Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Rich and Beautiful Corner

Across the street from Noodles, once the Ditzler and Hosler Dry Goods store, stands Zazú Salon and Day Spa which also once housed a far different business in the nineteenth century.

The sturdy Italianate building with its unique granite corner was built by George Reuss in the 1860’s. Originally a tailor from Bavaria, young George sailed to America to fulfill his ambitions — which he did admirably.

After a couple of years in St. Charles, he married his sweetheart from back home and they moved to Naperville. George prospered as a merchant tailor. He employed other tailors and built both the corner establishment and the attached addition.

Successful and well-respected Reuss opened the Bank of Naperville in 1886. The massive stone entrance was added at that time to make the new bank look appropriately impressive.

Eventually George’s private bank grew to become a corporation. Both his son Joseph Reuss and his son-in-law Valentine Dieter were employed by the bank and served on the Board of Directors.

1917’s “Souvenir of the Naperville Homecoming” boasts that “the bank now has a capital of $100,000 and a surplus of $25,000 with deposits of about $400,000. A modern steel lined burglar proof vault has recently been completed and safetly [sic] deposit boxes installed for the security of the bank’s patron.”

Son Joseph Reuss was called to the bar in 1896 and was the attorney for both his father’s bank and the city of Naperville.

George suffered a stroke in his later years and was forced to retire from active participation in his businesses, his church and his city. He died in 1901.

Among his activities, George served in 1880as the president of Naperville, the term used before the city was incorporated.

Son-on-law Valentine Dieter was the last president before Naperville started electing mayors in 1890.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Changes Around the Corner

Talk is swirling about how the proposed Water Street project will change the look of downtown Naperville. But not all downtown changes have been so dramatic.

When you pop into Noodles and Company for lunch the building fits right in with its neighbors even though it was radically updated thirteen years ago.

Just weeks before the new millennium dawned, a fire broke out in the upper floor of the building following some roofing work done earlier in the day. No one was injured in the fire that destroyed the upstairs apartments, but the lower level restaurant suffered severe smoke and water damage.

Coupled with the need to bring the old building up to code, repairs proved too costly so Wilma’s Café moved into a plaza on Ogden Avenue. But the space was rebuilt and it still strongly resembles its earliest incarnations.

Before the popular Café, the building held many other businesses, including a series of drug stores and dry goods stores.

Moses Hosler, General Merchant, advertised in the town’s first Holland’s Business Directory in 1886 with his then-partner Eli Ditzler. Moses’ daughter Malinda married John Rickert, a familiar Naperville name.

Later Herb Matter and Eli Stark ran a dry goods store in the same space. Eli Stark was also an enthusiastic amateur photographer whose legacy is a number of early Naperville photos. He is immortalized with his camera on the first panel of the “Pillars of the Community” mural on Chicago Avenue. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday to Joe Naper's Settlement!

This week marks the anniversary of the date that Joseph Naper along with his family and friends arrived at the banks of DuPage River to start their new settlement. The exact date remains elusive, but it was around the fifteenth of July.

Normally, I would suggest stepping out onto the prairie at our local forest preserves like Churchill Woods or West Chicago Prairie to see and feel what it would have been like when the settlers finished their journey. But this year there is probably no similarity!

In 1831 winter reluctantly gave way to spring. Ice on the Great Lakes broke up quite late and ships, such as Naper's Telegraph, had to wait longer than usual before it was safe to start sailing. Cool and wet weather continued for much of the season and into summer. While it was July before the families arrived at Fort Dearborn, the landscape must have looked as green and fresh as if it were early June.

Contrast that with this year! Our mild winter, early spring and super hot and dry summer has fried the prairies to a crisp. Can you imagine if the Napers, the Murrays, the Boardmans, the Sissons and the other families were pulling up their ox wagons today? There isn't much time left to grow any sort of crops under the best conditions. Trying to start seeds in this kind of weather would be very disheartening!

Fortunately for Naperville's settlers, they were able to sow rutabagas and buckwheat and grow enough food to survive their first winter. As we shop for groceries in our air conditioned stores, we should spare a thought for those hearty pioneers who left civilization and comfort behind them to start new lives in their new home here in DuPage County 181 years ago this week. 

Read all about the journey in "Ruth by Lake and Prairie," a "Little House" version of our very own history written for children ages eight through twelve -- and their parents!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Before Naperville Had McMansions, We Had Real Mansions

 Sketch from menu of Willoway Manor when it was a restaurant.

 Heatherton during its gracious days.

Dining outside on a warm summer’s evening is a fleeting pleasure for Chicago-area folk. One favorite spot is the patio at Meson Sabika on Aurora Road.

Originally, the restaurant was a private home. At one time it was known as Willoway Manor, lending its name to the adjoining Wil-O-Way subdivision. The illustration above is a menu from when the manor first operated as a restaurant. But when William Ransdell Goodwin lived there, it was called Oakhurst Farm. Apparently people liked to eat out-of-doors even during the Goodwins’ time. A Chicago Tribune article from June 2, 1909 tells of Mrs. Goodwin’s garden party for 400 women who sipped pink lemonade while seated on camp chairs under the trees.

William raised Berkshire swine, Buff Leghorn fowls and Indian Runner ducks at Oakhurst, as well as Angora cats, but he was also an “ardent automobile enthusiast” and a well-respected writer for the Breeders’ Gazette, according to his obituary: “He was buried Tuesday afternoon, April 8, 1919, in the village cemetery at Naperville, his shaft within sight of Oakhurst's pillars. No stone can ever symbolize the imperishable monument he holds in the hearts and minds of American breeders.”

Oakhurst Farm was considered to lie outside of Naperville, but William’s brother had an estate within the city limits. John Samuel Goodwin partnered with William to breed Aberdeen-Angus cattle and they were both members of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. John also served as a judge in Chicago, although he lived at Heatherton, his gracious manor here in town.

John built Heatherton on the site of Lewis Ellsworth’s house who in turn built on the site of Fort Payne. Joe Naper and the other settlers erected the fort in 1832 for protection during the Black Hawk War, but it was never actually used and was eventually dismantled. North Central College’s athletic fields fill much of the estate today.

Heatherton went up in flames on March 14, 1920, and in an eerie coincidence, Goodwin, who was staying at the Palmer House in Chicago, died of a heart attack just two hours before the fire that destroyed his home .

Monday, April 2, 2012

Living with History

We had the opportunity to visit with John White in Elburn last week. Mr. White kindly took us on a tour of his 1840's log house, filled with antique furniture, pottery and other bits of everyday life.

The log house is not original to the property -- he moved it like a huge stack of Lincoln Logs from Wisconsin -- but it was originally built more than 150 years ago.

Not all of it could be salvaged.Parts tha were too rotted were rebuilt or worked around. For instance, the two-story walls are now more like one and a half stories and the flooring had to be laid completely new.

But what a floor! The planks are random widths, from narrow to almost two feet wide. White ripped the boards himself from a White Pine that grew near his farm and was toppled during the Plainfield tornado in 1990. He figures the tree was a seedling about the same time that the log house was being built originally.

Some people like to read history and others like to visit historical sites, but John White went out to rescue history, dragged it home and spent years rebuilding it. Many thanks to Mr. White for a truly special Saturday morning!

For more details of Mr. White's log house, see The Daily Herald article.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Six Degrees of Girl Scouting

March 12, 2012 was the 100th birthday of the Girl Scouts. In Naperville, girls were part of the DuPage County Council until 2006 when it merged with adjoining councils to become Prairie Winds. In 2008 a major reorganization created Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the largest council in the United States, serving 94,000 girls.

But here’s another local connection: The Daisy Girl Scout is named after Juliette Gordon Low, nicknamed “Daisy.” While living in England, Daisy became interested in the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement there and brought the concept back to the States.

Daisy’s mother Nelly raised her family in Savannah, Georgia but she was born in Chicago. In 1912 Nelly wrote a book called “John Kinzie, The ‘Father of Chicago,’ a Sketch,” which was about her grandfather. In fact, Nelly felt so connected to Chicago that after seeing a 1916 Chicago Daily News article about early settlers, she wrote them to point out:  “I notice that my name is conspicuously absent. This is more surprising, as I am the oldest person now living who was born in Chicago...therefore, older than Chicago itself.”

Nelly’s father, John Harris Kinzie, arrived in Chicago as a six-month-old baby in 1804. His younger sister, Ellen, has been called the first child of European descent to be born in the yet-to-be incorporated Chicago.

Daisy’s grandmother and namesake was Juliette Augusta Magill. She married John Harris Kinzie and moved with him to Chicago in 1834. Juliette Kinzie wrote a book called “Wau-Bun, the Early Days in the Northwest” about her own experiences in early Chicago as well as those of her mother– and father-in-law.

Her mother-in-law was kidnapped as a child and raised by Native Americans. As an adult she married John Kinzie (John Harris Kinzie's father) who was a British sympathizer, an Indian agent and a spy, which is most likely how he and his family avoided being killed during the Fort Dearborn Massacre. It may also explain why he murdered one of his Chicago neighbors. Kinzie owned a lot of property in the fledgling settlement, including an inn during the time Joseph Naper and his group arrived on the schooner Telegraph in 1831.

John Kinzie’s step-daughter, Elizabeth, was among the many who took refuge in Fort Dearborn during the Black Hawk War in 1832, the summer after the Telegraph arrived. Naper Settlement families also fled to the fort. Unfortunately, over-crowding and illness made the fort almost as dangerous. Elizabeth died there and the Naper families built their own fort and moved back to their settlement.

That's a lot of local history to think about the next time you bite into a Thin Mint from your local Girl Scout!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stretching Our Mind Muscles

"Networking" is huge today in the business world and we're all hustling to keep our families fed.

But "talking shop" gets old quickly and we start to sound one-dimensional.

Knowing a few quirky facts about our state's history makes for a richer conversation. Will knowing history make us better business people? Perhaps not. But it will make us better people in general.

I am now using to curate and share some of the fascinating articles I've been reading. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do. You can subscribe to my weekly "newspaper"
Brief History - Illinois at or check in from here.

This week are some interesting stories about Al Capone, Japanese internment camps, War of 1812 batttles in Illinois, an historic black orphanage in Elgin, and Naperville street names. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it" at Brief History - Illinois!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Naming Naperville Streets

Recently Roy Brossman, a lifelong resident of Naperville and Wheatland Township farmer, passed away. Knowing someone who lives in the Ashbury subdivision on Brossman Street sparked some speculation into other local street names.

Lyman Butterfield

Lyman Butterfield was one of the settlers who threw in his lot with Joseph Naper and came west on the schooner Telegraph in 1831.

He was known as a “fearless character” who was “brave to foolhardy” and “particularly skillful with a rifle.”

Lyman named one of his sons Andrew Jackson Butterfield after “Old Hickory,” the President very popular with Illinois settlers.

Butterfield didn’t stay in Naperville but moved early on to found Milton Township in the present-day Wheaton/Glen Ellyn area.

Bailey Hobson

Bailey Hobson has lent his name to more than one street. He arrived in the area with his wife and five children in the spring of 1831, a few months before the Naper group arrived.

Hobson settled along the DuPage River, but his homestead has always been just outside of the official city borders. Only recently has that bit of land been included in the town proper, making Hobson the actual “first settler of Naperville.”

Hobson built a grist mill for farmers in the area to use as the next closest mill was in Peoria county.

Mark Beaubien

Mark Beaubien reportedly was a man with a huge personality so it’s no surprise that his legacy is spread over a wide geographical range. Beaubien made his mark in Chicago, Lisle and Naperville, too. The Beaubien family was a big one — Mark himself had sixteen children — and older brother Jean Baptiste helped shape Chicago.

Mark kept an inn called the Eagle (later Sauganash) and may have hosted the Telegraph’s travelers.

A born entertainer, Mark “played the fiddle like ze dibble,” as he says in his own words. He performed a rousing last hornpipe at an Old Chicago Settlers Meeting at the age of eighty. His fiddle is on display at the Chicago History Museum.

Later, he moved out to DuPage County and was one of the investors of the Plank Road. His inn, from which he collected tolls , has been moved out to the Lisle Depot Museum. His family cemetery, can still be seen along Ogden Road near the subdivision that bears his name.

For more tidbits of history, see Kate's new weekly "newspaper" at K8's Brief History.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Embracing Today's Technology for Yesterday's Sake

You may have wondered where Brief History went to over the holidays. It certainly wouldn't be the first time an emailed newsletter or blog has suddenly close up shop. But Brief History intends to continue to bring little bits of history to people just as it has since the fall of 2009.

To do that, we're experimenting with some new technology; specifically,, an online "newspaper" generator. The "newspaper" is currently called Brief History - Illinois with the idea that folks searching for Illinois history will find it easily. advertises that it helps people curate "a personalized newspaper built from articles, blog posts, videos and photos." Most of the content is gathered automatically from Twitter or other online sources that the "publisher" follows. Brief History - Illinois derives it's content from Tweets posted by organizations or individuals that K8sBriefHistory follows. This is not a personal Twitter account, but strictly a way to follow organizations that are dedicated to preserving and sharing history. publishers can also manually edit the paper to weed out any unrelated content to keep the information offered to you as useful and interesting as possible.

The next step is to get more local historical societies to post their content online so it can be found and curated! It has been a big stumbling block since Brief History was started that it's so hard to get news about wonderful local events before they happen so we can tell people about them. But we'll continue to do our best to share that information with you.

So take a look at Brief History - Illinois at this link: Since this is a new format, we'd love to know whether it works for you or not. Please feel free to forward your comments to Thanks so much!

Chicago Maritime History

Last year Kate spoke at the Chicago Maritime Festival on how the first homesteaders of Naperville traveled from Ohio through the Great Lakes on the schooner Telegraph. An enthusiastic crowd attended the presentation and was slightly surprised to learn that about the journey. Certainly Chicagoans know that there is some serious maritime history involving Lake Michigan, but we often forget it wasn't all merchant ships and Christmas tree ships.

Many of the state's earliest settlers arrived on ships, particularly those from New England and especially after the Erie Canal was finished. Because of the mountain ranges, easterners migrated around the southern or northern range of the mountains rather than go straight west over the mountains. Illinois was settled then from the top down by New Englanders and from the bottom up by Southerners. Springfield was about the middle -- the farthest north that Southerners wished to go and the farthest south New Englanders were comfortable.

Those two cultures were very different in how they viewed education, industry and a host of other subjects and often did not see eye-to-eye. Looking at politics today, it often seems that not much has changed!

The homesteading part of Illinois' history didn't last long, but although it did correspond with the very beginning of the Golden Age of Great Lakes Maritime History. If you wish to learn more, the Chicago Maritme Festival is a wonderful event full of information, crafts and songs for adults and children alike. It will be held at the Chicago History Museum on Saturday, February 25. For ticket information and a schedule of events, see