's Subdivision, now the site of Calvary Cemetery.

                Charles M. Clark, a highly respected local resident, presented the signed petition for incorporation to Judge Myron C. Dudley of the DuPage County Court, and it was entered of record for May 8, 1873. Judge Dudley ordered that the question of village organization be submitted to the legal residents of the proposed Village of Turner and set Saturday, May 31, 1873 as the election day, with due notices to be posted. The election took place at the one-time North Side-Washington School.
                 In the June 5th court proceedings, a statement of the result of the election showed that 79 voted for village organization, while 46 voted against it, with a total of 125 voters casting their ballots. The majority for village incorporation was 33.

                Judge Dudley further ordered that a special election be held here on July 8 for the purpose of electing six village trustees. The election held at the school house resulted in Capt. Lucius B. Church, Casper Voll, Albert H. Wiant, Lyman C. Clark, Frank Whitton and Henry Bradley being elected as Turner's first board of trustees. At the first board meeting on July 12, it was decreed “That the Seal of the Village shall have as a design a Locomotive Engine surrounded by the words Village of Turner Incorporated July 12, 1873.” Sometime in the 1950's the present City Seal, designed by Tom Fawell, came into use, and the locomotive design is testimony of West Chicago's unique railroad ancestry.

                ...And so it came to pass another petition – one for a name change – was presented to the Turner village council at a meeting held on January 4, 1896 at the Town Hall. The 187 petitioners gave no reason for wanting to drop the village name of Turner in favor of West Chicago. Meeting no opposition the full village board adopted the name change on January 25, 1896, and a part of history gave way to progress.

                ...And so it came to pass that the proposition of reorganizing under a city charter was on a ballot at the village election of April 18, 1905. The results were challenged and after conflicting legal opinions and extended court hearings, the case was finally settled by the Illinois Supreme Court. A new election was held on August 22, 1906, and by a favorable vote of 210 to 104 West Chicago obtained a city charter, after the first one was voted down in 1894.

                ...And so it came to pass the year of 1973 was observed as the Centennial of West Chicago's Incorporation. Every community, larger or small, has its share of history and progress in the passage of a century, and West Chicago's part was told in the first edition of this publication, printed in 1973 as a commemorative booklet.

                ...And so it came to pass that, with the growing interest in the community's history and its museums, the City of West Chicago offered to publish a new edition of the publication while similar to the 1973 edition in format all the old chapters have been revised by Jerry Musich of the City of West Chicago Historical Museum and me to bring them current to 1984 and several new chapters have been added.

Chapter 2: An Overview of West Chicago History

West Chicago is the first Illinois community created by the coming of the railroads. A few settlers owned property in the area of present-day West Chicago as early as the late 1830s. However, the town itself did not begin to form until 1849-1850, when the tracks of the new Galena & Chicago Union Railroad reached this area.

Because several railroads were the principal cause for the creation of West Chicago, a brief survey of the activities of those companies is in order. The G&CU (which eventually became the Chicago & North Western) was Chicago's first railroad. It began laying track west out of Chicago in 1848, with the intention of reaching first the Fox River, then Rockford, then Freeport, and finally Galena. The railroad arrived in what is now West Chicago in November of 1849 and reached Elgin in February, 1850.

The decision to lay tracks directly northwest from the West Chicago area to Elgin upset residents of the Fox River Communities of Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles. They realized that the new railroads were going to transform the area – for example, the 40 mile mail run by train in 1850 from Chicago to Elgin took three hours, while the 44 mile mail run by stage from Chicago to Aurora to Sugar Grove over mud roads took 16 hours. Any community without direct access to this new, speedy means of transportation would be at a serious disadvantage.

Therefore, residents of St. Charles formed at St. Charles Branch Railroad in 1849. This line ran from St. Charles to a junction with the G&CU just north of present-day West Chicago. Another company built a 2 mile long track from St. Charles to Geneva, thus connecting Geneva, by way of the St. Charles Branch, with the G&CU at West Chicago.

Batavia and Aurora residents were involved in the building of a different railroad, the Aurora Branch. This line (which eventually became the Burlington) laid tracks from the West Chicago area to Batavia and then Aurora in 1850.

Thus, by late 1850, three railroads joined at what is now West Chicago. Because so many trains met at this junction point, water and fuel facilities for the locomotives were built here, as well as an eating house and hotel for travelers. Very quickly, a town formed, one that was known as Junction, Illinois.

By 1853, for reasons too complex for this present publication, the G&CU halted the track-laying of its Chicago to Galena line at Freeport. The company decided instead to build a second mainline, running west from Junction to DeKalb and then Fulton, Illinois. Because its two mainlines met at Junction, the G&CU expanded its facilities here, building a 3-stall roundhouse and a mill for repairing rails. As a result, a number of new employees and their families located in the community.

John B. Turner, president of the G&CU and a resident of Chicago, owned several acres of land in what is now the center of town. As more people settled in Junction, Turner recognized the chance to make a profit by platting his land and selling off lots. He therefore recorded the community's first plat in 1855 under the name of the Town of Junction. He also donated lots – one to the Congregational Church, another for an early school.

Turner's plat is that section of town just south of Washington Street. As a good railroad executive, he assigned railroad-related names to many of the first streets – Depot Street (now Main Street), as well as Chicago, Galena, and Fulton Streets, named after the three projected terminal cities of the G&CU.

The community continued its growth, and in 1857 Dr. Joseph McConnell and his wife Mary platted a second portion of town, those lands lying just north of J.B. Turner's plat. The McConnells were early members of the Congregational Church and were deeply appreciative of Turner's donation of land to the congregation. Therefore, they chose to record their plat as the Town of Turner in honor of the railroad president. There now existed a platted Town of Turner and a platted Town of Junction, and as a result the community took on the name of Turner Junction.

At this point in time, in the mid-1850s, the new community was quite small and undeveloped. John Lakey, who served as master mechanic (superintendent) of the small G&CU shops, wrote the following recollection in 1895:

It was in the pleasant month of June, 1854, that I came to the small railroad town that is now known as Turner, Illinois, then only a Junction station of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, with its Dixon Air line and a road running south to Aurora and LaSalle.

The principal buildings belonged to the railroad company. There was a two-story building 30 x 75 feet, used as an eating house. [There was also] the “Store” occupied by the McDonald Brothers and across the road was a small building used by W.I. Mowry as a post office and grocery.

On one side of the highway [then North Street, now Washington Street] there was a brick blacksmith shop used for repairing T-rails. These were the principal buildings and not one of them is in existence at the present time, they having either been burned or torn down and removed.

The railroad company owned twenty-two acres of land, lying northeast of the main track and south of the highway. This land was vacant at the time. On the north side of North Street were lands owned by Dr. Joseph McConnell, and southwest of the main track the lands were the property of the Winslow heirs. None of this land was platted, hence none had land to sell.

Most of the residents, who were chiefly farmers or railroad employees, appear to have been of English or Irish stock. A sizable number came from New York state; tradition has it that they worked on the new railroads in New York in the 1840s and migrated west as Illinois' railroad boom began.

1860 and 1870 census information for Turner Junction is imprecise. The community did not draw clearly defined boundaries till it incorporated in 1873, and so census takers in 1860 and in 1870 counted everyone listed in the area of the Turner Post Office. The 1860 Figures show 722 residents, while in 1870 there were 1,086 residents.

By the late 1860s, the Chicago & North Western (as the former G&CU was now known) built a substantial brick depot and a major roundhouse here. Several Church structures graced the community, including the First United Methodist Church, built 1855; and St. Mary's Catholic Church, built 1868. In  1870, St. Michael's Evangelical Church was added.

The community had taken on a substantial and permanent character, and so the residents incorporated it in 1873 as the Village of Turner. 850 residents lived within the boundaries of the new village, with Lucius B. Church serving as the first village board president.

Population continued to increase, growing to 1,001 in 1880 and shooting up to 1,506 in 1890. A sizable number of the new residents were German immigrants, with many of them apparently settling in the portion of town near St. Michael's church.

This population growth demanded added services. In 1873, the community built the substantial 3-story Turner Public School. In the face of the 50% population growth of the 1880s, the community added the Southside School in 1887 (renaming the 1873 building the Northside School.) And in 1884, the village board authorized the construction of the 3-story town hall, a multi-purpose building designed to house the volunteer fire department, a one man police department, and the village council chambers.

During these early decades, Turner was chiefly a one-industry town. According to census data, nearly 40% of the men employed in non-agricultural occupation worked for the C&NW.

This situation began changing in the late 1880s with the arrival of the new railroad, the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern or Outer Belt Line. This line is a feeder railroad rather than a cross-country one, transferring freight from one outlying Chicago community to another. The success of the EJ&E is predicated on its having factories located all along its right-of-way as a means of generating freight traffic for the railroad.

The EJ&E offered free factory sites for any industry willing to locate along its right-of-way. Local developers quickly realized that companies that did locate here would cause an increased demand for housing and for stores and services. A great deal of promotional literature was produced, including wall maps of 1893 that proclaimed Turner “Chicago's Coming Great Manufacturing Suburb.” The advertising copy on the map continues by asserting that

Turner offers opportunities to manufacturers, mechanics, homeseekers, and investors offered by no other point about Chicago at the present time.

Turner has electric lights, asphalt sidewalks, two wide-awake newspapers, fine schools, prosperous churches, good society, and numerous flourishing factories that are bringing it to the front rank as a manufacturing point.

[It is] located at the junction of the Chicago & North-Western Railway, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway, and the Outer Belt Line, giving it unequalled shipping facilities with Chicago freight rates.

As part of this effort to attract industry, the community changed its name in 1896 to the Village of West Chicago. The reasoning apparently was that the name helped prospective industrialists visualize where in the state the town was located and that “West Chicago” sounded more industrial or metropolitan than did the “Village of Turner”.

At the same time as it changed its name, the community also finally got around to creating a public water works. Before 1896, fires were fought by drawing water from individual’s wells, which occasionally nearly dried up during summer droughts. Fires were therefore a serious problem, one that also hindered the effort to attract new development. As John C. Neltnor, editor of the West Chicago based DuPage County Democrat, editorialized:

If we expect to induce manufacturers and others to locate in our midst we have got to stir ourselves on the subject of water works. Men cannot be expected to invest their money in a place where there is no fire protection.

In October, 1896, a sharply divided community did vote for the water works, and the village board then authorized the creation of a pumping station, reservoir, & stand pipe.

The village's effort to attract industry was hindered by a serious national depression in the 1890s. Nonetheless, several plants did open in West Chicago. Some, such as the Stimmel & Hook Pump Works and Roach & Brandt Millwork (later West Chicago Sash & Door) built plants along the EJ&E, the railroad that initiated this industrial phase. Other plants located along the C&NW tracks, including the Turner Brick Co. and the Turner Cabinet Co.

One of the largest enterprises was a Borden's milk condensing plant, built about 1906. Since the late 1880s, West Chicago was the site where one of the C&NW assembled a 15-car milk express destined for Chicago, drawing cars from three directions and from as far away as Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Because of the volume of milk passing through West Chicago and because of the dairy farms in the area, Borden's found this a logical spot for a milk plant. (The plant eventually became a Reid Murdock pickle plant and later Jel Sert.) As industry located in West Chicago and new jobs opened up, the population increased. By 1900 it reached 1,877, while in 1910 2,378 people resided in town.

At the same time, new subdivisions were springing up in outlying areas. One of the moving forces behind these ex-urban subdivisions was the new electric interurban, the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago (later to be reorganized as the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin.) This line began service from Chicago to Wheaton to Elgin in the fall of 1902. In 1909, it added a line from Wheaton through High Lake subdivision to West Chicago and on Geneva. Just as the EJ&E earlier tried to attract industry to its right of way, the AE&C promoted residences along its tracks, hoping to generate passenger traffic for itself. High Lake, with its communally owned lake and lodge, was one such street car suburb promoted by the interurban – even to the point of the railroad commissioning the foxtrot “Come Where the Birds Sing” to promote High Lake.

The increased population brought added demands on the community. In 1904, High School District 94 was formed, and in 1908 a new and larger school building replaced the old Northside School. This new building, eventually known as Washington School, housed half of the 1st through 8th grade classes as well as all of the high school classes. And in August, 1906, the village reincorporated itself as the City of West Chicago, with banker Grant A. Dayton serving as first mayor.

The city's population grew by only 9% during the 1910s, reaching 2,594 in 1920, but then grew a dramatic 30% to 3,477 by 1930. Industry continued to expand, although a major foundry, Union Tool Co., relocated to Ohio.

Several changes occurred during these decades. In 1912 the C&NW built a new passenger depot (now the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center) and an underpass, as well as the Wilson Street Bridge over its mainline as a means of reaching its roundhouse area. At the same time, the railroad moved its 1869 depot to the north side of what is now Washington Street, converting it into a freight depot. This new location for the old depot was adjacent to the coach yards, where the suburban commuter coaches were stored overnight and where as many as four coal-burning steam engines fired up at a time each morning.

Two important changes relating to schools also took place. After the Southside School was destroyed by fire in 1919, Lincoln School was built in 1921. And by the mid-1920s, the Northside School had become so over crowded that two rooms for high school classes were rented in the back of the nearby Buick salesroom. Therefore, in 1926 the new high school was built on Joliet Street.

At the same time, in 1923-25, the city government under Mayor Edward J. McCabe embarked on a major street improvement program, building 9 miles of concrete streets and installing an ornamental street lighting system. And starting in 1930, the city renamed several streets and instituted a new numbering system for building addresses.

The decade of the 1930s saw the town's development slow dramatically. The population actually decreased by 122 residents to a total of 3,355 in 1940. The CA&E interurban abandoned its West Chicago branch in 1937, and the city government opened the City Hall at night as a sleeping place for homeless.

World War II brought new economic vitality, which was dramatically increased in the post-war years of suburban growth. The population grew 17% during the 1940s to a 1950 total of 3,973; a whopping 72% during the 1950s to a 1960 figure of 6,839; and another 47% during the 1960s to 10,100 in 1970. Part of this growth reflected annexation of existing developments, but much of it resulted from new building, including the construction of a number of apartment complexes. By 1980 the population reached 12,500.

Significant changes in the face and structure of West Chicago occurred throughout the post-war period. 1972, however, seems to have been a watershed year. Before that, many community projects – some successful, some not so successful – were attempted by civic groups.

The newly formed Rotary Club of West Chicago created the Swimming Pool Association in 1954-5, which in turn sold $100,000 in bonds and built an outdoor pool in the city-owned Reed-Keppler Park. Through local volunteer effort a scout cabin was also built in that park. The West Chicago Railroad and Historical Society was formed in the 1960s and attempted to save one of the town's most famous houses, the Neltnor or Anthony Home, as a museum. This effort failed and the building eventually was destroyed by fire, although the Society remained in existence till it was absorbed in 1975 by the new West Chicago Historical Society.

There were, of course, several notable exceptions to the general pattern of civic groups, rather than governmental agencies, trying to carry out community projects. In 1954 the handsome new Public Library building was built with tax monies, and in 1964 the city government assumed the operation of Oakwood Cemetery, established in 1858 by the McConnells, in face of the dissolution of the Oakwood Cemetery Association.

While civic groups remained active in community efforts during the 1970s and 80s, governmental bodies assumed more of a leadership role. In 1972 the Park District was formed. It signed a long-term lease with the City to assume operation of Reed-Keppler Park; for several years operated the outdoor swimming pool for the Swimming Pool Association, until the City began operating it in 1981; and acquired Easton Park, Pioneer Park, and Manville-Oaks Park.

The city government, in the meantime, found it had outgrown the 1884 Town Hall building. Fire  Fighting equipment had already been moved out when the separate Fire District was formed, replacing the volunteer company, and built its fire station in 1969 on the former site of Washington School, while the City's Police Department had relocated to McConnell Street. In 1975, under Mayor Richard Truitt, the City bought and renovated a former Jewel Food Store and moved its offices and council chambers there.

In 1976, the City created the West Chicago Historical Commission and the West Chicago Historical Museum in the old City Hall. As its Bicentennial project, the City also established Heritage Commons next to the new City Hall. This park, honoring the community's railroad heritage, is part of the West Chicago Historical Museum. [Heritage Commons no longer exists in its original form. The stone marker and 1860s CB&Q Depot are now located on Turner Court.]

Under the leadership of Mayor A. Eugene Rennels, the City worked with Nature Conservancy to purchase a 150 acre tract of virgin prairie on the western edge of town. The operation of this land, possibly the largest remaining tract of virgin prairie in Illinois, has been turned over to the Forest Preserve

Civic groups, of course, continued to play an important role. Starting in 1974, the West Chicago Railroad Days Committee sponsored an annual summer festival. In 1975, the West Chicago Historical Society was formed. Initially intended in part as the volunteer arm of the West Chicago Historical Museum, It added its own museum facility in 1979 when Miss Celia Kruse willed the society her 1916 family home. [Click to visit Kruse House Museum web site.]

And in 1981 the new West Chicago Community Center, Inc., a not-for-profit group that had its genesis in the West Chicago Coordinating Council of the late 1970s, acquired the 1912 C&NW depot for use as a community center. Raising tens of thousands of dollars and receiving much volunteer labor, the Community Center renovated the old depot dedicating it in July, 1983. The Chamber of Commerce, another active organization of the time, moved its offices to the depot that summer.

In one small sense, West Chicago's history was brought full circle in 1981 when the C&NW located its Illinois division headquarters in West Chicago, on the former site of the old roundhouse. This move by the C&NW appears to guarantee that West Chicago, the coming of the railroads, will remain a significant railroad town for the foreseeable future.

Chapter 3: John B. Turner's Role in Town Founding

John Bice Turner, who is identified with the founding of this community, was born in 1799 in Colchester, New York, and died in Chicago in 1871. During his youth, Turner lived on a farm, but in 1835 he became engaged in railroad and canal constructing business in New York State until 1843, when he came to Chicago.

In 1847 Turner became acting director of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. A year later he bought a large tract of land here and thus predicated the future site of West Chicago, and in 1855 platted the Town of Junction, as this community was first called. He served two terms as president of the Galena Road and was its last president when the consolidation with the Chicago & North Western Railway took effect in 1864.

This map shows the original Town of Junction as platted by John B. Turner in 1855. The land to the north, owned by Dr. Joseph McConnell, was platted in 1857 by McConnell as the Town of Turner. The lots containing the old Congregational church and school house [as shown] were donated by Turner. The church structure, however, was not erected until 1868.

To the north of today's West Washington Street is the first location of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad's engine house and turn table, and its machine shop. The wood-burning locomotives of that era account for Galena Road's three wood sheds and three water wells or tanks.

Before Junction was platted, Turner in 1851 permitted the erection of a small school house near the southwest corner of High and Washington Streets. Later the land was deeded to the Congregationalists.

In June 1857, Turner donated lots 1 and 2 in Block 5 as a new school site, with a building being erected that year. In 1873 it gave way to the now vanished North Side School, but the old building on Fulton Street survives to this day as private dwelling.

Turner's true character, kindness and compassion are manifested in an 1858 deed on the sale of a lot on Main Street for one cent to the widow of Andrew Wheeler, the mother of eight youngsters.

Because of Turner's generosity to the new community, Dr. Joseph McConnell named his plat, north of Washington Street, the Town of Turner. Two streets and an elementary school still bear Turner's name.

 

From Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois on Google Books

Chapter 4: West Chicago Post Office History - Dates to 1850

The early settlers who came to DuPage County were not isolated entirely from their former home ties in the East and other states as mail communications soon followed their new settlement.

 According to postal records, the West Chicago post office descends from the West DuPage office, in Wayne Township, on the route of the Frink and Walker stage lines carrying U.S. Mail from Chicago to other stations in this section of Illinois. This office was established on December 9, 1845 with Robert Y. Benjamin as postmaster. It was located in the pioneer settler's home.

Giles Billings, Benjamin's brother-in-law, replaced him as postmaster on January 5, 1850. The office was located in the country tavern conducted by Billings on the old St. Charles Road and the present Route 59.

With the inauguration of daily rail service to Junction (West Chicago) and the awarding of a mail-carrying contract* to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, the West DuPage office was discontinued in 1850 and transferred to Junction. The station name of Junction was maintained by the railroad company for many years, but a petition by some residents about 1856 brought a name change for the post office and caused considerable confusion. However, it was beneficial to Dr. Joseph McConnell who platted a large tract of his land holdings as the Town of Turner, and the new post office name further enhanced the promotion and sale of lots in his subdivision.

*[See images at end of article for more information on this contract.]

The location of the offices here in the early years depended on the postmaster's occupation and business preference. Quarters in Charles Clark's lumber office were rented for many years, where, a newspaper reported, girls were employed in the postal department. While postmaster in one term, John C. Neltnor and his three older sons constituted the post office department here.

In the closing years of the Civil War, the officials of Winfield Township held meetings in the local post office, and in later years the Turner board of trustees also held a number of meetings in the building which served as a post office.

According to a local newspaper item, the post office moved on July 31, 1898 to the newly-completed Spielman building, located on the east side of Main Street, where Postmaster John Creager had his quarters.

On January 2, 1905, four rural routes were established from West Chicago. The annual salary of the local postmaster in 1914 was $1,900.

[The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has an interesting tool that calculates inflation in terms of buying power. Take a look at what $1,900 in 1914 is worth in today’s dollars.]

Local delivery was inaugurated in 1917 with two main carriers, and in 1927 West Chicago became a second-class post office with one additional carrier, and parcel post was included.

McDonough's DuPage County Directory for 1924-25, using the old house numbering and street name, locates the post office here at 32 Depot – just south of today's historical museum on Main Street. The department consisted of Postmaster Louis J. Neltnor, two office clears, two city carriers, three rural carriers, and one substitute carrier.

A West Chicago City Directory, published in 1940, gave 212 Main Street as the post office address; it was the final Main Street location.

After a long stay on Main Street the post office site was moved to a newly-built and leased building at 111 Fremont Street, and from here moved to its location in the remodeled Krumpholz building, 131 Fremont.

On July 1, 1971, the long-established U.S. Post Office Department ceased with the inauguration of the United States Postal Service, a semi-independent government corporation. {Click here for an illustrated history of the USPS}

According to the records of the Post Office Department for the period 1789-1930 now in the National Archives and additional information from other sources, the names of postmasters and dates of their appointment at West Chicago were as follows:

 

West DuPage

Robert Y. Benjamin        December 9, 1845
Giles Billings                     January 5, 1850

 

Junction

James H. Dole                 April 19, 1850
Charles D. Smith            November 7, 1850
Washington J. Mowry   December 17, 1853

 

Turner
(March 20, 1856)

Martin Hand                   December 20, 1856
Charles Watson              February 3, 1858
Everlyn Williams            March 17, 1858
John West                          December 27, 1859
Albert H. Wiant               September 20, 1869
Joseph W. Smith              July 1, 1873 (Died in office)
John B. Chandler            October 20, 1884
John C. Neltnor               November 3, 1886
Omera C. Woodworth  June 27, 1889
John C. Neltnor               August 18, 1893

 

West Chicago
(May 22, 1896)

John H. Creager                 November 12, 1897 (Died in office)
Joseph Kramer                   May 28, 1914
James M. Fairbank            August 29, 1919 (Died in office)
Joseph Kramer (Acting)  February 20, 1923 (Declined appointment Aug. 2, 1923)
Louis J. Neltnor                  August 3, 1923
Bruno J. Marschinke        November 16, 1927
Wilfred J. Brennan            December 1, 1933
George G. Wright              December 6, 1963
Patricia Wehrs                    July 27, 1978

Chapter 5: Church History Began With the First Settlers

As you read this chapter, keep in mind that it was written in 1984. Therefore, information presented as "current" would have been current - in the year 1984.

A century ago [from time of publication in 1984] only four church structures graced West Chicago's landscape, and most of these religious groups had their organizational beginnings in the homes of the early settlers or in early-year schools. Today, only St. Michael's with its picturesque spire, added in 1890, remains almost the same as when built in 1870.

The Methodist Society was first organized in the Gary's Mill settlement when Charles Gary's home was used as a regular preaching place. Some time after the arrival of the railroad the congregation met in member' homes or in the school house here.

From DuPage Roots:

Brothers Erastus and Jude Gary preceded the Warrens by a year [arriving to the area in 1832], traveling west in the most typical way, over the Erie Canal. Opened in 1825, this waterway provided the most direct route west from the northeastern states. Natives of Pomfret, Connecticut, where a road and school are still named after their forebears, the Garys staked claims to the east of Winfield Road and on both sides of Butterfield Road. Today's St. James Farm is situated on that homestead.”

The first edifice of the First United Methodist Church in Turner was built in 1858 at a cost of $1350. The contractor was George Videtto. (As an historical footnote, his wife was the first to be interred in Oakwood Cemetery.) In 1869 the church building was remodeled, and in 1886, more extensive alterations were made.

The present church edifice, costing $15,500, was dedicated in February, 1903. In 1918 a full basement was dug under the entire church and other improvements made. The church spire was removed from the structure, and the imposing tower and bell chimes are its distinguishing features. In 1958, a new Church School annex was built. Recently, the church building was completely renovated on the outside – the brick sandblasted, with repairs to the roof and the bell tower. The congregation, in 1985, will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The pastor in 1973 was Rev. Charles Person, and Rev. Kathleen Hendricks is the current pastor.

Although “the Congregational Church and Society of Turner, Illinois” was organized in 1856, it was not until 1867 that plans were made to build a church, which was completed the following year. John B. Turner, owner of the Junction townsite, donated a splendid lot for church purposes. Prior to the completion of the church building, the congregation met in the school house of in the homes of members.

The church structure, with a towering spire, underwent major remodeling in 1954, but about the same time, plans were being formulated for a new building on a site that would allow for expansion and off-street parking. In September 1960, ground was broken for a new church structure at 525 North Neltnor Blvd. (Rte. 59), north of Elmwood, and it was dedicated in April, 1962. The present minister is Rev. Welton Warkentin, and the Rev. Jacob M. Warkentin is pastor emeritus.

Today's St. Mary's Catholic Parish began as a part of St. Patrick's Parish of St. Charles as early as 1853, and in 1865 was established as an out-mission of the Batavia parish.

Two tracts of land were donated by Dr. and Mrs. Joseph McConnell, non-Catholics. The first grant, a lot eight by six rods, was made in 1868 and upon which a Gothic structure, 32 by 50 feet in size, was built that year. The following year and additional 24 square rods of land were deeded to the Catholic Bishop of Chicago for the use of church purposes only.

In November, 1893, Rev. Ambrose Goulet became St. Mary's parish first resident pastor and remained in charge until September, 1898 when he retired. Fr. Goulet built the present brick church in 1894 and a few years later the rectory. Both structures have been remodeled through the years.

The first parochial school was built in 1922 and a new school building constructed in 1955. The convent was erected in 1960. The 1973 pastor was Rev. Henry L. Wilkening. The present pastor is Rev. James Ratigan, with Rev. William Conway as assistant pastor.

St. Michael's United Church of Christ traces its beginnings to 1867 when a number of German families were organized as the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation and held services in the local Methodist church for two years. Then in October, 1869, the group was reorganized as the German United Evangelical St. Michael's Congregation of Turner Junction.

In February, 1870 a contract was let for the construction of a frame church structure at a cost of $2325. One lot was purchased from Capt. Lucius B. Church, the subdivision owner, who donated money and another lot to the congregation. The lofty spire was added in 1890. In the years that followed extensive remodeling and improvements to the original structure were made. The new educational building was erected about 1963. The Sunday School and The Gingerbread House day care center are located in the educational building.

With the merger of Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed Churches in 1961, the present church title was adopted. Rev. Eugene Birmingham is the current pastor.

The first structure of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was a frame one built in 1889. Prior to that, local and nearby Lutheran members worshiped in private homes or in the Methodist church building, and were formally organized in 1884. The present brick structure was built in 1923-24 and dedicated in March, 1924. It has a Christian Day School across the street from the church. Rev. D. G. Dannenberg was the pastor in 1973, while Rev. Edwin Lazarz, who succeeded him, died in 1981, and was followed by Rev. Leon Ernie Savage, the current pastor.

The West Chicago Bible Church had its beginnings as a Sunday School back in 1933. First meetings were held at a York Street home. New larger quarters were needed for the growing membership and the congregation rented the odd Fellows Hall, 117 Main, as their meeting place until 1942, when they moved to a building on Main and Center Streets, now the site of the Illinois Bell Telephone Building.

Now located on the corner of Oakwood and Summit, the church structure had three phases of construction between 1951 and 1959 before being completed. The present pastor is Rev. Howard Westlund, who is assisted by Pastors Gordon Evans, Rich Tuttle, and Roberto Vergara.

            The West Chicago Church of Christ was formed 30 years ago when a group of families attended worship services in the Masonic Hall on West Washington Street. In 1956 the congregation purchased two lots on the corner of Ingalton and James Avenue where a church structure was erected. The same year Oliver Rogers became minister, and the first services there were held in 1957. The building was extended in 1962. In 1973 the minister was Larry Owen. Sherril Cox, the present minister, followed Ralph Burris, who served four years before being called to ministry in Indiana.

The First Baptist Church, located at 464 Ann Street, was organized in 1962 and a building erected in 1963. The present church was built in 1966, and a third building was added in 1980. Rev. Bob Wagner, the former pastor who now has a pastorate in Marion, Ill., was followed by Rev. Paul mount, the present pastor.

The unique edifice of the Church of the Resurrection, Episcopal, was dedicated in September, 1964. The Building seats 200 and is planned for future additions, and is located on Route 59 off Gary's Mill Road. The congregation formerly held services on Main Street and at Gary's Mill School. 

Rev. Monte J. Tiller, the present vicar since August 1982, succeeded Rev. Arthur W. Benolken, the vicar who died December 1981.

The congregation of St. Andrew Lutheran first met at the Gary Elementary School in 1959, with Rev. Robert L. Anderson as the pastor. After seven months as a mission it was organized as the St. Andrew Evangelical Lutheran Church in May, 1960. Rev. Paul Benson, who left in 1973, became pastor in 1962. He was followed by Rev. L. E. Engel who accepted another church call in January 1982. The present pastor is Rev. Michael Bostian.

An extensive building program was completed a few years ago. The church is located on the corner of Geneva (East Washington) and Prince Crossing Roads.

Faith Community Church of West Chicago had its inception as a Sunday School class taught by Dr. William C. Perkins. This group met for the first time in October 1973 in the meeting room of the West Chicago State Bank on West Washington Street. Later in the year the group voted to organize as a congregation of the Reformed Church in America.

In June 1975, the new congregation called Rev. Harmon R. Wierenga, of California, as its first pastor. For the next five years the congregation held its worship services in Turner School and social activities were conducted in the bank building and the Easton Park Club house. As a result of a financial gift, the parsonage and 2 ½ acres of land at Prince Crossing Road and Hillview were purchased in 1975.

Ground was broken on December 1, 1980, for a 5,500 square foot multi-purpose building to be built on the acquired land. The first service was held in the partially completed structure on June 28, 1981, and after completion the church building was dedicated on November 15, 1981. The construction cost approximated $300,000. Rev. Wierenga remains as pastor.

The membership of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church first held their worship services in Indian Knoll School for some years after organizing in 1973. When land was purchased on Joliet Street and Rte. 59, the congregation built a parsonage and acquired a modular unit chapel from a Wheaton church and moved it to its present site late in 1978. After landscaping and remodeling of the chapel's interior was completed, 1979. A new permanent church building is planned for 1984. The Rev. James R. Ziesemer is the current pastor.

The Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Temple at 1 S 100 Rte. 59, is the area's newest worship structure and serves a number of Midwestern states. The temple, which opened in June 1981, is presided over by Priest Shudo Sugano, formerly of Japan. English services are held at 10 a.m. every Sunday, except the third Sunday when Japanese services are held.

 Sunday evening adult classes of the Baha’i Faith are conducted at 424 West Washington Street.

Members of the West Chicago Christian Church now meet at Indian Knoll School. Donald Walters is pastor of the new congregation.

Chapter 6: First School Was a Small Log House

As with Chapter 5, keep in mind as you read this history of West Chicago's schools that these words were written in 1984.

The demolition in 1969 of the 1962 abandoned Washington School ended an educational span here – as far as brick and stone is concerned – that began a century ago. The old Turner School was constructed in 1873, replacing a frame school house which was deemed inadequate for the educational needs of that time, and re-built into Washington School in 1908. The frame structure at 219-221 Fulton Street was later sold and 126 years later it still serves as a dwelling. It is probably the oldest building in West Chicago.

When today's Geneva Road was laid out in 1845, its route from Glen Ellyn west to the Roosevelt Road terminus made possible the location and erection of a number of new district schools, some of log construction. One such crude school, according to earlier historians, was located on the north side of Washington Street and west of Garden Street. There is no record, however, of anyone selling or donating land for school sites in West Chicago prior to 1857.

With the coming of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad in 1849 and the settlement that followed, John B. Turner permitted the erection of the new frame school house on his unplatted land, bordering Washington and High Street, and which took several years to complete and furnish. The building was also used for religious services. Soon after platting the Town of Junction in 1855, Turner deeded the old school site to the First Congregational Church for their intended church edifice. In 1857 he deeded lots 1 and 2 in Block 5 (on Fulton Street) to the school directors and in that year the third school house was erected. The Methodists held religious services here before their church structure was built in 1858.

A Decade later the school officials made plans for a new school building, but it was not until 1873 when the first brick and stone school building was erected. The location was in Dr. Joseph McConnell's townsite and he was paid $700 for the land, and the construction cost $25,000.

Miss Harriet Yakeley, the second principal of the new school, was responsible for many educational improvements and innovations, and introduced the first high school courses here. The first high school graduating class in 1878 consisted of Misses Carrie Roundy and Addie Evenden, and both became teachers here.

During the 1880's Turner's development was on the move and its population also increased. So did the need for more educational facilities. In July, 1887, the voters, by a majority of 41 votes, approved the construction of a new two-story 35 by 40 feet school of brick and stone. Charles S. Winslow, the son of a pioneer settler here, was paid $500 for the land. Work on the structure began in August and by December classes were in session. The school, known as the South Side School, was destroyed by fire in 1919, and in later years, the American Legion Post had the fire debris removed from the former school site and converted it into a recreational field.

As a replacement to the burned-out school, Lincoln School on Geneva Street was built as an eight-room structure in 1921, just south of the former school. Now the oldest District 33 School, it has required the addition of two rooms in 1951, five in 1959, and six more in 1964.

The West Chicago Community High School District 94 was established in 1904, with classes held first as the South Side and then at the North Side School until the new high school was built in 1926. Voters in 1925 favored the Winslow land – the school's present location – over the Reese or Harvey property of fifteen acres north of Grand Lake Boulevard and east of Arbor Avenue by a majority of 385 votes. From a bond issue of $140,000, a sum of $23,750 was paid for the 12 ½ acre tract of land. The final construction figure was much higher. Additions were made in 1956; in 1964, construction which practically doubled the size; and in 1978, when the swimming pool and other facilities were added.

Except for a small kindergarten school of frame construction in the late 1930’s, no new school buildings were erected until 1952, when the Carrie E. Roundy Kindergarten was built just south of the Methodist Church. It was named after a dedicated teacher who taught first and second grade here from 1877 to 1928. It closed in 1979.

The next two decades saw a great deal of growth:

In 1952, construction began on Turner School, named for the early railroad executive. Located on Ingalton Avenue, it opened in 1953.

 

In 1954, Gary's Mill and Round Grove school districts were annexed, followed by the Ingalton school district.

 

In 1955, construction began on Gary School, named for the Gary family, early Winfield Township settlers. Originally a 12 room school, it had three rooms added in 1970.

The West Chicago Junior High was built in two phases from 1962 to 1964. In 1971, 8 classrooms were added to the original 14.

Indian Knoll School was opened in 1967, following a $450,000 bond issue, while Pioneer School was opened in 1971 through a $625,000 bond issue.

The first St. Mary's Parochial School was built in 1922, and a new eight room school, facing Garden Street and costing $203, 673, was built and opened in 1955.

This concludes the original text of Chapter 6 from the Scobey and Musich book. However, one more historic school in West Chicago should be pointed out, if for no other reason than to raise awareness for the efforts to save it. McAuley School is listed as one of the top-ten most endangered historic sites statewide. To learn more, see the Save McAuley School Facebook page.

Chapter 7: Oakwood Cemetery Oldest in West Chicago

More than ninety years ago the Oakwood Cemetery grounds were reported as being in a badly neglected condition. With the passing of years the cemetery's sad plight continued until Oakwood Cemetery was brought under the city's control and care in 1964. The West Chicago Historical Museum [now known as West Chicago City Museum] has transcribed and indexed the information on the cemetery's tombstones as an aid to genealogists.

Historic Oakwood Cemetery, West Chicago's oldest burial ground, has a history dating to 1858. The land for the cemetery was donated by Dr. and Mrs. Joseph McConnell, and was platted by Johnathan G. Vallette, a surveyor, in September, 1858. The original cemetery measured 132 by 330 feet and contained 198 lots, a number of lots being larger or smaller than the regular 9 by 24 foot lots.

Title and management was entrusted to the Oakwood Cemetery Association, organized on Christmas Day 1858, and new officers were elected at the annual meeting held in June.

The first officers were Joseph McConnell, president; Job A. Smith, treasurer and secretary; and three directors – James Conley, Charles Winslow and Daniel Wood. It is rather pitiable that the remains of Dr. and Mrs. McConnell, donors of the cemetery land, lie there in unmarked graves.

Two additions were made to the original cemetery in 1881 and 1898. The first, a tract 60 by 330 feet, contained five rows of lots numbered 199 to 253. The plat is titled “First Addition to the Oakwood Cemetery of Turner Junction, Illinois.” Although the village's official name was Turner, the informal Turner Junction name was alive in a cemetery. Surveyor Vallette who made the original plat, also surveyed the addition. The officers of the association in 1881 were President Gordon N. Roundy, and Directors Asel A. Gates, father of John W. (Bet-a-Million) Gates, John McWilliams and John M. Fessler.

                The second and final addition to Oakwood a tract measuring 146 by 264 feet at the northwest corner was surveyed by C. A. Prout of Wheaton in October, 1898. The cemetery association officers in 1898 were John Norris, President, and John Parker, Major J. Town and Theodore E. Tousley as directors.

At one time Oakwood Cemetery's name was featured in the iron arch at the York Street entrance. The Soldiers' and Sailors' monument located there is the city's only memorial honoring the war dead.

Calvary Cemetery, the city's second oldest burial ground, was developed by the Catholic diocese of Chicago in the late 1870's. The land was originally James B. Trull's subdivision and came into the corporation limits when Turner was organized in 1873. Trull, the former landowner, and Rev. Thomas Gaffney, pastor of St. Mary's Church who lost his life in 1914, are both buried here.

A cemetery with a short existence was the former Highland Cemetery about two miles east of West Chicago. It was situated on the northeast corner of Geneva and Indian Knoll Roads. The planned cemetery was divided into four large sections, and the entire area measured 689 by 1361 feet, with over 2400 lots of 16 by 16 feet size. It was platted in March, 1893, and the few who were buried were removed and interred elsewhere.

The City of West Chicago became the owner of Glen Oak Cemetery in 1916, during the administration of Mayor William R. McGrath. It was surveyed by E.L. Gates, and the original plat contained 204 lots. The city-owned cemetery was annexed to West Chicago in 1964.

If you enjoy learning about the history of Oakwood Cemetery and the early settlers of West Chicago, be sure to check out our Tales Tombstones Tell program held every October. Each year we feature a new host of founding fathers and mothers presented by costumed interpreters.

Chapter 8: Population Figures, 1860-1980

The first census of this community was taken in 1860 – or the Eighth United States Census. At that time there was no local government, and Turner or Turner Junction was under the township form of government. There were 148 dwellings counted in an area without specific boundaries but which were listed under Turner Post Office, and the unofficial population was 722.

In the 1870 census, the dwellings increased to 222 which were listed under Turner Post Office, and the unofficial population was 1,086. When the village was incorporated in 1873, with the village boundaries duly defined, the population decreased to 850.

The population figures for the Village of Turner, the Village of West Chicago, and the City of West Chicago showed a continuous gain for the past century, the only loss of population recorded in the 1940 count. Beginning in the 1950's, there were several official recounts. 

The population statistics are as follows:


1873...........................850

Detail of an 1874 map of Winfield Township that shows Turner (now West Chicago). 

*Right click and "view image" to see a larger version of these images.



1880........................1,001

Ripley Hotel, now 200 Main Street, c.1880.



1890........................1,506

Turner Wheelmen Bike Race starting line at Washington and Main Streets, July 4, 1895.


1900........................1,877

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union fountain in its original site at the intersection of today’s Main and Washington Streets, circa 1900. The view is looking south down Main Street.



1910........................2,378

Main Street looking south, circa 1915.



1920........................2,594

Main Street circa 1925.



1930........................3,477

Main Street looking south, c 1930.



1940........................3,355

Main Street looking south, circa 1940.



1950........................3,973

Main Street looking north, circa 1955.



1960........................6,839

Main Street looking south, circa 1963.



1970......................10,100

Ariel view of Main Street, circa 1970.



1973 (Recount).....11,624

Main Street and Washington Street, circa 1973.



1980......................12,550

Ariel view of Main Street and Washington Street, circa 1985.

Chapter 9: Early Street Names

The names of streets, as a rule, can be traced to the real estate developer's plat. In the case of West Chicago, this time-honored custom goes back to John B. Turner's 1855 plat of the Town of Junction and Dr. Joseph McConnell's Town of Turner, platted in 1857, and to other parcels of land platted since then.

1874 Map of Turner

The original land plotted by Turner himself as Town of Junction is labeled "Original Plat." The McConnell land, platted as Town of Turner, is labeled as such.

Mr. Turner, the president of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, named three streets after the three Illinois cities that were projected as the terminal points for his railroad: Chicago, Fulton, and Galena. Center Street was so named because it lay at the center of his original plat, while North Street formed the plat's northern boundary.

The renaming of three streets here by city council action on July 7, 1930 was long overdue. The old name Depot Street gave way to the commercial-sounding name Main Street; Railroad Street became Hillview Avenue; and perplexing North Street was christened Washington Street, as this street had ceased to be the north boundary of the community some 73 years earlier.

North Street

View on Washington Street when it was known as North Street. In the left foreground is the Acherson Building, which still stands today. At the time, it housed State Bank.

An ordinance enacted in 1931 renamed another street here in honor of a venerable and highly-esteemed citizen, John C. Neltnor. Thus Maple Street, boasting a few trees of that species, was renamed Neltnor Boulevard, although the boulevard part is questionable since the street is the busy four-lane State Highway 59.

John C. Neltnor, for whom Neltnor Boulevard was named. In his time in Turner, Mr. Neltnor (1841-1938) was a local businessman who owned and operated Grove Place Nurseries, postmaster of Turner (present day West Chicago), and editor and publisher of the DuPage County Democrat. Mr. Neltnor is buried in Glen Oak Cemetery on Arbor Avenue in West Chicago.

In the intervening years, other streets were renamed and are now known as Bishop Avenue, Weyrauch Street, Hahn Place, Tye Court and Fawell Drive, to name a few. A number of street names in old plats have disappeared and are now forgotten.

In the spring of 1930, superintendent of Public Works Frank E. Schacht presented an improved plan of house renumbering to the city council; it was later approved. In the old numbering system, numbers on any given street ran consecutively from one upward, with no distinct number change at the end of each block. Thus, the Address 24 could, for example, be on one block and 26 on the next.

Frank Schacht manning water pumps ca. 1916

The new system numbered each block by the hundreds – first block of a street was the 100 block; the second, the 200 block; and so on. It was contended the new numbering system would never need to be changed again.