Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walking the Plank in Naperville



Many towns in Illinois have a "Plank Road," including Naperville. But have you ever wondered what a plank road was?

Dirt roads were the norm in Illinois. They were rutted and dusty when dry and muddy bogs when wet, making travel between towns difficult. Grain, mail and passengers needed to be transported via wagon, stagecoach and horse, so in the mid-1800's plank road corporations were formed.

These corporations financed the road-building and collected tolls from the travelers in order to return their investment and hopefully grow wealthy. Joseph Naper, the founder of Naperville, was one such investor, along with a few other local businessmen including George Martin who built the mansion now available for tours at Naper Settlement.

The Southwestern Plank Road ran from Chicago on to Naperville, generally following an old Indian Trail. Today, Ogden Avenue, named after Chicago's first mayor, roughly traces the same route.

Mark Beaubien, who ran a tavern in Chicago before it was Chicago and also served as a lighthouse keeper, moved out to DuPage County and ran a tollbooth and tavern along the old Plank Road. Toll charges were 25 cents for a two-horse team vehicle and 3 cents for each sheep herded down the road. Some say raised borders along the edges kept wagons on the road so they couldn't avoid the tollbooth.

Unfortunately, railroads were also being built during this same time. The Naperville company refused to let rails through town in an effort to preserve their Plank Road investment, but they just couldn't compete. The company lost money and the Plank Road, which had used up the area's white oak population, either rotted or was "repurposed" by farmers.

Beaubien's tavern was moved and is now open to view as one of the museums at Lisle Station Park. On the north side of Ogden at the Lisle/Naperville border is a monument marking what's left of the Beaubien family cemetery.

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