Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Unearthing Buried Secrets about Our Local History

Kate recently spent an afternoon at Garfield Farm in LaFox near Geneva helping with the archeological dig that was held for two weeks during June. After taking part in the Joseph Naper Homestead dig in Naperville, Kate was excited to find yet another project where she could help and learn more about Illinois in the early 1800's.

If you go out to Garfield Farm today, the main feature is the brick inn that stood off the Chicago-St. Charles road. Timothy and Harriet Garfield bought an already-existing farm and built the inn in 1846. They dug the clay from the banks of the river, molded and fired the bricks, and then built the handsome structure that you can visit today.

The inn offered meals, lodging and stabling for travelers horses as they traveled up to or down from Chicago. A separate ladies parlour added elegant privacy to this still-rustic frontier landscape. Gentlemen could buy whiskey and tobacco to enjoy in the taproom which was less refined.

The farm stayed in the family for generations until the last of the family, Elva Ruth Garfield turned it into a museum on early farming life in 1977. It is rare among living history museums in that all of the buildings belong to the site where they are currently found instead of being moved from their original sites.

While the Garfields started the innkeeping business, they purchased the land from the Culverson family who lived in a log house that they built in 1836. No doubt the Garfields also lived in the log house until the brick inn was built.

Many other buildings have been built on the grounds, including a hay and grain barn, a horse barn and several other structures. In the last twenty years the 1840's Atwell Burr house was also moved onto the grounds. But the original log house disappeared long ago.

Locating the foundation for this cabin was one of the goals of the archeological program, as well as finding artifacts from the era. A dig in 2006 revealed the cellar and a five-year investigation is planned.

The day that Kate went, the archeologist was continuing from the previously revealed cellar. Most of the land around there had been cultivated through the years, so artifacts have been churned into the ground, mixing beer tabs with old pottery, but there were a few interesting finds.

Glass, both old and new, and ceramic shards were found, as well as brick, worked flint chips and nails.

Although the first session has passed, volunteers will be needed for the second session in September. If you are interested in helping with the dig, you can register by contacting the farm at

Congratulations to Our Bookfest Winner!

The Glen Ellyn Bookfest was held downtown on Saturday, June 19, sponsored Glen Ellyn's Downtown Alliance. Shops hosted local authors for book sales and signings.

Kate enjoyed hanging out at the Vintage Living Store, a charming couple of rooms overflowing with old photos, textile, jewelry and other treasures. Chatting with visitors about local history and their own writing aspirations was quite enjoyable!

Visitors were able to sign up to win a family pass to the Naper Settlement Living History Museum. The drawing was held and congratulations go to Luisa from Glen Ellyn! Luisa was thrilled and said it was the first time she had ever won anything. Her pass for two adults and two children is in the mail to her now.

A big thank you to Luisa and all the other people who stopped by to buy books and say hello! Hopefully, Glen Ellyn will hold another Bookfest next summer!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Summer Fashion Show
Saturday, July 31
12:00pm - 3:00pm

Come be a part of the Flagg Township Museum Summer Fashion Show and Luncheon!
See the show or be a model yourself! We will be serving a light lunch before the show.
$25/ticket-includes the luncheon and fashion show.
Contact: or 815-762-6199
Seating is limited.

Guided Walking Tour of Somonauk Street
Sunday, July 4
1:00 pm

Guided walking tour of historic Somonauk Street are led by Stephen Bigolin on the first Sunday of the month throughout the summer. The tour takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Handouts are included.t
$5 per person
Begins at Sycamore Farmer's Market, Somonauk and Elm Street.

1840 Durant House Museum

Sundays until
1:00am -4:00pm

Visit this season for the utmost in 19th-Century hospitality and innovative living history programs!
Our dynamic approach breathes new life into history and highlights the extraordinary realities of 1840s life. Pastimes, laundry, food preparation, and tools are just a few of the regular features. Complete your trip back in time by trying a few period games and toys, as well as heirloom arts and crafts.
Be sure to also visit Sholes Schoolhouse across the road from the Durant House.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Local Brewery Figures in National Lore

Naperville was first settled by New Englanders, but German immigrants were right behind them -- and they brought the beer.

Although Naperville was first settled by New Englanders of Irish and Scottish extraction, a wave of German immigration occurred soon after and they brought their beer-brewing tradition with them.

One of the early brewery operators was Peter Stenger. Peter and his wife Barbara arrived from Bavaria with most of their large family. The oldest daughter, Anna, remained in Bavaria with her husband, but the other nine children immigrated with their parents to America.

Peter Stenger purchased a small brewery already in operation in Naperville and with his sons, built it up into the largest brewery in Naperville. Peter also hired a young master brewer who had been apprenticed in Dortmund and worked as a brewer in several German cities.

This young man impressed Peter with both his brewing and business skills. The legend has it that Peter was so impressed, he encouraged the young man to become a permanent employee of the Stenger Brewery by marrying one of the boss's daughters.

Apparently, the young brewmaster was not interested in becoming Peter's son-in-law, because in 1872 he left Naperville and traveled west to Colorado where he purchased a share in a Denver bottling company. Soon, he acquired the entire company, and by 1873 he had also bought the Golden City Tannery, turning it into the Golden Brewery.

That brewery in Golden, Colorado still brews beer bearing the young brewmaster's name, which was Adolph Coors. Some Illinois folks remember when one couldn't buy Coors beer on this side of the Mississippi, but few remember that he started his American career in the Chicago area.

Adolph Coors died in 1929 at the age of 82 after falling from a Virgina hotel window. Some accounts say it was an accident, but others say it was suicide. The 1929 date is suggestive, but the Crash was still some months off. Perhaps the old brewmaster, forced to manufacture malted milk because of Prohibition, had simply had enough.

Meet and Greet Authors at Glen Ellyn's Bookfest

On Saturday, June 19, Glen Ellyn's Downtown Alliance will be hosting its first Bookfest. Many of the shops downtown will host local authors for book sales, book signings and chats about writing with more than 30 authors on hand from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.

As one of the authors, Kate will be set up at the Vintage Living Store, a charming shop filled with antique "found treasures." A map listing each shop and author will be available at downtown stores, or you can download a copy now.

In addition to authors scattered throughout downtown, programs for children, families and adults will take place all day. Learn about "Local Underground Railroad History' from Glennette Tilley Turner or hear spine-tingling tales of suspense by Marie Ringenberg. Later in the afternoon, adults can join authors J.A. Konrath and Charlene Baumbich for cocktails.

Elizabeth Berg will be the keynote speaker at Glenbard West High School Auditorium and will sign books as well. Her presentation as well as some other events require tickets, so see the Glen Ellyn Bookfest website for details and a schedule of all the events.

Bookfest promises to be a fun event for readers, writers and shoppers of all ages, so plan to come by for a bit. Be sure to say "hello" to Kate at Vintage Living when you do!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Free Admission for Dad on Father's Day at Naper Settlement
Sunday, June 20
1:00pm - 4:00pm
Dads are free with paid admission for their child or another adult from 1-4 p.m. on Father's Day, Sunday, June 20. It's also a Settlement Sunday with free ice cream sundaes and all the toppings.

Garfield Farm Archeology Volunteer Opportunity
June 16 - 20
September 22
Morning or Afternoon Shifts
Garfield Farm, an 1840's farmstead and tavern, has started excavating the site of the original 1830's log cabin. If you've always wanted to be an archeologist, here's your chance to feed your inner Indiana Jones. Volunteers can register to help by contacting the museum at 630 584-8485 or by e-mail at
Work began June 9, continues until June 20, and will resume for two weeks in late September. If you are unable to volunteer, but have a desire to see the dig, you can also arrange to visit the site by contacting the Farm.

Log Cabin Days at Naper Settlement

Friday and Saturday,
June 25 - 26
10:00am -4:00pm
Sunday, June 27
1:00am - 4:00pm
To highlight the preservation of log cabins, Naper Settlement will be celebrating Log Cabin Days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 25 and 26 and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 27.
This weekend is the debut of new hands-on activities in the Log House. Experience pioneer activities including carrying a yoke and bucket, grinding corn, building a fence, open hearth cooking and more. Visitors who can name the seven U.S. presidents born in a log cabin will win a prize. Activities are included free with regular admission.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remembering Some of America's First Soldiers

When the United States of America was a very young country, there wasn't a lot of gold in the treasury to pay for a standing army. Still, there were wars to be fought such as the War of 1812, the Mexican War and of course the American Revolution.

One way the government could pay its soldiers was to offer bounty land grants for their service. Discharged soldiers applied for a warrant, and if the warrant was granted they could apply for a land patent which made them owners of a portion of the land in the public domain.

Certain swaths of land were set aside for war land grants. Sometimes the soldiers actually took possession of their land, but often they sold their grants to speculators and took a smaller amount of ready cash rather than move their families to an unknown territory.

A large chunk of western Illinois was set aside for soldiers who served in the War of 1812. Each soldier was eligible to receive 160 acres of land. Where that 160 acres was located was determined by lottery.

Many of the soldiers chose not to travel out to Illinois, which wasn't even a state yet when the bounty land was being granted. Instead speculators bought out a lot of the claims and amassed large holdings. Pioneers from the east often ignored the speculators' claims, however and simply settled down where they wished, "squatting" until they were kicked out or could legally stake a claim.

The United States government felt they had the right to grant these lands because no one of European extraction was currently claiming them, but the native people of course felt very differently. This same area was home to several Native American tribes who already were using the land for farming and hunting and didn't see why they should have to give it up.

Black Hawk took a stand in 1832, but he didn't get the backing he hoped for and was defeated by U.S. troops. The Native Americans were relocated west of the Mississippi and European settlers continued to arrive in droves to stake their homesteads.

Abraham Lincoln's only military service was during the Black Hawk War until he became Commander in Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Very Brief History of Memorial Day

Originally known as Decoration Day, the day of remembrance was first observed on May 30 in 1868. General John Logan made the proclamation earlier that month to decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.

The Southern states who were at one time Confederate chose not to recognize the holiday and decorated their veterans' graves on a different date until after World War I when the day of remembrance was expanded to include soldiers from conflicts beyond just the Civil War.

While those who sell cemetery wreaths would like you to decorate the graves of all loved ones who have passed on, Memorial Day was specifically intended to remember and honor those who served our country in the military.

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming events:

Reddick Mansion Tours
Beginning May 31
Sunday, Monday & Wednesday - Friday
11:30am - 3:00 pm
12:00pm - 3:00pm
The Reddick Mansion stands facing historic Washington Square in Ottawa, Illinois, and was built in 1858 for the then-costly sum of $25,000. Mr. Reddick served as a state senator. Mr. Stephen A. Douglas was one of the many politicians entertained at the Reddicks' home. This mansion has been restored to its original splendor and is open for tours. $ 5.00 per person

Railroad Days Galesburg

Saturday, June 26
9:00am -5:00pm
Sunday, June 27
10:00am - 4:00pm
Galesburg Railroad Days annual event celebrating the city's rich railroad heritage with a carnival, exhibits, a street fair, railyard tours, 5 & 10K run/walk, hobby train show, die cast toy show, flea market, rib cook-off, entertainment, beer garden, Saturday night Teen Dance 8 - 11PM, car show on Sunday and much more. Over 40 events----most of them free.

Rockford Area Historical Museum
Summer Hours begin June 3
Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-4 pm
The Museum features a wide variety of artifacts, ranging from the prehistoric to the historic, representing more than 150 years of Rockford history. It also houses the largest collections of research and genealogical material in northern Kent County, pertinent to people, places and things of the past.