Wednesday, November 17, 2021

From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – Joshua Erb

Joshua Erb was born in 1803 in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The “Dutch” is actually a reference to “Deutch,” the German word for “German” and the Erb family emigrated from Switzerland several generations previously. A number of religious communities in early Pennsylvania followed guidelines such as plain dress and conscientious objection to war, including Quakers from England and Mennonites and Brethren from Germany. The Erbs were mainly Brethren.

In 1847, Joshua Erb arrived in DuPage, intent on buying land. He bought about 1200 acres between the DuPage River and Mill Street, some of which he sold to other relatives and friends while retaining a portion for his own family. By 1848, Joshua, his wife Sarah, and their four children were settled on their Naperville farm. Two more children were later born in Illinois.

The Erbs were instrumental in founding Naperville’s Church of the Brethren along with some other families, including the Netzleys, who also have strong roots in town. They started by gathering in each other’s homes, but by 1860, they had raised enough money amongst their members to build a meeting house. Joshua Erb donated a piece of his farm for it, as well as land for a small school and a cemetery. 

Son John and his family of seven girls and one boy took over the farm operations in the latter part of the 1800s. Joshua passed away at age 86 in 1893 and wife Sarah followed him the next year. In the early 1900s, John was also ready to retire and he handed over the farming duties to his own son, also named John. 

This John struggled to run the farm during the Great Depression, but he was able to hang on by selling off a tract that became Cress Creek Commons. In addition to farming, he also expanded into construction. A couple of his sons followed him in both careers and son Marshall seems to have been the last one to farm the Erb homestead. Marshall died in 1989 and by the 1990s, construction had begun on the land to develop what is now known as Century Farms, a nod to the long line of Erb farmers. 

While there isn’t an Erb farm in Naperville today, there are still Erbs farming elsewhere in Illinois. Also, the Erb legacy with the Brethren continues. 

In 1907, the Brethren meeting house was disassembled and moved from Joshua Erb’s farm. It was rebuilt on Benton Street and enlarged or remodeled several times over the next few decades. In 1968, the Brethren erected a brand new building on Jefferson Avenue near the DuPage River that included a preschool which is a mainstay in town to this day. The Benton Street church is also still in use, currently as a food pantry. 

Joshua and Sarah, as well as other members of their family, are buried in the old Brethren cemetery that used to be behind the meeting house. The house was moved, but the cemetery remained. It lies along West Street on the border of the Century Farms subdivision.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – William Henry Hillegas

While William Henry Hillegas built an upstanding reputation in the Naperville community, it’s his son that the guides on the ghost tours talk about. We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s give William his due.

Joseph and Mary Hillegas arrived in Illinois in 1857 and started farming. The family experienced several tragedies including the deaths of two sons before the move, two daughters after the move, and the death of Mary just a few years after their arrival. William and his two sisters, however, settled comfortably into the Naperville community. 

William worked downtown at the hardware store of Andrew Friedley. Friedley’s name pops up all over the early city council records for providing nails and similar items for community infrastructure maintenance. His Lemont store is a national landmark and he died in Lockport, but the family tomb, an impressive pyramid, is in the Naperville Cemetery.

In 1862, William married Maria Hartman. The Civil War was already underway and William joined the 156th Illinois Infantry in 1864, serving until the War’s end. Their first child, Ida, was born in 1863 before William enlisted, Charles was born in 1867, and Harvey in 1869.

Eventually, William took over Friedley’s hardware store, partnered with Louis Reiche. Their establishment was on Water Street, now part of Chicago Avenue, in the building that currently houses Features Bar & Grill and Frankie’s Blue Room. Their names and the date when their store was erected, 1882, are still visible at the roofline.

In addition to working at the hardware business, William was also elected Trustee of the Naperville Village Board, served as a Mason, and was extremely active both with his church and with the local G.A.R. organization. Apparently, he was of particularly strong character, even during trying times, as his obituary in The Naperville Clarion reported:

[He faced] financial trials which test men's courage and powers of endurance and frequently leave physical wrecks and shattered fortunes on the shores of time. That he weathered the storm, maintained his integrity and met every obligation was due to his faith in God, backed by an unconquerable determination to win. And when he did, maintaining to the last the unbounded respect and confidence of every man who knew him.    

William suffered a heart attack in 1906 at the age of 65 and was buried in the Naperville Cemetery. His widow continued to live in the family home, which still stands across the street from Meiley-Swallow Hall. At the time, Meiley-Swallow was the Grace Evangelical Church, but it has since served as a theatre for North Central College. 

So now let’s get back to William’s son, Charles. His gruesome story is a favorite ghostly legend, making it perfect for this time of year. 

Charles was one of many who heeded the “go west, young man” advice during that era. During his travels, he met an English girl named Jessie Robateene Massey and married her in Montana in 1901. 

Unfortunately, Jessie died in 1912, possibly from influenza. At the time, they were living in Seattle, but Charles decided to bring Jessie’s body back to be buried in the family plot in Naperville, a fact confirmed by a short paragraph in The Clarion

Within days of the funeral, however, Charles became convinced that Jessie had been buried alive. He was restrained from digging her up several times, but finally giving his watchers the slip, Charles disinterred his wife and brought her back to the family home where he attempted to revive her. 

The sheriff took Charles into custody and the newspaper says he was brought to Wheaton where he was “examined as to his sanity.” This no doubt refers to the DuPage County Home which started out as the County Poor Farm, a place for the old, sick, and mentally ill who could not be cared for elsewhere. The farm was established to be self-sustaining while also providing food for the county jail through the labor of its inhabitants. County Farm Road is a relic of this history. By the time Charles was admitted, however, the Home was evolving to be more like a hospital than a farm and today it’s known as the DuPage Care Center. 

Apparently, Charles remained at the DuPage County Home until his death in 1940. His funeral was in the Beidelman chapel in town and he is buried in the Naperville Cemetery, along with his wife and his parents. 

From the vantage point of time, this may be just a scary story to tell at Halloween, but it’s also a love story as well as a look at how society has historically treated mental illness. For all of those reasons, it’s a story worth retelling. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – Philip Beckman

In 1853, the Peter and Eleanore Beckman family emigrated from Bavaria with three daughters and four sons. One of the teenaged sons was Philip, who had already been apprenticed in harness-making. Starting on the east coast, Philip worked his way to Chicago and by 1859, he was settled in Naperville with his new bride, Elizabeth Pfeiffer.

Philip was employed at Martin Ward’s harness shop on the corner of Washington Street and what used to be known as Water Street, now an extension of Chicago Avenue. Philip eventually bought out Ward and ran the harness and saddlery for many years, tanning hides and furs, making his own horse collars, and selling manufactured goods such as buggy whips. By 1893, it became obvious that buggy whips were going the way of, well, buggy whips and Philip sold the business. 

Philip tore down Ward’s original frame building and built a two-story brick structure in its place. That building was then taken down during the 1920s and Jimmy’s Grill now operates on the point where his shop once stood. 

During his Naperville years, Philip served as a volunteer fireman, school director, and city road commissioner. He and Elizabeth also owned farmland that they rented out and grew their family to nine children, all of whom were musical. The Beckmans owned both a grand piano as well as a pump organ and everyone enjoyed singing. 

The Beckmans are also credited with installing one of the first telephones in the city, which meant there weren’t many locations to call. The Beckman phone in the harness shop connected to the family home on Loomis Street, with vibrating screens on each side as alerts. The family story is that Philip could yank on the wire at the shop which vibrated at the house so his wife knew he was on his way home for lunch. 

On the Riverwalk where Chicago Avenue dead-ends at Main Street, there is an iron trough-turned-fountain. While the facts are still being debated, it is likely that the horse trough was originally erected by the Beckman family. An advertisement in the 1886 Hollands Business Directory points out that the Beckman harness shop is “Near the Fountain” and the Naperville Area Farm Families History recalls that Philip established a horse trough in the street near his shop for customers and others to water their horses. 

According to Beckman family lore, when Philip passed on in 1910, his children presented the iron trough to the city as a replacement for the original. Once horses no longer strolled through downtown Naperville, the trough was removed, served as a flower planter for a time, and was re-installed as a fountain on the Riverwalk in 1981. Check it out the next time you are strolling along the DuPage River at that plaza! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – Joseph S. Ferry

Joseph Sanford Ferry arrived in DuPage County in 1838 as a nine-year-old when his parents, Sylvanus and Rhoda, moved from New York via Terra Haute. The family lived in Warrenville at first until his father bought his own land. Sylvanus, unfortunately, died not long after. 

When Joseph was sixteen, his uncles helped the family purchase fifty-three acres of farmland. Within a few years, Joseph had sold that farm and bought another more than twice the size. During that time, Joseph married and started a family. Joseph didn’t have access to much education in his youth, but his wife, Sophronia, was a school teacher. In order for the children to attend school, they moved into the city of Aurora a few years later and Joseph sold the farm. 

While the Civil War certainly was an unfortunate influence, Aurora grew rapidly in the mid-1800s, aided by the many factories that were powered by the Fox River. Joseph became a builder and developer while living in the city and “purchased residence property and vacant lots on which he erected several neat dwelling houses.” 

The expansive “farm scene” depicted in the atlas engraving is probably the farm he moved to in 1873 since the atlas was published in 1874. According to a map in the same atlas, Joseph’s acreage was southwest of the town of Naperville. Northwest of Naperville is another plot labeled “M Ferry,” which belonged most likely to Melancthon, Joseph’s brother. Melancthon was married three times and sired a number of children. His family farmed the homestead until the 1970s and inspired the name of Ferry Road. There was also a sister, Louisa, who never married. 

Joseph Ferry only remained on the farm in the engraving until 1890 when he and his wife, Sophronia, moved back into Aurora. Sophronia taught school in DuPage County as well as in Vermont and New York, where she lived before her marriage. Both her great-grandfather, Col. Seth Warner, and her grandfather, Israel Putnam Warner, were Revolutionary War veterans, although Israel was only a nine-year-old messenger and scout during the war.

Israel and his wife Esther settled in DuPage County and their daughter, also named Esther, was Sophronia’s mother. In 2008, Israel’s headstone in the Big Woods Cemetery, Warrenville, was rediscovered, restored, and then rededicated in a 2008 ceremony. This was a big deal because, unlike the eastern states, there are very few graves of Revolutionary War veterans in Illinois.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

From the 1874 DuPage Atlas – Dr. John A. Bell

Over his long life, (90 years!) Dr. Bell made it his mission to serve.  Born in Ohio in 1838, Bell’s family moved to Abingdon, Illinois when he was about fifteen years old. 

At eighteen, Bell started studying medicine with Dr. Andrew McFarland, Superintendent of the Insane Asylum of Jacksonville, Illinois. During the end of his training, the Civil War broke out and Bell served the 10th Illinois Infantry as Assistant Surgeon during the years 1861 and 1862. 

Also in 1861, Bell married a girl he was courting in Jacksonville, Elizabeth Eagle. Once Bell was released from war duties, the young couple lived in Jacksonville and then in Cambridge before resettling in Naperville in 1868. 

While already practicing medicine, it was during this time that Bell received a medical degree from the Hahnemann Homœopathic Medical College of Chicago. Soon after, he went into partnership with Dr. Charles Nauman, another Hahnemann student, which continued for about ten years, until 1884.

In 1881, Bell and a partner took over a drug store on Jefferson Avenue which had previously been operated by Frank Morse, a druggist, and Dr. Hamilton Daniels. Dr. Daniels house is now one of the featured buildings at Naper Settlement, moved from its former location on Washington Street. Morse has many connections to Naperville’s earliest settlers, including being brother-in-law to Robert Naper, Joseph and Almeda’s son, through his sister, Amelia.

Bell’s partner at the drug store was William Wallace Wickel and the shop was known as Wickel and Bell. Apparently Wickel became the sole owner within a year or two and continued operating the drug store until 1915 when he turned it over to his son-in-law, Louis Oswald, who changed the name of the store. Louis eventually ceded ownership to his own son-in-law, but they kept the name Oswald’s, which is what the pharmacy is still known as today, although it is no longer on Jefferson Avenue. 

In addition to practicing medicine and owning a drug store, Bell also served as a village trustee and alderman. He was president of the Nichols Library board, presiding over its grand opening, and was elected Master of the local Masonic lodge, Euclid, more than once. 

His wife Elizabeth passed away in 1908 after 47 years of marriage and a few years later, at age 73, Bell married a local widow, Ida Lucetta Murray Goodrich. When she passed in 1918, Bell did not remarry again.

There are two known depictions of Dr. Bell’s house. The engraving from the 1874 DuPage Atlas would be the house he and Elizabeth lived in soon after their move to Naperville and around when he received his medical degree. One can imagine that the people playing croquet on the lawn are John and Elizabeth with their daughter Allie May, who would be about twelve at the time and wearing that shorter skirt. Perhaps younger daughter Nettie is playing under the trees where we can’t see her.

There is also a photograph in the 1917 Souvenir of Naperville Homecoming that is labeled “Home of Dr. and Mrs. John A. Bell.” Mrs. Bell in 1917 would be Ida as Elizabeth died in 1908. This house looks very different from the earlier engraving, but one can see enough similarities to wonder if it’s the same house, remodeled. 

Holland’s Business Directory, which was published in 1886, lists Dr. Bell’s address as “n. s. Jefferson ave., east of Main.” The “n. s.” means “north side,” and it seems like quite a few locations are “east of Main” and since they can’t all be on the same corner, there is no indication on how far east they actually are. 

Most doctors practiced out of their homes at the time, so it wouldn’t be unusual to have his home and office at the same address. Dr. Daniels is listed as practicing out of his Washington home as well. 

Poring over old Sanborn Insurance maps, there aren’t very many houses east of Main. The atlas picture makes it look like the house is on a corner, but which corner is difficult to say. The Kendall home, the basement of which houses Quigley’s Irish Pub, is on the corner of Jefferson and Court and has been at the same location since 1845. 

In the photograph, the driveway is in front of the house instead of to the side. Is this then a different piece of property? Or did the land just get re-developed? Some other clues include the 1886 map which shows a house west of Kendall’s that seems to be the right footprint and St. John’s Episcopal Church, of which the Bells were active members, is just down the street.

The search for answers continues!