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.

Boone County Pioneer Fest This Weekend

For the first time in several years, Kate will not be able to take part in the Boone County Autumn Pioneer Festival. But that doesn't mean you can't!

The festival is free, although donations are welcome to help preserve and recreate local history on the grounds. Soldiers, Native Americans, Farmers, Norwegian immigrants and many other people from Boone County's past will be on hand with gardens, camps, cabins, foods and handicrafts.

Kate has been particularly interested in this festival because the main character from her book Ruth by Lake and Prairie grew up to marry a man who had land in Boone County. Ruth married Harlyn Shattuck and moved out to Boone County to raise her family on Harlyn's acreage.

Ruth died while in her forties, perhaps from complications after her tenth lying-in, but Harlyn soon remarried to take care of his large family, and even increased it by a few. Some of their descendants still live in the area and you can travel down Shattuck Road to the Shattuck Grove Cemetery to see Ruth's grave.

For information on how to get to the Pioneer Festival, see their webpage at the Boone County Conservation District
Stacy's Tavern Day in Glen Ellyn
Sunday, September 26
1 pm - 4:30 pm
Live animals, crafts, demonstrations, music, museum tours, bake sale, 1840's school room, rope making, and much more. Included with admission is a celebration of old time music and dance with Common Taters Band. The band will perform inside the History Center building.
Tickets can be purchased at the door on September 26 or in advance for a discounted price at Stacy's Corners Store located at 800 N. Main Street.
Call 630-469-1867 or email: info@gehs.org for more information.

Kline Creek Farm
September 11
1:30 pm - 3:30pm
Blacksmithing Demonstrations
Stop by the wagon shed to see the blacksmith repair equipment and demonstrate the tools and techniques of the trade. All ages. Free. Call (630) 876-5900.

Elgin Cemetery Walk

Sunday, September 26
12:00 pm - 3:30 pm
An autumn tradition in the Fox Valley, the Society's historic Elgin Cemetery Walk is held on the fourth Sunday in September. Visitors to scenic Bluff City Cemetery are guided to gravesites of "former" residents, portrayed by actors in period costumes, who share something of their lives and times. Among them may be a founding pioneer or early doctor, a war hero or crafty politician, a teacher or banker. With a cast that changes each year, these vignettes provide a glimpse of Elgin's rich heritage through the lives of its citizens.
The cemetery is located on Bluff City Boulevard, approximately 1/2 mile east of the intersection with Liberty Street (Rt. 25). Bluff City Boulevard is located one block south of U.S. 20 on Elgin's east side. This beautiful and historic cemetery is the final resting place of many prominent Elginites and has many fine examples of elaborate headstones and mausoleums.
Advance tickets available at the Museum and Ace Hardware
$6 Society members and advance purchase
$7 adults day of event
$3.50 under 17.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning about Lincoln through his Poetry

On Sunday, September 6, 1846, Abraham Lincoln sent his friend Andrew Johnston a poem. It was the second canto of work he started a couple years before when visiting his old home in Indiana during the 1844 campaign.

Lincoln was living in Springfield at the time with his wife Mary, his young son Robert and baby Eddie who had been born earlier the same year. The young family appeared happy, settled in a larger home with their two healthy sons.

Sad times of course were in Lincoln's future, including the deaths of three of his children and the struggles of our country during the Civil War. But sad times were in his past as well. Lincoln lost his mother when he was only nine and his sister died young in childbirth.

Much has also been speculated about Ann Rutledge, the young woman with whom Lincoln had an "understanding." She died of fever before they could marry and Lincoln was said to have mourned deeply.

Many reports exist of Abraham Lincoln's melancholy nature and he was fearful that the bouts of depression would overcome him one day. Reading this poem gives a little insight to this fear.

In the cover letter to the poem Lincoln writes: "The subject of the present [poem] is an insane man. His name is Matthew Gentry. He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our very poor neighbourhood.

"At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of 1844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impressions his case made upon me."

The poem's last lines read:

"O death! Thou awe-inspiring prince,
That keepst the world in fear;
Why dost thou tear more blest ones hence.
And leave him ling'ring here?"

Treatment for insanity lacked much in the nineteenth century. Imagine the dread he must have felt seeing his friend literally go crazy when they were youths together and then suffer from depression himself for the rest of his life.

You can read the poem in its entirety for yourself at the Lincoln Boyhood National Park website.

Champagne Lincoln Could Have Sipped?

While this story comes from the Baltic Sea and not Illinois, the time period is right for Abraham Lincoln.

Divers in July found the wreckage of a ship that may have sunk in the early 1800's. On board, they discovered bottle of champagne that were still intact and have been bringing them to the surface in secrecy.

Because of the cold temperature of the Baltic Sea, experts expect the champagne may still be drinkable and hope to sell the recovered bottles for $68,000 each.

Wouldn't it be interesting to sip bubbly that President Lincoln may have had the opportunity to drink? That experience could be yours if you have an extra $68,000 in your pocket!

Where History Is Happening

Granville Cemetery Walk
Sunday, September 12
1 pm - 3 pm
Learn about local characters of the past at the Putnam County Historical Society's annual cemetery walk 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Granville Cemetery.
Cemetery walks offer a glimpse into the past and a closer look at those who helped shape local history. During this free program, groups will be escorted through the cemetery to visit historic grave sites including those of Hawthorne, Whitaker, Ware, Hopkins, Kessler, Hartman and Naumann.

Boy Scout Exhibit in Aurora
Until September 11
12 pm - 4 pm
On My Honor: Celebrating 100 Years of Boy Scouting is now open until September 11! Come visit it at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place, Wednesday - Friday 12-4pm. Open Saturday, September 4 and 11th as well. Admission is FREE!

Rockford's Tinker Swiss Cottage Recruitment Fair

Thursday, September 23
5:00 pm -7:00 pm
Come and visit Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens and learn about the variety of volunteer opportunities that are available, from leading tours, to helping in the gift shop, to helping plan and create Tinker's Heirloom gardens.

Garfield Farm Museum's Archeology Program
September 22 -26
Registrations are now being taken for individuals who wish to help with the historic archaeology excavation. September's two week session will begin September 22 - 26 and 29 through October 4. Volunteers will be working alongside college and graduate school archaeology students. Volunteers 14 - 17 years of age may participate with parent permission. Younger students accompanied by a parent or guardian may also participate.