Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Is Heritage Month in Naperville

Learning more about the founding families of Naperville is especially pleasant during these beautiful spring days as there are so many out-of-doors places to see their influences.

Certainly there is the Naper Settlement living history museum, but that's not the only place to view history. Just down the street from the Settlement is Naperville Cemetery where you will see headstones bearing the same names as many of our streets.

The cemetery used to be north of downtown, so some of the earliest settlers were moved along with the cemetery in the mid-1800's. The oldest markers can be found on the south end nearest Washington Street, but do explore further for other interesting remembrances like the pyramid, the elephant and the stone cowboy hat.

Much of the downtown area has been rebuilt over the years, but you can still see glimpses of the past, carefully preserved. One way to learn about the town's landmarks is to take a walking tour. You can pick up complimentary tour brochures at the Pre-Emption House or download them from the Settlement's website.

Naperville is unique in that it was "colonized." That is, a group of families chose to settle together with the intent of creating a town rather than individual homesteaders eventually banding together.

Joseph Naper drew the plat for the town and gave it his name, but the settlement also included the families of his brother John, his sister Amy and a few others. Some families settled down along the DuPage River. Others fanned out into Wheaton, Lockport and Chicago.

Some families already homesteading in the area, like the Hobsons and the Paines, also became part of the Settlement, while new families arrived on a regular basis, pushing the western frontier ever farther.

Although the earliest settlers were New Englanders, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, a large population of German immigrants arrived soon after. At one time, Naperville was well-known for its beer-brewing! Underground tunnels were constructed that kept the beer barrels cool and later served as mushroom-farming rooms.

The cultural make-up of the city continues to change today. For instance, the Park District now runs a Cricket league for the enjoyment of the many Naperville residents from India.

When Joe Naper and his neighbors relocated, it took them over a month to sail from Ashtabula, Ohio to Chicago. They would be mighty surprised to hear how little time it takes to fly from India!

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