Happy Birthday, Naperville!
In 1831, Joseph Naper, along
with his brother John, his sister Amy and their families and friends, settled
down along the banks of the DuPage River to build a new community. While we can’t
pinpoint the exact date, historians are fairly sure it was during the week of
July 15 in 1831 that the wagons completed the three-day journey from Fort
You may want to stand in an actual
northern Illinois prairie this week and imagine that you are one of Naper's
settlers. Much of the original prairie in our area has been plowed up or built
over, but there are still a few places that are either original or restored.
One of the best places to find original prairie is in very old graveyards. Yes,
the settlers did dig into the prairie long ago for graves, but they didn't plow
the land, so the grasses and wildflowers continued to grow in the natural way.
Conservationists will often collect seeds from old graveyards to help create
prairie restorations with native plants.
The Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove boasts some original prairie, but there are also some restored
areas that are worth a trip. Both the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Fermi Lab
in Batavia have been working on prairie
restorations in recent years.
Or visit the Joseph Naper Homestead
site in Naperville and try to imagine what it looked like in 1831. Now a
park, signage and landscaping give visitors an idea of where the
original house and trading post stood. Down Mill
Street, Naper would later build his mill, swelling the DuPage River into
pond that he could see from his log house.
If you get to visit a local prairie, use all your senses to put yourself in the
place of the early Illinois settler. What can you smell and hear? How does it
feel to walk through such tall grass? Are there bugs? Imagine yourself
barefoot, for nearly everyone went barefoot in the summer to save on shoe
leather, walking for three days in the July sun from Chicago.
Now imagine trying to explain hitting the highway in an air-conditioned SUV to
Joe and the rest of his group! Our forefathers were certainly a hardy lot!