Briefly from Around the State

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Civil War, Camp Douglas and Naperville

America is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Technically, the war ended with General Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865, but Confederate armies continued surrendering into June.

Many local men served in the Union army, including Joseph Naper’s son, George, who was killed at Chickasaw Bayou. But Naperville has yet another connection to the Civil War.

Camp Douglas was named after Stephen Douglas, whose famous debates with Abraham Lincoln were only part of an illustrious career. Most of the camp’s land, however, actually belonged to Henry Graves.
Henry was ten years old when he traveled with Joseph Naper on the schooner “Telegraph” in 1831. The Graves family chose to stay in Chicago rather than continue on to the DuPage settlement.

In what was then wild prairie and is now approximately Comiskey Park, Henry lived in a small home, the original cottage of Cottage Grove. When the Graveses declined to vacate their house, Camp Douglas was built around them.

While originally intended as a training camp for Union soldiers, as the conflict dragged on, the compound was instead used to house prisoners of war.

More than 4,000 Confederate soldiers died at Camp Douglas. Some call it the largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. 
The order of release for the prisoners was given on May 8, 1865 and the last soldiers left by July. The camp’s graves later were moved to Oak Woods Cemetery and the Graves house was torn down in 1909.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Linking Little Houses on the Prairie

Earlier this week the Naperville Library hosted a program on Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. I wrote Ruth by Lake and Prairie as Naperville’s local “Little House” story and folks often ask if there’s any connection. Surprisingly, there is!

Ruth Murray from the book was a niece of Joseph and John Naper. As a twelve year old, Ruth was among the original settlers of Naperville in 1831. Laura Ingalls wouldn’t live in her Little House for another thirty-odd years.

Even Laura’s Pa, Charles Ingalls, wasn’t born until 1837. Charles spent much of his childhood in New York, but like many families in the 1840’s, the Ingalls traveled west to stake out a new homestead.

Charles’ father, Lansford Ingalls, purchased land near Elgin, Illinois where other relatives had recently settled. Charles lived in the Kane County area from about the ages of nine until sixteen when they moved to Wisconsin.

During research on the Murray family, I learned that Ruth’s brother Robert Nelson Murray married a woman named Louisa Sargent. Her brother, Marquis, married a woman named Lois Ingalls. Could this be a relative of “Pa’s.” I wondered?
I waded through the family trees and eventually found that Lois and Charles do share an ancestor, Samuel Ingalls, Sr. So yes, there is a connection (of sorts) between Ruth and Laura!

Lois and Marquis’ son Earl was a prominent Naperville citizen and a member of the Association of Commerce which is the forerunner of our current Chamber.

Interestingly, his line can claim Daughters of the American Revolution status while Laura Ingall’s family cannot. It seems one of Grandpa Ingalls’ sons enlisted during the war while the other moved out of the country until it was over.

Naper Settlement used to have a Murray House where Lois Ingalls Sargent may have visited her in-laws. It was recently re-named and re-interpreted as the Merritt Hobson Law Office, but that’s a story for another day!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Naperville's #1 Cheerleader: Mayor Pradel

 A. George Pradel has been Naperville’s Mayor for twenty years and the city’s biggest cheerleader for even longer.
Most Chamber of Commerce members know that, before becoming Mayor, he served on our police force. There’s even a statue of him as “Officer Friendly” on the grounds of Washington Junior High. But did you know that once upon a time he also was a business owner himself ?

In the 1960’s, a young couple named George and Pat ran a little hot dog stand on Main Street in the space currently occupied by Lil’ J’s Bohemia. The Pow Wow had two small booths and a stand-up counter, providing hungry patrons with steamed hot dogs, chili dogs and fries.

In addition to running the Pow Wow, they were raising three young children and George was attending the College of DuPage to further his police career. After a few years, Pat and George decided that being in the restaurant business was not their passion and they sold it to one of their employees. Pat went on to an office career that included a stint with Service Master and George continued with the police department.
Through the years that  Mayor Pradel has presided over ribbon cuttings, he has sported a variety of fashions including:  a Marine Corp sweatshirt, a fresh St. Baldrick’s shave, a crazy tie from his extensive collection and, of course, his Chamber Ambassador jackets. (He’s been through a few logo changes!)
Mayor Pradel always loves to include any available children in a ribbon cutting and he makes everyone giggle when he boasts that, while Chicago is also a Five Star Chamber, “we were here first!”

For years, the Mayor “cut” ribbons with a giant pair of purely ornamental wooden scissors which were kept painted and repaired by our Ambassador Emeritus Dale Yamauchi, but in recent years, he’s used a metal pair that actually does cut.  He’s also cut other things in lieu of a ribbon including a two by four and a loaf of bread!

Opening a new business will always be exciting and Ambassdors look forward to learning the new routine. But you have to admit, we’re going to miss hearing that familiar voice gleefully booming:

“WEL-come to NA-perville!”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Naperville and Mr. Lincoln

On Monday, President’s Day, the Naper Settlement tweeted about the “urban legend” of Abraham Lincoln speaking from the roof of the Pre-Emption House. The story is an old favorite, but sadly, it may not be true.

If you have been to the “Brushstrokes of the Past” exhibit at the Settlement, you have seen the event as depicted by artist Les Schrader. This oral history tale has been repeated for generations, but no corroborating evidence has ever been discovered.

In 1858, Lincoln ran for Senate against Stephen Douglas. Naperville strongly supported Douglas and his party. In fate, Joe Naper’s nephew, R.N. Murray, was a close friend of Douglas’s. Chances are slim that Lincoln would have bothered to make a campaign stop in opposition territory.

But Lincoln did work with Joseph Naper when both were elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1836, so certainly Lincoln knew about Naperville.

Both Lincoln and Naper started their terms of office with specific agendas:  Lincoln wanted the state capitol moved from Vandalia to Springfield and Naper wanted to create DuPage County separate from Cook. In order to get the votes they each needed, there’s some evidence that they men did a little “log-rolling.” Just as neighbors help each other roll logs to build each other’s cabins, the statesmen helped each other build support for the vote.

Lincoln also may have been in Aurora. It’s definite that he was a circuit court lawyer in this area and he was hired by Charles Hoyt, an Aurora businessman, to defend a millworks patent lawsuit. They wrote to each other and another oral history says that he visited Hoyt’s store in the 1850’s.

Ten-year-old Isabelle Landry recalled being sent to the store by her mother where she met a tall man with a tall hat visiting with Judge Pinney. Hoyt asked her to sing a French song for the stranger who bought her a pennyworth of candy as a reward. Not to be outdone, the Judge bought her another pennyworth, a memorable event that she enjoyed talking about for the next 76 years!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

State of the City a Major Mayor Milestone

In honor of Mayor A. George Pradel’s final State of the City address, let’s take a look back at the history of Naperville’s mayors.

You might think that Joseph Naper was our first mayor — but you’d only be sort of right. Although founded in 1831, Naperville wasn’t incorporated as a village until 1857 when the first government was formed. Joseph Naper was elected, but as President, not Mayor, and he served for one year with the assistance of city trustees.

Every year that followed, a new man was elected to the Presidency, including such local notables as Merrit S. Hobson, Morris Sleight, Robert Naper and R.N. Murray.

Judge Myron C. Dudley held the position most often and was mayor for four consecutive terms from 1869 until 1872. 

Naperville incorporated as a city in 1890 which was when we elected our first mayor — James J. Hunt. Hunt had also served as President a couple of times and as a trustee so he was a natural selection.

The mayoral position continued to be elected on an annual basis until 1913 which was when the Chamber of Commerce was founded. Francis Kendall was elected that year and was re-elected in 1915.

Our Mayor Pradel holds the record as the longest-serving mayor and he’ll likely hold on to his title as voters approved term limits in 2010.

Pradel was first elected in 1995 and has served five terms for a total of twenty years in office. The next closest mayoral stint was James L. Nichols (son of the library patron James Nichols) who served for three terms and a total of sixteen years.

So far, Naperville has only had one female mayor, Peg Price. She was elected in 1983 and served two terms for our city.

Mayor Pradel was introduced by then NACC Chairman Brad McGuire at the 2005 State of the City luncheon as “His Hotness” and certainly he has left an indelible mark on our city. No one else will be like Mayor Pradel — as it should be — and we will soon have the opportunity to choose his successor.

At a networking event many years ago, a short, older man  introduced himself to people with “Hi, I’m George. I work for the city.” That sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?