Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mormon Beginnings in DuPage and Will Counties

On the twenty-sixth day of November in 1829 Pierce Hawley claimed a portion of Section 30 in Kendall County, Illinois. Since it included a large stand of trees, locals called it Hawley's Grove for a while until Pierce sold his property and it took on the new name of Holderman's Grove. Originally from Vermont, Pierce had a hard time staying put anywhere.

Early Illinois history is peppered with Hawley references. Juliette Kinzie from Chicago tells of staying the night in Hawley's home during a particularly grueling journey. Aaron Hawley, Pierce's brother, was one of the few casualties of the Black Hawk War. Several Hawleys are buried in Naperville, including Pierce's daughter and Joseph Naper's mother.

Stephen Scott was also an early Illinois settler, living on the DuPage River. His son Willard often traveled to Peoria and broke his journey at the Hawley's just as Juliette Kinzie did. While there, he took a shine to Pierce's daughter Caroline and asked to marry her. Father Pierce agreed, but Caroline thought a few hours' courtship was rushing things, so Willard continued on his way.

A couple of weeks later on the return trip, Willard stopped by the Hawley House again and Caroline agreed this time to marry him. They spent their wedding night, as Willard loved to relate, with "the sky for our ceiling -- the stars for our light," under a tree in Plainfield.

Willard and Caroline are both buried in Naperville, the town which they helped grow from its earliest beginnings.

Pierce lived for a time in Naperville as well, becoming a valued member of the Methodist community that Rev. Jesse Walker was developing in his mission to the Potawatomi. But somehow, Pierce heard of Joseph Smith's preaching. As his son later wrote: "Mother at this time felt as though Father had almost committed the unpardonable sin in leaving the Methodist Church and joining the Mormon Church as they was both good Methodist members, but Mother soon got over hurt bad feelings and united with the same church and was one with her husband in faith and doctrine."

Along with other Mormons, the Hawleys (minus Caroline and husband Willard) moved to Missouri, then Iowa and Wisconsin. In the aftermath of religious persecution in Nauvoo and Joseph Smith's subsequent death, many Mormons moved out of Illinois under varying leaders. Brigham Young of course took a group to Utah, but the Hawleys went with Lyman Wight to Texas.

The Texas community flourished for a while. Pierce was chosen to be an elder and his daughter Mary Hawley became one of Wight's plural wives. Eventually Pierce soured on Wight's Mormon Church and along with his wife and married children, he moved to Indian territory in Kansas and then Arkansas, finally coming to rest on August 16, 1858 in Cherokee Nation, Arkansas, where he is buried.

More on the Mormon Story

Local history books from DuPage and Will Counties and even Chicago are great resources to learn more about Pierce and Aaron Hawley, but much of Pierce Hawley's story is also recounted in the book Polygamy on the Pedernales; Lyman Wight's Mormon Villages in Antebellum Texas, 1845 to 1858 by Melvin C. Johnson.

Written around the time that the YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch was in the news, the parallels are obvious. Lyman Wight was a charismatic yet not-mainstream-Mormon leader, much like Warren Jeffs. Wight's religious compound was in Texas, just like Jeffs'. Both men also advocated plural wives and marrying very young girls.

Wight's group collapsed from within due to unrest and disillusionment. About two thirds of Jeffs' group have returned to their Texas compound, although Jeffs himself is serving time in a Utah prison for arranging the marriage of a fourteen-year-old girl. He still faces trial in Texas and the announcement that the Utah Supreme Court will not block extradition hit the newspapers, strangely enough, last week on November 26, which is where this research started!

Where History Is Happening

Christmas at Klein Creek Farm
Saturday, December 4 1:30 pm
Sunday, December 5 3:30 pm
Join "Christmas on the Farm" for an old-fashioned celebration. Visit with Santa and climb into a sleigh to take a picture. Learn the origins of several holiday traditions, and experience Victorian Christmas activities. Stop by a warming fire for caroling and spice cookies. And explore the visitor center to see a re-creation of the farmstead in gingerbread and candy.
Activities are ongoing throughout the event, and registration is not required.

Victorian Valentine's Dinner Party
Sunday, February 13
Looking for something really special to give this holiday? How about tickets to a culinary fantasy, a Victorian Valentine's Dinner Party in an 1880s building in historic Aurora? Join the Aurora Historical Society and Chef Amaury Rosado for a 5-course feast with wine flights in the grand Victorian style, with music and florals of the period, at Chef Amaury's restaurant.

Tickets are $150 per person and include food, wine, tax and gratuity. $50 of each ticket is tax deductible as a gift to the Aurora Historical Society (which thanks you very much!).

Julmarknad Christmas Market at Bishop Hill
Saturday, December 4
Sunday, December 5
10:00 am - 5:00 pm
The holiday season will be opened the traditional
Swedish way during Julmarknad, or Christmas Market in Bishop Hill.
The free events' attractions include Swedish folk characters,
traditional Swedish holiday decorations and quality gifts for the
holidays to be purchased. A special holiday exhibit called "Going to Grandmas" will be on display in the Steeple Building including a holiday Lionel Train display on the first floor. Trains will be running Saturday 10 am to 3 pm and
Sunday; Noon to 3 pm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

October Lighthouse Collapse Lends New Meaning to “Fall”

In 1831, Chicago was still known as Fort Dearborn. Only three ships arrived that year – one of which was the Telegraph, bringing Joseph Naper and company – but the swampy little settlement was poised to be a boomtown.

Innkeeper Mark Beaubien built the first frame house that summer, an elegant improvement over the log cabins and wigwams that were its neighbors, but that was only the beginning. $5000 had been appropriated after a party of United States engineers recommended a lighthouse plan and building commenced in March of the same year.

The contractor for the project was Samuel Jackson or Johnson, depending on who’s memoirs you read. One of the stonemasons working on the construction was Stephen Downer, who was joined the following summer by his dad, Pierce. Pierce Downer later moved out to DuPage County and founded a little settlement that still bears his name – Downers Grove.

The walls of the lighthouse were three feet thick and by autumn the tower reached fifty feet high. Some of the citizens were concerned that the edifice seemed to lean a bit, but on October 30, Jackson took his detractors for a tour to the very top, a group that included “some ladies,” to show off how well-built the tower was.

But just a few hours later, Isaac Harmon wrote his brother, “about nine o`clock in the evening, down tumbled the whole work with a terrible crash and a noise like the rattling of fifty claps of thunder.” Mr. Jackson or Johnson said there must have been quicksand under the foundation, but Isaac and his neighbors were more inclined to believe “that it was all owing to the wretched manner in which it was built.”

Jackson started building again and the lighthouse was completed in 1832. It had a fourteen inch reflector that could be seen for up to seven miles away and had a bell as a fog warning signal. The illustration above shows this second lighthouse as it looked in 1857.

One of the light-house keepers, and in fact, the last keeper, was Mark Beaubien, who tried out many careers in young Chicago. He was in charge of the lighthouse in 1843 and again from 1855 until 1859. During some of those same years, he bought a house in DuPage County and operated a toll house along the Plank Road on the Naperville/Lisle Border, although his son seems to have been the actual toll collector.

Isaac Harmon lamented to his brother “we have had a flattener pass over the face of our prospects in Chicago. The light-house, that the day before yesterday stood in all its glory, the pride of this wondrous village, is now "doused." But Harmon needn’t have worried. This was only a minor setback in a town that has seen its share of rebuilding.

Chicago's Three Ships of 1831

When the Christmas carol "saw three ships come sailing in" they could have been singing about Chicago in 1831. While shipping was about to explode on the Great Lakes, in 1831 ships were still a rarity.

Chicago wasn't actually a city yet but a small village of log houses and wigwams squatting around Fort Dearborn. The fort, built originally in 1808, was burned to the ground during the War of 1812 by the native people in an attack known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre.

The fort was rebuilt in 1816 and used again by the military, but in the spring of 1831, the Napoleon arrived to remove the last of the troops. That was the first ship. In July, Joseph and John Naper's Telegraph brought settlers and supplies to the Chicago community. In November, Captain Stuart anchored the Marengo off shore in Lake Michigan for the last contact until winter was over.

The sailing season was ruled by ice on the Great Lakes, sometimes not breaking up until May. Captain Stuart was probably racing to get back to Detroit before the lakes froze. Meanwhile, Chicago started building their lighthouse again to be ready for spring's first schooner.

Where History Is Happening

Holiday Mansion Tours at Naper Settlement
December 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19
11:00 am - 3:00 pm

It's time to spice up the holidays with a tour of the splendidly decorated Victorian-era Martin Mitchell Mansion. Come learn about unique 19th century customs on three weekends in December. Tours include an informative walkthrough tour of the two-story 1893 Mansion and its Carriage House. Please come directly to the Mansion to purchase your tickets. Walk-ins are welcome for this holiday-focused tour with historic ambiance.
$8/person includes $2 off discount coupon for the Museum Store; no advance registration required.

Candlelight Tour and Homespun Holiday Market at Garfield Farm
December 4 -5
3:00 - 7 pm
Take time away from that chaotic rush of the holiday season and join us at Garfield Farm Museum for our annual Candlelight Reception. Interpreters wearing period clothing will share with guests what life was like for people during the height of the horse and wagon era. There is no charge for the Candlelight event, but donations will be accepted.

Once Upon a Christmas at Lisle Station Park

Saturday, December 4
3:00 - 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 5
11:00 am - 4:00 pm
Join us at the Museums at Lisle Station Park for old fashioned holiday fun! Enjoy crafts and hayrides, Christmas trees decorated by the Heritage Society, Santa, brick oven baking and more! Don't forget to peruse some antique gift items in the Lisle Heritage Society gift shop.

Holiday House Tour with Norwood Historical Society
Saturday, December 4
3:00 - 8:00 pm
Visitors may check in and begin the tour at the Norwood Park Senior Center and obtain descriptive tour booklets, entrance passes, and route maps, as well as listen to a presentation about community architecture and history and a live musical ensemble. Tour includes five neighborhood homes decorated for the holidays, plus one local place of worship. Includes free admission to Chicago's oldest house, the 1833 Noble-Seymour-Crippen House.
Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door, with discounts for groups of 10.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Farming the Illinois Prairie

Illinois became a state in 1818, and a steady stream of settlers arrived due to land grants from the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal in New York.

The earliest settlers in northern Illinois came from the New England states. They were used to rocky soil and heavy forests. The prairies of Illinois were viewed with distrust by many.

Sure, the land wasn't nearly as hilly and studded with rocks, but there weren't many trees on it either. Yankee farmers took that to mean the soil was too poor to support trees and would therefore make lousy farmland.

Little did they know that centuries of grasses had enriched the soil, growing tall and falling back to the earth to decompose with the help of plentiful rain and sun. The land was fertile enough, but the thick thatch of grass roots was difficult to slice through with the plows available to early nineteenth century farmers.

Kate's book Ruth by Lake and Prairie tells of how Joseph Naper, born in Vermont, brought a group of settlers to Illinois in 1831. Just a few years later, another Vermont man arrived in Illinois as well. He was a blacksmith by the name of John Deere and he opened up shop about 80 miles west of Naper's Settlement in Grand Detour.

While farmers were busily clearing land, it was tough work to turn over the prairie soil with traditional cast iron plows. Deere tinkered with the shape of the moldboard to turn over the sod more efficiently and used polished cast steel instead of iron to slice through the soil with greater ease.

Deere sold the first "Plow that Broke the Plains" in 1838 to Lewis Crandall, a local farmer, who was so pleased with how it worked, soon every farmer in northern Illinois wanted one. In the next ten years, Deere sold 1000 plows and 10,000 plows in the ten years after that.

Due to a disagreement with his partner, Deere moved his operations to Moline, but you can still visit the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour. The site has regular hours during the summer season, but if you call and arrange a tour, you can still visit Mr. Deere's home during the winter as well.

The Rutabaga: A Settler's Godsend

The mid 1800's wave of settlers moved into an Illinois that was still quite primitive. Until the Black Hawk War in 1832, native peoples farmed, hunted and lived on the prairies, but there were very few settlements of Europeans. Chicago itself wasn't even founded until 1833 and it only had about 200 inhabitants at the time. Since there were few places to buy food, settlers needed to bring provisions with them or grow it themselves.

Many settlers arrived by schooner through the Great Lakes, and they had to wait until the ice melted before setting sail which could be as late as April or May. If they walked across the country, they still had to wait for the worst of the thaw to be over so that the wagons could get through the mud and swollen streams.

Either way, settlers simply couldn't arrive at their Illinois destinations in time for spring planting. Even if they were able to protect seedling crops during midsummer's blistering heat, there wasn't enough time for most crops to ripen before the first frost.

The rutabaga, however, was one crop they could plant. Considered a "winter vegetable," rutabagas prefer the coolness of autumn and many claim they taste sweeter after a frost. Both the greens and the roots are edible and the roots keep well for a long period of time.

The folks from Naper's Settlement arrived in mid-July. No doubt they brought as many provisions as possible with them but it is also recorded that they planted rutabagas soon after they settled in order to make it through that first winter.

Where History Is Happening

An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt,
Elgin Gala Benefit
November 6
6:00 - 9:00 pm

Join us for our first-ever benefit, featuring premier Teddy Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand, our silent auction, and more! Silent auction items include a Hawaiian vacation and other noteworthy prizes. Tickets still available, call now before they're gone!.
$35 for members, $40 for non members
RSVP by calling the Museum at 847.742.4248

History Explorers - Potowatomi and Pioneers
November 20
10:00 - 11:30 am
Find out what the pioneers learned from the Native Americans in the early days of the county through stories and hands-on activities for children ages 9 - 11.
$5 per resident child, $7 per non-resident.

Annual Christmas Fest and Bake Sale Warrenville Historical Society
November 6
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Come to Christmas Fest 2010! The Warrenville Museum Guild members are in hustle-bustle mode preparing for the 26th Annual Christmas Fest & Bake Sale.This year's event will be held at the Warren Tavern. Keeping with tradition, the event will feature gift baskets, seasonal decorations, gift items, handmade tree ornaments, and baked goods.
The 2010 raffle will feature Snowmen Gathering, a professionally framed cross-stitch design great for the winter and holidays.Other raffle prizes include a hand-stitched Santa and a Snowman Elf Draft Dodger to block those winter breezes.