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.